First Collab Post: English Dialects

 

Hello everyone! This is the first collab post I have done! Please welcome Pooja Gudka from Lifesfinewine. Our post is about our experiences with different English dialects. Pooja hails from Kenya and is studying in Canada.

Our Experiences with English Dialects:

Pooja: My mum is from India and my dad is Kenyan and I was born and raised in Kenya but now reside in Canada. I have had the opportunity of hearing many different dialects and I think my dialect changes depending on who I am talking to and which country I am in. Like Winteroseca, I had to adjust to how people talk in Canada and it has been quite interesting to observe their dialect and how it differs from my own. 

 

Winteroseca: My parents are American. I have adjusted to dialects in the US and UK. I am now adjusting to how people talk in Canada. Additionally, when I was living in England, I knew many people from former British colonies and it was interesting to talk about how our dialects differ.

When did you start learning a new dialect?

Pooja: I sounded a lot like my parents when I was younger but as I got older I started reading a lot and watching a lot of American shows as well as listening to American music so I think my dialect changed a lot between 10-18. After that I think it has remained the same and I still sound like I did when I was a teenager- just less teenager-like haha. 

Winteroseca: I was 5 years old. My parents and I had just moved to Texas and I picked up on their way of talking so fast! I thought it was cool. The most significant change was when I moved to London at 10 years old. That was a complete overhaul of the way I talked. 

Did your accent change too?

Pooja: Not particularly. I think it changed when I was about 10 and started to get more into American culture but I think it has remained pretty much the same since then. 

Winteroseca: Yes, and no. When I was in London, there were certain words I had to say a different way or people wouldn’t understand me. I got to a point where my accent would change depending on who I’m talking to and what I’m saying. Third Culture Kids get to a point where they frame-switch between their cultures, and I have done that for a very large portion of my life. Since moving to Canada, I have been reconnecting with a lot of British English while learning how people talk in my new country.

What challenges did you face?

Pooja: I speak four languages fluently and I am currently learning a fifth language and one challenge I face because of this is not having the right words to say in English. Sometimes I will know what I want to say in a different language but I won’t be able to translate it well in English which can be frustrating. Another challenge is that I did a British curriculum at school so I ended up learning words in the traditional/British way and a lot of times I will talk to someone American or even Canadian and be confused about what they mean and then be like “oh wait we call it blah blah blah”

Winteroseca: I had to learn to speak slower and more clearly when I moved to London. There are a lot of immigrants in London. Additionally, the variation between different British accents was huge! Whenever I answered the phone or started talking to someone new, I didn’t know what dialect or accent they would have. I had to learn to adapt my way of speaking to match theirs. Sometimes, the person I was talking to wouldn’t be speaking slowly enough for me to understand, and that would be awkward when I had to ask them to repeat themselves. Typically, the challenge I have is when I need to recall a different way of saying a word. Like, “What do we say in the US instead of trainers?”

Example:

What are some things about learning another way of speaking that surprised you?

Pooja: I think I was surprised by how many people have been through this- I have talked to multiple friends who have immigrated from countries where English isn’t their first language and they share a lot of my frustrations or even just thoughts. It’s actually helped me bond with some people which is nice. 

Winteroseca: One time, I was talking to my grandmother in the US after I had been living in the UK for several years. She commented, “You speak so beautifully!” It had been years since I had initially trained myself to speak more clearly and deliberately. Eventually, I automatically spoke that way around everyone.

When I repatriated to the US, I made a few friends who had recently immigrated to the US. A friend of mine from China said that one of the first things she noticed about me was that I talk slowly and clearly enough and she could understand me. That was one reason she wanted to get to know me better. She heard my UK accent too, but she was most relieved about the fact I could communicate well with people whose English was a second language. Other friends of mine who were immigrants said they really appreciated the fact I spoke in a way they could understand me. And I told them I was happy to explain things they didn’t understand, like slang or if someone was talking to us and they didn’t understand what they were saying.

How do you have fun with different dialects?

Pooja: I think it’s always fun to try something new and learning a new dialect can be a lot of fun! Like Winteroseca, I like to switch between accents/dialects for fun sometimes and it can be nice not to take things so seriously. I think it also opens you up to new experiences, new people and can be a fun way to learn more about the country/area you are currently in. 

Winteroseca: I love comedy that tastefully jokes about language and dialects. Even if I don’t speak a certain language, I can appreciate comedians that can use a language they speak to make humour translate between cultures. I like to make up some jokes of my own. When I was in London, there were so many ways of saying different things in different English dialects that I tried them all. It was rich in different ways of talking. Plus, I kept needing to frame-switch depending on who I was talking to. 

Sometimes, I can get a little sassy with my frame-switching. If someone says something, and I want to politely tease them, I put on a different accent and pretend I don’t understand what they are talking about. What’s the point of speaking in different accents and dialects if you can’t have a little tasteful fun with them?

Example:

What are the annoying things about speaking in a different dialect and/or accent?

Pooja: It annoys me when people judge you based on your dialect or accent. Like, a lot of people will tell me I don’t sound “Kenyan/African/Indian” which is so weird to me because we don’t all have one dialect/accent. People also sometimes assume that if you speak differently you are not as smart/good at English as they are which is something I experienced at university which was a bit frustrating. Sometimes it feels like you have to try to be better than everyone else just so you can get on the same level as them or so that people will take what you are saying seriously. You have to work harder because every mistake you make will be a reflection of your culture/race/nationality instead of just a mistake you made. 

