American/British Language Differences: Automotive Edition

It has always struck me as bizarre that, when it comes to cars, there’s an especially-wide swathe of vocabulary differences between British English and American English. After almost thirteen years here in the USA, I feel like I have mastered most of these except for those that are spelled the same but pronounced differently over here, like the brand Jaguar. To me, it will always be Jag-you-are. Never Jag-war.

For those of you intrigued to learn more transatlantic automotive vernacular, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Bonnet: not decorative headwear but rather the British word for ‘hood.’
  • Boot: not footwear, but how we Brits say ‘trunk.’
  • Windscreen: yes, we call it a windscreen not a windshield.
  • Number plate: that’s English for license plate.
  • Manual: you call it ‘stick.’ You’ll find a whole lot more of these in the UK and Europe. In fact, most of us learn to drive manual. This makes us better multi-taskers, IMHO.
  • Hatchback: a three-door car. Again, many more of these across the pond. After all, British streets and parking spots are narrower, so it makes sense.
  • Saloon: not as glamorous as in the wild west, this is what we call a regular four-door car.
  • Estate: Personally I think station wagon cars are all ugly. Also it’s such a silly word.
  • Lorry = Truck
  • Caravan = RV
  • People Mover = Minivan
  • 4×4 = SUV

Things you may have in your car:

  • Anorak: in case it rains. Y’all call it a windbreaker.
  • Wellies: ditto, in case it’s rainy or muddy out. You’d call them rubber boots.
  • Torch: A.K.A a flashlight.

I’ve also discovered some words here in America for which I don’t think there’s a direct British equivalent:

  • Way back: fortunately it means what it says, as in “tell the kids in the way back of the car to stop throwing legos at each other.”
  • Tailgating: Grilling in car parks before sports events is not something Brits really know how to do. Or why.

On the flip side, we Brits do like a good car boot sale. No, this doesn’t mean selling our trunks. It’s like a big old market where everyone parks their car and sets up a booth to sell off second-hand stuff. Like lots of yard sales in a parking lot or a big field.

Help: My Kids are Franglaises!

Guest post by Gillian Gover

“No – let’s play in French today. We played in English yesterday.”

“OK. But you speak to me in French and I’ll speak to you in English.”

This was my first inkling that perhaps our youngest daughter wasn’t quite the same animal as the others. As a British couple living in France, we’ve always spoken English at home. But our three (between us) daughters are more exposed to French – at daycare, school, with friends, shopping…. anywhere except at home really. The eldest refused to speak any English until age 4. The second, now 8, speaks exclusively in French if she thinks you’re too tired/lazy/distracted to call her on it.

So it was something of a surprise to find that after two native French speakers, we now have a native English speaker. We still have the same language problems – just the other way round.

So how do you bring up bilingual children?

Well, better folks than I can help you with concrete advice, data-driven conclusions and all that good stuff. But generally, I find it’s the same way you bring up other kids. Simply by muddling through….

  1. Set your house rules: To help you decide when and how to help/prod/correct/encourage/praise your kids, figure out just how bilingual you want them to be. Is the “80/20” rule good enough? Or do you want them to sound like native speakers in both languages? I have a tendency towards “Eats Shoots and Leaves” punctuation geekiness, so no guessing where I fall. But believe me, getting from “Please may I get down of the table” to “Please may I get down from the table” definitely requires 80% of the effort for 20% of the gain.
  2. Decide your exceptions to the rule: As any parent knows, rules are made to be broken. And, like the pirates’ code, they’re more “sort of guidelines anyway…” For example, halfway through discussions of math homework – which take place in what can only be described as a bastardized form of franglais with an accent that hovers somewhere between Calais and Dover – I usually wonder if I shouldn’t just do this bit in French. It would probably be fairer – and easier – on all.
  3. Make the effort, and keep on making it: If you only speak one language at home, don’t expect your children to pick up the other language naturally, as if by osmosis as it were. They won’t. Kids might be sponges but they can only soak up knowledge – and that includes languages – to which you expose them. You need to make the effort to use the second language with them – and be strict and consistent about it over time.

Having bilingual children is wonderfully rewarding and, quite frankly, has masses of pure entertainment value! And just occasionally – usually when I head back to the UK – I get a little smug about the fact that my kids speak two languages and how lucky we are. Fortunately, I’m usually brought down to earth pretty quickly by some of the other families we know, like the one whose children speak French, English, Spanish AND Portuguese! Pride and the corresponding fall would seem to be a rule without exceptions.

And what of our kids? Well, they seem to have agreed to play in English in one bedroom, and in French in the other ….

For those who are interested, here are some of those better folks:

Gillian is a Brit abroad, start-up marketeer and gadget girl. She also plays mum to three girls (through both merger or acquisition) and an ever-changing number of dogs and cats. Follow her on Twitter at @gilliancg 

Confused? 10 British/American Words That Are Spelled the Same But Pronounced Differently

As my readers know, I’ve been living in the US for 12 years now and love observing the differences between British English and American English (see posts 10 Silly American Words and  10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing.) While there are many words and expressions that differ between our two lovely languages, what actually confuses me the most are the words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Here are my top ten:

  • Vitamin – I have to admit that I no longer know which pronunciation is the “correct” one; a long ‘i’ or a short one? Which usually means I’ll say it wrong.
  • Privacy – Ditto. No clue.
  • Garage – I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Emphasis is on the first, short “a” – not a long, drawn-out “age.”
  • Water – People of the US, that’s a “t” not a “d” in the middle!
  • Herb – Yup, pretty sure the first letter here is an “h” so that’s how I pronounce it.
  • Oregano – While we’re on the topic, I say it the Brit way, with a long “ano.”
  • Peugeot – I know there aren’t many, if any, of these lovely French cars here in the US but I’d like to advise you that there is no “poo” in its pronunciation.
  • Woburn – I have learnt this well; when in Massachusetts, say “Wooburn” (when in England, it’s W-oh-burn.)
  • Tomato – You say “tom-ay-to” – “I say tom-ah-to.” Not budging on this one, folks.
  • Colin – If this is your name, you should know that in the UK, we don’t pronounce it C-oh-lin.

So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, happy travels. Good luck with “the look!”

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