Discovering a New English

This entry is part 1 of the series International English

English as a language

Before I became a writer, I believed English was one language. Click To Tweet New English

Before I became a writer, I believed English was one language. Wherever you lived, if you spoke English, you . . . spoke English! By the same token, if you wrote English, you . . . wrote English.

Obviously, my way of writing English was the correct way, the only way.  After all, I was English. (Scottish actually, but we’ll ignore that.)

Because I grew up in the British Colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) most of my books came from England. They were printed in the same English as my teachers taught. I moved to South Africa to study nursing, and all my textbooks were printed in the UK.

The Arrival of the Internet

Then along came the Internet. Global markets started to open. Here in South Africa, American magazines started to appear on our supermarket shelves.

Strangely, I didn’t spot any difference in the English. But then I started to write, and I joined a writers’ group on the Internet. Then I noticed, not everyone wrote exactly the same way I did. I joined a critique group, and the members tried to point out I didn’t put my punctuation in the right place. Huh? Oh, and my spelling? I soon discovered they all had obviously learned a different English to me!

So what does this have to do with us as writers? In the pre-Internet days, our words were mainly read by those in our own country. Click To Tweet

In the pre-Internet days, our words were mainly read by those in our own country., but today that’s no longer the case. Our writing may be available on a global scale the moment we hit ‘publish’ or ‘enter’. And as I soon discovered, some words have very different meanings in the various countries in the world.

Join me as I spend the next few weeks unpacking this subject. Let’s look at some of the hazards and see ways how we can help our readers understand what we want them to, regardless of where they live. I promise you some good chuckles as we move along.

Cultivate global friendships

As writers, it is important that we interact with other writers of different countries. One of the easiest ways to do this is by joining one or more writers’ groups on the Internet. By doing this, we interact with writers from across the globe. We get to understand the pitfalls that await the non-alert writer, and it will also help improve our writing. At the same time, our understanding of different cultures will grow. And that’s fun!

We should link up with groups where we can share writing issues as well as ask questions. As we notice members who live in other countries to us, we will be able to learn from them.

A New English?

I soon learned that my way was not necessarily the only right way. It might be correct for me and others in my country—but was there another way I could express myself so that everyone would understand what I meant? If we write that way, we will not only write better for the global market, it will broaden our knowledge and understanding of this amazing world where we live.

My first experience of an Internet group was in fact not a writers’ group. I was an avid card maker. I particularly enjoyed rubber stamping, so I was overjoyed to discover a Rubber Stamping Group on the Internet. This large group comprised mainly of  ladies who all shared my love of rubber stamping. We shared ideas, compared notes, and sent cards to one another. In the process, I got to know a number of Americans, a couple of Australians, and one lady in England. Many of them are still my friends today, many years later. I also came to know a bit about other Englishes to the one I believed to be the only one.

Taking a car to the shop?

One day, a lady from the western side of America wrote, “I can’t get to the shops today because my husband took my car to the shop.”

In South Africa, the only reason you take your car to a shop is because you want to sell it. I wondered how her husband could sell her car when she obviously needed it.

So I asked, “Are you going to get another one?”

Back came the puzzled response, “No. Why would I? There’s nothing wrong with this one.”

“Then why are you selling it?” I asked.

Time for a lesson in International English.

  • Americans send their cars to the shop when they need a service.
  • South Africans send their cars to the shop when they want to sell them. If we want the car serviced, we take it to a garage.

Can you think of any word, custom, or grammar rule that differs between countries? Leave a note in the comment below, and I’ll make sure to discuss it in further posts.

Join me over the next weeks as I explore the fascinating topic of International English. 


Some groups you may want to investigate:

Christian Writers’ Group International (CWGI)

International Christian Fiction Writers Blog (ICFW) Follow this blog and you’ll learn so much about other countries.

Christian Writers of Southern Africa (CWOSA) (Facebook group for S.African writers only.) To learn more about this group, click here.

12 comments on “Discovering a New English

  1. So interesting! Pants is always the one that gets me! In Britain, if you put your pants on & went to work, unless you are Superman, you would be fired, but it’s totally fine in the US, where they call trousers ‘pants’.

  2. I enjoyed reading your article. You had me laughing about “my husband took my car to the shop”. I learned something new today about the 2 different meanings of “taking your car to the shop”. Thank you for this article.

    • Thanks for your comment, Shavonne. Yes, the two languages have got me into tight predicaments a few times as I’ll be writing about in this series. That’s what comes from being of British English descent (born in Scotland; brought up in Rhodesia, a then-British colony), living in South Africa (mostly Brit-English but with a number of exclusively S.African words and expressions) and writing for a predominantly American market!

  3. Fun topic! I’m from Wisconsin, USA. I just got back from Ireland, where they speak English, but not always “my” English. Half nine? What is that? (9:30). Boot (trunk) jumper (sweater) and the way they pronounce the “th” sound. There were a couple of people I could barely understand! I also enjoyed trying to figure out the Gaelic letter patterns and sounds. It is mostly still a mystery!

    • Yes, Michele, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, and there will be more to come. Thanks for the reminder about the “th” sound. I have a daughter-in-law who’s home language is Afrikaans (a sort of Dutch/German hybird). She speaks beautiful English, but no way can she pronounce a “th”. It depends at what age you’re exposed to the various sounds, and there is no “th” in Afrikaans.

  4. I too am interested in this subject! Being English I am often bamboozled by American English! I like listening to an American podcast called The Grammar Girl – she looks into the differences in a fun way – well recommended!

    • Ooh thanks for that. I visit The Grammar Girl whenever I’m in need of Grammar advice, but I didn’t know she had a podcast. I’ll pay her another visit!

  5. Well, this is very interesting! I can’t think of any other words, but I would look forward to hearing about others if you’ve come across them.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Anna. Thank you. Do call back and follow along as I explore more on this topic. It is bigger than you probably realize. It’s been a real exploration for me!

Comments are closed.