Wednesday, August 19, 2009


When I first learned I was moving to the UK, I used to joke with people, "At least they speak English." Language learning does not come easily to me, and the thought of being thrown in a new culture where I don't speak the language is truly terrifying.

But I have come to view my language patterns here as bilingual. Sometimes I speak English and sometimes I speak American. At work, I always spoke and wrote English. I had to. My event schedule would have made no sense if my dates were all backwards. I worked for a a centre, part of an organisation. I'm a stickler for grammar and spelling, and as a British employee, I felt obligated to spell the language correctly. However, my creative writing is definitely American (how could it be British? I wouldn't presume), so I very consciously journal with only American spellings and dates. I have also made this decision with my blog and twitter. I switch spellings in emails depending on the nationality of my recipient.

But you know what scares me? These two distinct categories are getting awfully fuzzy in my mind. It has become impossible for me to write today's date as 08/19/09. It just doesn't make sense; I think day first now. The other day I bought train tickets and I couldn't remember if in the UK the trip back is called a return trip or a round trip. Likewise, I can never remember if I should get take away or take out. I told my mom the other day that things were going all "pear shaped." She had to ask what that meant, as she had never heard the expression before (it means going awry). And, I'm almost ashamed to admit this, I'm beginning to lose my zs.

I once asked a Brit why the English hardly ever use the letter z. He shrugged, said it wasn't very important. I jokingly said, "But zs are zany!" Typical dry British humor, he retorted: "That's probably why we don't use them."

So losing my zs feels a bit anti-patriotic, honestly. But give it a whirl. Organise is much easier to type than organize. The s is in the middle of the keyboard. Same with handwriting, the s is much smaller, less complicated than a z.

Is this completely minor and irrelevant? Probably. I'm sure when I move back to the US, eventually I'll return to my zany American ways. But as someone who spends so much of the day with language, who believes so strongly in the power of words, losing my native language is scary.


  1. Think of it this way: being intercultural is IN, especially for a writer, especially squared for a YA writer! Think of the platform you can build, being bilingual in or/our endings, Fahrenheit and Celsius, Dollars/pounds/Euros, etc.

  2. Ohhh, I don't know if I've ever been IN before. How exciting! You are right though, of course. It has also occurred to me, if I could find my book a publishing home, I could do a pretty decent job marketing it on both sides of the Atlantic.


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