Before I returned to the literary field as a writer, I had the incredible privilege of teaching English to business corporations in Germany that have a multinational clientele as well as employees from every nation. As an expatriate living outside of the United States of America, one of the first lessons I learned, was that the English Language is diverse. Pronunciation, spelling and the phonetic stress placed on certain words are different. In fact, the vocabulary may be the same, but it does not necessarily mean that the words have the same meaning.
After my tour of duty as a United States Soldier, I applied for a European out so that I could get to know the different cultures on the European Continent. For two and one half years, I had worked on an Army base located in a beautiful town but I realized that I knew extremely little of the continent. I decided to stay and learn about Europe. In order to find a job with my limited language skills, I focused on teaching English. After all, English Language teachers were much in demand.
In Germany, it is a prerequisite for most managers in the global business community to speak English. However, it was not always considered necessary for employees below the manager level to learn the language. Within the last ten years, this point of view has changed drastically. Especially in the fields of Information Technology, Business Administration, and within the Scientific Community, English has become a required language, and employers expect a certain amount of fluency with an exceptionally high level of comprehension from all of their employees. Thus, the number of English Training Schools in Germany have increased rapidly. Whereas in the early eighties English Language schools were only found in large cities, today, they are found in villages and in every medium sized town.
This widespread use of English has nothing to do with the United States but more so with the mother country of the English language and its imperialism during the time of Queen Victoria. Thanks to the British Empire, British English is the most commonly accepted language that most people in any foreign country speak. Six months ago, for example, I traveled to Italy. My comprehension of the Italian language is minimal, yet I was able to enjoy a beautiful holiday because the people I associated with including those who worked in the hotel spoke British English.
To be stationed in a foreign country reveals a language barrier that is not easily knocked down. For many Americans that have not travelled outside of the borders of the United States, it is inconceivable that someone else speaks a different English than he or she. Thus, as a soldier in the United States Army, I came to the European continent ignorantly thinking that everyone spoke like me.
When I arrived in Germany, I met my first ‘English-Speaking people.’ They came from the United Kingdom, specifically London and Poole. There was no doubt in my mind after one evening of struggling to understand what my new acquaintances were saying that I needed to take an English course. That first evening also made it exceedingly clear to me that the American English was not ‘the dominant English language’ spoken all over the world.
What I learned about the English Language in this course astonished me. It was here in Europe that I was introduced to the three main categories in English, namely, British, Australian and American. After completion of my English course, my southern dialect with the rolling r’s and the twang was no longer noticeable, even though I do find myself bringing it out of my hidden closet occasionally.
This brings me to my point: Do you speak English? My first applications for teaching the English Language to foreigners were turned down after I answered this interview question. Many people in Europe consider American English to be slang, and most business corporations in Germany desire their employees to learn British English. This realization forced me to improve my own language skills and the way I speak. I was compelled to speak with clarity and my diction or my enunciation received depth. Therefore, the biggest adjustment during my English language teaching time was learning British English.
Did it work? Did I learn how to speak British English? It took some time but it happened and amazingly, my vocabulary expanded as I learned the many differences in word usage. The most significant change took place when I enlarged my small world and began associating with other English-Speaking people whose nations had been a part of the British Empire or working with the different nationalities that come from the United Kingdom.
My teaching experience and my own efforts to learn how to communicate within a global community has taught me that language barriers are challenging but they can also be exhilarating. Once you have consented to change, it is well worth it.
Do you speak English?