Being “Englished”

January 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm


 photo: captain. orange

to English (v): (1) reply in English when an English speaker is trying to speak your language to you.
(2) Hoof a football hundreds of metres into the stands during an important penalty shootout.

If you are a native English speaker and a language learner, you have probably had experience of being Englished.

A typical exchange on the streets of Berlin may go something like this:

You: Guten Abend, können sie mir bitte sagen wo man hier eine Currywurst essen kann?

Local person: Oh yes! You’re American and like our famous sausages! Good choice! You can find an excellent stand just around the corner but my personal recommendation would be… etc.

If you are trying to have a conversation in another language but receive a response in English, you’ve been Englished. And it’s not just with strangers on the street that you are likely to experience being Englished. Even when you know someone better and try to speak to them in their language, you may well receive an answer in English.

Why?

There are countless advantages to being a native speaker of the world’s number one language. Most of the best movies and songs are written in English, for example, and you can travel the world with the expectation of being understood.

But speaking English natively makes people want to practice their English with you. Over a billion people around the world are learning English right now and the majority of them rarely if ever have the chance to speak to someone who speaks English as beautifully and fluently as you. Be flattered!

Also, as you will probably have noticed on your travels, people are generally very friendly and helpful all over the world and will do their best to be nice to visitors.

How to avoid being Englished

You can’t avoid being Englished but you can find ways to deal with it.

It’s a battle of wills.

Get over the faint ridiculousness of taking turns to speak each other’s languages and persist with your attempts to speak the foreign language, especially if you are in a place where it is spoken natively. Eventually the person you are speaking to will switch to their own language. If your relationship with someone begins exclusively in one language, it is much harder to switch to another language at a later date.

Also accept that a conversation may switch between two languages and do not be afraid of this. Be happy to move the conversation back into the language you are learning.

But remember…

If you are trying to communicate something important (“my friend just fell into the Spree and can’t swim”) and the other person speaks fluent English, perhaps English would be the best medium for the conversation.

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