When I grew up, we only had two TV channels (yes, I’m that old) and our family was glued to the TV every Sunday at 5 pm when “Dynasty” was on. Alexis, Krystal and Blake were among the people who introduced me to the English language. English was by far my favorite subject at school (together with Danish) and watching TV shows was an excellent way of learning English. During my time at university, series like “Beverly Hills 90210” and later “Friends” became the sound track of our youth and every Tuesday night, my housemates and I would unplug the telephone (no mobiles yet) so that we could watch “Melrose Place” undisturbed and then be gutted that we had to wait a whole week before the next episode.
After my bachelor degree (in Spanish and English business languages), the time came for me to get by in real English speaking environments with real English speaking friends and colleagues. I discovered that, despite our exposure to American television as kids, I somehow found it easier to relate to British English and British cultural references. Possibly because I grew up in Europe.
English is a language I master to a rather high degree. I use it for writing, for working and for interacting with other people. But English is (and always will be) my second language.
Pretend you understand - then google
While I’m on the path to overcoming my insecurities when writing in English, there is still a long way to go. I tend to check and double check every piece I write. And still, I make mistakes. I google lots of expressions and still, I have doubts. I suppose you can say that I have adopted the Chinese fear of losing face.
This morning, my good friend commented on one of my Facebook posts. At the airport on my way to Chongqing, I wrote that I forgot my laptop at home (and the reasons why I was annoyed about it). My friend’s comment read “It should be“left my laptop at home” or “forgot my laptop”’. Written as a friendly comment, no doubt. As a helping hand to a non-native speaker. Nevertheless, I decided to look it up – only to find conflicting information. Some people say that both work. Some say, that “I left it at home” doesn’t specify intent. Some say “I forgot my umbrella at the restaurant” works perfectly - while others claim that it’s a matter of American English versus British English. I do not know the correct answer, and admittedly I feel annoyed by the linguistic nuances I sometimes miss. But what I do know, is that I speak 5 other languages, write 3 of them fluently and am learning a 7th language at the moment. I believe it’s time for me to accept that, as a writer, I cannot let English fluency be my main focus. My plea to native English speakers is to think before you laugh. Give us non-native speakers some credit (many of you already do!!).
If you see us smile nervously when everyone else is laughing, it may be because we didn’t quite get the joke containing an American cultural reference. If you see us nod agreeably but we still look confused, it might be because we’re stuck on a slang expression.
Know that what's obvious for you might not be so for us. I’ve now learned that a convo means a conversation. That if someone writes BYOB, it means that I have to bring my own beer. And if you tell me you’re FOMOing and I look lost, it is probably because my mind is racing to find out what you’re trying to say. Give me time to secretly take note and go home and google it. Accept that I'm silly. That I'm not comfortable with asking a big group of native speakers what a word or expression means. Call it "linguist's pride" if you like.
There was only so much Blake, Krystal, Brendon and Brenda could teach us. It takes years, decades – a whole lifetime to learn a language fluently. I'm currently thinking of ways to make my non-perfect English work as my branding. My very own niche market. In the meantime, I remain grateful for not only being able to write in English – but also for getting paid for some of my articles (despite probably making some editors work overtime).
FOMO means “Fear of Missing Out” . It can be used both as a noun and as a verb.