When I arrived in England I thought I knew English. After I’d been here for an hour I realized that I did not understand one word. In the first months I picked up a tolerable knowledge of the language and the next years convinced me gradually but thoroughly that I’d never know it really well, let alone perfectly. This is sad. My only consolation being that nobody speaks English perfectly.
Remember that those five hundred words on average Englishman uses are far from being the whole vocabulary of the language. You may learn another five hundred and another five thousand and yet another fifty thousand and still you may come across a further fifty thousand you have never heard of before, and nobody else either.
If you live here long enough you’ll find out to your greatest amazement that the adjective nice is not the only one the language posses, in spite of the fact that in the first three years you don’t need to use any other adjectives: weather is nice or is not nice, a restaurant is nice, Mr Evans is nice, Mrs Brown’s clothes are nice, you had a nice time, and all this will be very nice. 🙂
Then you have to decide on your accent. You’ ll have your foreign accent all right, but many people like to mix it with something else finding it fascinating. The easiest way to give the impression of having a good accent or no foreign one at all is to hold an unlit pipe in your mouth, to mutter between your teeth and finish all your sentences with the question: ‘isn’t it?’ People will not understand much, but they are accustomed to that and they’ll get a most excellent impression. I’ve known quite a number of foreigners who tried hard to acquire an Oxford accent.The advantage of this is that you give the idea of being permanently in the company of Oxford lecturers on medieval numismatics; the disadvantage is that the permanent singing is rather a strain on your throat. The Mayfair accent can be highly recommended too. The advantages of Mayfair English are that it unites the affected air of the Oxford accent with the uncultured flavour of a half-educated professional hotel-dancer.
Many foreigners who have learned Latin and Greek in school discover with amazement and satisfaction that the English language has absorbed a huge amount of ancient Latin and Greek expressions, and they realize that 1)it is much easier to learn these expressions than the much simpler English words; 2)that these words as a rule are interminably long and make a simply superb impression when talking to the greengrocer, the porter and the insurance agent.
Imagine, for instance, that the porter of the block of flats where you live remarks sharply that you must not put your dustbin out in front of your door before 7.30 a.m. Should you answer ‘Please don’t bully me’, a loud and tiresome argument may follow, and certainly the porter will be proved right, because you are sure to find a clause in your contract (small print, bottom of the last page) that the porter is always right and you owe absolute allegiance and unconditional obedience to him. Should you answer, however, with these words: ‘I repudiate your petulant expostulations’, the argument will be closed at once, the porter will be proud of having such a cultured guy in the block, and from the day onwards you may, if you please, get up at four o’clock in the morning and hung your dustbin out of the window. But even in Curzon Street society, if you say, for instance, that you are a tough guy they will consider you a vulgar, irritating person. Should you declare, however, that you are an inquisitorial and peremptory homo sapiens, they will have no idea what you mean, but they will feel in their bones that you must be something wonderful.
When you know all the long words it is advisable to start learning some of the short ones, too.
Finally, this is the most important point to remember: Don’t forget that it’s much easier to write in English than to speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent. The other day I was told by a very kind lady: ‘But why do you complain? You really speak a lovely accent without the slightest English’. NICE enough, isn’t it?
Well, this is my favourite expression all time (in a pure scottish accent):
“Mon” is “come on” in Scottish. “The Biff” is what fans call the Scottish rock band “Biffy Clyro“.