An Alien’s Perspective: American English and the International Student

“Of the several things about it, what I love about Wichita are some of its quintessential murals,” I commented nonchalantly.

Looking at me with genuine awe and wonder, he remarked, “Your English is very good!”

“What do you mean?” I retorted, skeptical about his implications.

“I wouldn’t expect an international student to know words like mural,” he replied, being as honest as he possibly could be.

mib alien

I cracked up inside my head. I was amazed by how much he had belittled my diction and how many times I had found myself in this situation. My loquacity does not help the case.

While some of us may not have the most desirable of accents, in no way does it imply that we lack commendable proficiency in the language or that we are incapable of speaking with remarkable grammatical accuracy.

Personally, I was taught English hand in hand with my native language and I know several people who grew up learning English along with their respective native languages.

I have come to accept that, to an extent, mild surprise when someone speaks a non-native language fluently is reasonably justified.

However, what really gets on my nerves is having people criticise my word choice, offering American equivalents and out rightly refusing to acknowledge and accept the British counterparts. Do not correct me for pronouncing lieutenant as “left-en-ent” because you expect me to conform to the American pronunciation.

Your lack of proficiency in alternate versions of English, primarily the British, is no excuse for ridiculing me.

Nothing infuriates me more than having people defend themselves by identifying American English as an independent language.

“This is ‘Murica, bro. We don’t speak English. We speak American,” this guy I knew once asserted.

And if you fall into the pool of people that share his opinion, I have a bone to pick with you.


16 thoughts on “An Alien’s Perspective: American English and the International Student

  1. When I went to the US I was amazed at the difference in speech. I entered two different McDonald’s locations asking for their walnut-berry salad, and both times was told almost identically, “We don’t have no fruit ‘n nut”.

    Of course, there is a wide range of command over the English language in Canada too! I just haven’t been so surprised here.


  2. I think that we are all guilty of assuming things about people, their accents, clothes and more. We just need to exercise patience, forgiveness and tolerance because the alternative ain’t lookin’ so good. 🙂

      • BTW…. I am a native born American who teaches ESL in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also taught ESL in Turkey, Slovenia, and The Czech Republic and if that wasn’t enough, my grandparents hail from: Norway, Austria, England and Ireland. And to top that all off..? My parents were raised in diametrically opposed American regions: (the) South as in Texas, as New York/New Jersey (real Yankees.) Sooo…growing up as a challenge because I had to “listen” to familial accents and take an interesting lunch bucket to school. I was eating sardines on crackers while my mates were eating the traditional peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I think it damaged me, but I lived. Given my unique perspective I have had to listen to my grandparents view on Americans as well as hear from my playmates what they thought about “foreigners.” I’ve also travelled a bit and walked about with nothing but bare knuckle English in my luggage to help me get about. No worries… it worked out… So, I’ve heard the stories from everyone and it still comes out… “there aint no place like home…” and “as a guest in your house, may I respectfully.. Yes, thank you… Please… I’m sorry… Can I help you? Do yo know?” Life just isn’t that complicated when we exercise compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. Take care… and enjoy the ride… you’ve got stories to tell…

  3. Well, I come from the great state of New Ampsha where we pahk our cahs (which have trunks, not boots, by the way) and wear Pahkers to keep wahm in the wintah. So don’t lump all us ‘mericans together!

    • Oh my god, Doug!
      I get this comment only now 😀 One of my friends was doing an impression of accents around the US, and told me about how her “ant” always forgets where she “packed” her “cah” in the “packing lot” 😀

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