I’ve recently discovered I have a language barrier, the mediocrity of which might not seem worth mentioning, but it has become a very real detriment to my oral communication skills. Needless to say, I’m havin’ a hard time talkin’ right. By “right” I mean effectively. People are having a hard time understanding what I say. I’ve been getting a lot of blank looks and, “What?”s and, “Pardon?”s recently.
Being a native speaker of American English and having moved about the country frequently as a child (thanks mom and dad) I’ve attained accessibility to diverse dialects and figures of speech (as well as a difficulty with phonetics and spelling). I also understand most folks. While my friends and acquaintances find it amusing when I let rip a goofy little colloquialism, they are confused and mystified by my mixed accent. I have several accents, the two most prominent being Californian and Southern. I guess it’s hard to switch listening gears. Let me give you some examples of the aural chaos.
#1 – Y’all
This first came out of my mouth in 6th grade after we’d moved to Central Florida from Central California. It took me two weeks to be able to understand my classmates.
#2 – Fissintuh
After having a classmate enunciate plainly about four times, I finally made out “fixing to” as the real words people were trying to say. Still having no clue as to its use, I asked. After having a few sets of eyes rolled at me (no, not literally), I found it is a phrase used as synonym for “getting ready to” or “about to” and promptly adopted it into my vocabulary.
#3 – Dude./Dude?/Dude!
Contrary to popular belief, English is a tonal language. This is best learned in places with limited vocabulary, such as a ski slope, nursery school, or California.
“Dude. Seriously? You’re going to eat that? Dude.” a call to attention on a matter, or interjection of concern.
“Dude, can you hear me? You passed out.” Also: “Duuude, where aaaare yooouu?” noun of direct address or nominative subject
“Dude! You wrote a book?!” interjection of excitement or “Dude!!! It’s a bear!!! Run!!!” interjection of severe excitement, indicated by octave change
#4 – Saying long “I” sounds like short “A” sounds…but only sometimes…if ah feel like it.
What happens when phonetics are not consistent?
“I wanna eat mah pie,” and my friend thinks I said, I want to eat mud pie. Not such a great thing.
#5 – Like
I’m not talking about similes. I’m talking about the multiple-times-per-sentence random use of the word “like”. (Yes, I’m using the British punctuation system with those quotation marks because it makes more sense that way. Deal with it.) In everyday conversation I have a hard time shaking this piece of my age 14 vocabulary. Y’all dudes! I, like, like using like. Like, totally. This is problematic. I admittedly need to change my ways.
Dude. American English. This is my language. I’m fissinta lay some o’ this onyeh. If y’all listen up, you’ll fahnd deciphering what I say as easy as findin’ a mullet at a trucker’s convention. Got it? Awesome.