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International Center

University of Missouri

Unintended language barrier

by Mary R.

When preparing to study abroad in the United Kingdom, I was worried about the many adjustments I would have to make living in a foreign country, but I was comforted by the fact that I would be residing in a country where they spoke my first language. Having now been in Manchester for almost three weeks, I have found that there is quite a difference between the American English I am used to and the British English.

I knew some of the basics before coming: that it’s “football” not “soccer” and “chips” not “fries.” But I have found some new words I had no idea about. For example, I had a friend laugh when I referred to something being “downtown,” instead they call that area the “city centre.” Another time, while grabbing a coffee, I saw “flapjack” listed on a menu. I found out that this was not a pancake as I thought, but a snack made out of oats and honey resembling a granola bar.

Other differences have caused a bit more confusion for me. For example, it took a while for me to get used to people always asking, “Are you alright?” Here in the U.K., that is just a casual way to say “What’s up?”, they are not suggesting you look not alright, as many Americans would think. The one that caused the most trouble for me, though, was the fact that they call the first floor of a building the “ground floor.” So what I think of as the second floor is called the first. I was very disappointed to find I had to take my luggage up an additional flight of stairs to get to my room on the “second” floor.

The many language differences, along with the fact that the northern British accent is much stronger than the “posh” southern accent, has made it difficult to always understand what people are trying to tell me. Still, it has been fun to discuss these differences with the British friends I have made, and we both end up laughing at the differences.

About the blogger

Mary R. is studying abroad on the University of Manchester program in Manchester, United Kingdom.

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