ENGLISH IS AN OBSTACLE COURSE

If you are not an English native speaker then it’s difficult for you to appreciate what a tricky language it is. Even now with a Masters degree in English, with an English husband and having lived in England for sixteen years I still find myself having to analyse things that come naturally to native speakers.

Let me give you a for instance. I was on the tube the other day and a simple advert caught my eye. “Book free tickets at…” it said. Simple, eh? But the first thought that came into my head was, ‘Why would a ticket have a book with it? Do some tickets come with an accompanying book?’ My second thought was, ‘And why would this ticket be free … from this book?’ This will sound really stupid to you, but it still took me a moment to decipher that advert was actually saying, ‘Book your free tickets at…’. Mind you, it was very early in the morning!

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This is one of my “bloknots”, this must have been pre-university (early 1980s), as you can see words and expressions like “to commute”, “season ticket”, “to run on time” – easy stuff.

So for a non-native speaker you’re always learning. Just like Tonia in ‘Ghost Love’, I had numerous notebooks (in Russian these are called bloknot) where I would put down all the new words I met and leave spaces for the translations to go in later, this gleaned from my best friend and one of my most treasured possessions – even now! –  “The English-Russian Dictionary” edited by Prof. Galperin (in two huge volumes). For a linguist, this work of discovery never stops. Back in the USSR (cue for a song) the only English-language newspapers available to university students were The Moscow News and, if we got really  lucky, The Morning Star (what a boring paper that was!), so when my future husband visited Moscow, I would keep his newspapers and read them, hunting for new words and expressions.

And here is it - my Dictionary, having been with me everywhere I go.
And here is it – my Dictionary, having been with me everywhere I go.

And that’s written English. The Brits seem to have a mania for incomprehensible accents. Rod also used to bring videos with him to Moscow, the most baffling of which were the ‘Only Fools and Horses’ episodes. It took me ages to come to terms with Rodney and Del Boy’s accents and slang  (but there might be another blog post on this later)…

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