My Own Drum

Tongue-Tied

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A lot of people assume, when they meet me, that English is not my first language.

Not because of the way I speak it (although yes, I do have an accent), but because of the fact that I am not from one of the ‘native-speaking’ countries*. Most often, they assume this based on my appearance (tanned skin, almond-shaped, dark eyes, dark hair), as well as my accent (many people think I’m Canadian – eh?).

It’s interesting because although I am confident in my English-speaking (and writing, and listening, and reading etc) ability, due to my awareness of this assumption that most people have of me here in Australia, I tend to trip up and get tongue-tied and speak funny at times when I feel under pressure.

For example, when I’m talking to customers at work and describing how a product works, I sometimes find myself getting the singular and plurals wrong, as well as mixing multiple tenses into my sentences. It’s so weird because I know it’s wrong, and at the time I do it, I catch myself immediately but my tongue just does not want to cooperate! I’ve said things like “Use this over two week” instead of saying “weeks”. What the eff?

It is annoying and infuritating to me because I am paranoid that the ladies I talk to are smiling benignly at me not because I am a pleasant and lovely salesperson but because they are humouring me since English is obviously not my first language and it’s a struggle for me to speak in “their language”. My imagination goes into overdrive as I conjure up their thoughts in my own head: perhaps she’s thinking of me “Aww, how sweet she got that wrong” or “My, she speaks so fluently! Fantastic!”

Let me just have a moment of total and utter vanity and self-promotion here (as I believe I am entitled) to announce for probably the millionth time to anyone who listens that I scored a 9.0 on my IELTS (International English Language Testing System), across the board. 9.0 on EVERY single thing. 9.0 is the maximum, the highest mark you could possibly get for the IELTS test.

When I showed this to my migration agent he was impressed and asked to take a copy of my certificate, as he hadn’t seen such a score “in about ten years”. In fact, he told me to frame it. So excuse me for tooting my own horn. Before he reacted that way, I didn’t think it was THAT big a deal. I mean, yes, I thought it was awesome and a big deal, but not THAT big a deal, y’know? So, I feel, belatedly, that I should bask, revel and boast about this since it’s kind of rare. Not terribly rare, but still rare and special.

Thank you. *Bows*

* Countries generally accepted as ‘native-speaking’: USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada and sometimes South Africa.

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