Winteroseca: The thing I really can’t stand is people who won’t talk slowly enough so you can understand them. Either that, or if you ask them to slow down, they talk to you like an idiot. To me, it’s disrespectful to either not slow down, or talk to someone like they’re an idiot because they have an accent. It’s embarrassing enough to ask someone to repeat something anyway. After I repatriated to the US, it was more embarrassing to ask people to repeat what they said. There was more pressure to understand Americans because sometimes, they couldn’t hear my UK accent. Since I have American parents, I felt like I should be familiar with how Americans talk and others thought the same about me as well. People often associate accents with intelligence and that’s absolutely wrong. Sometimes, when people make fun of the way you talk, it can be in bad taste, and I hate that as well.

I also hate how people have stereotypical thinking about certain accents or dialects. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to correct people on their thinking. The good thing is I am not afraid to call people out and some people do listen to me. I hate how other people don’t listen though. My trick for calling out Americans is to say, “Don’t say that. It makes you sound like a Trump supporter!” That works, especially if the people I talk to are not Trump supporters!

After I moved to Canada, I was confused about how to talk or spell for a while. Thanks to influences from both the US and UK, it felt chaotic! Now I know that context and regions are a factor in how people talk.

 

What are your personal tips for adjusting to a new dialect?

Pooja: My main tip would be to dive into their culture. If you are moving to a new place watch their local shows, listen to their music, read their literature, etc. Get a feel of what it’s like and what people there are like so you can assimilate better. It will be a bit hard at first but once you actually mingle with everyone you will be able to adjust over time and you will feel like one of the locals before you know it. 

Winteroseca: The best thing you can do initially is to listen to how people talk. It’s important to not make assumptions either. For instance, you may have been exposed to stereotypical thinking, and you might not know if it’s true. Now is the time to question whether or not something is a stereotype. It is good to do research beforehand of dialects, but even then, it can be incomplete. There’s nothing like getting out in the world and doing things. You will make mistakes while learning to speak in a different way. It can be tough to not be hard on yourself, especially if you aren’t in a supportive environment. But it’s important to remember that you aren’t the only one who has struggled with a new way of talking. It can be helpful to find others to share stories with.

Crossing A Border? Here Are Some TCK Pro Tips!

Who has had a supremely pleasant experience crossing a border where the officers are kind, welcoming and let you in with no problems? No? Me neither. Let’s just say, there’s a reason comedians make fun of border patrol and airport security. I included my favourite comedy routines on the subject in this post to help lighten this heavy subject.

I grew up between two of the most hostile countries when it comes to border patrol and security. So, I got really good at dealing with it. My parents said France and Switzerland border patrol care the most about paperwork. As long as you have that in order, they are usually okay with you. That sounds mild compared to my passport countries. Okay, Napoleon, I don’t appreciate the paperwork headache, but as long as I don’t get a hard time at the border, thank you!

Whether you are crossing a border for travel or immigration purposes, it’s helpful to know how to deal with border patrol. I will include tips on dealing with airport security too. Border patrol and airport security is a content warning in its own right. However, I want to mention I will include some examples of stories that people may find disturbing.

Before You Leave:

Do any necessary paperwork. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but it will save you an enormous headache later. Make sure your passport is still valid too. If it isn’t or if you have less than 6 months on it, renew it! Being born in Switzerland and living in France, it was my birthright to learn how to fill in paperwork properly. It was one of those cultural things my parents made sure to teach me. That served me well when I moved to England and I expect it will serve me well here in Canada too. I remember when I was old enough to do paperwork, and my Mum gave me practice forms to fill in. She made me practise… and practise… and PRACTISE until I was almost tearing my hair out.

My Mum was sympathetic but also strict about the fact that I needed to know this. She told me stories later about how she learned how to deal with paperwork in France/Switzerland. This was before the internet really took off too, so hey, I learned paperwork from a master!

This is why I love Roz’s character from Monsters Inc. Every scene with her makes paperwork and border patrol a little easier to handle.

It really helps to think of border patrol officers like Roz, or even like in Life is Beautiful, Guido and Joshua call the concentration camp guards, “Mean Guys Who Yell.”

One More Thing:

Check the laws, regulations and rights when you cross the border. I’m serious. Anyone can get stopped at the border and you have to be prepared in case it happens. Additionally, if you are arriving in a country that has questionable (or dare I say abusive in some cases) human rights practices, you have to be even more prepared. More on that later.

Check requirements for airport security and customs too. If you’re in doubt about taking something with you, either don’t take it or ask at security or customs if it’s allowed. I heard a story once about this elderly German guy who was flying into the USA. He brought baking soda with him to brush his teeth. He was detained for hours while security tested it. They came back and said, “it’s baking soda.” Um, they could have figured it out by pouring apple cider vinegar on it and creating a mini volcano!

Case in point: what happens when you take fruit across the US/Canada border.

Now that you’re prepared, here’s are my tips when you are going through security or crossing the border.

Golden Rule: Do NOT Use Humour!

Just DON’T! When I was younger, my Mum told me this story to remind me not to use humour. Groucho Marx said that he was a smuggler when he went through the border. They detained him even though they knew who he was. Plus, the previous video with Leland Klassen conveys that message of not using humour too.

One time, my Dad used humour with Border Patrol. We had just got permanent residence in the UK, and my Dad was arriving back in the UK after a trip to the US. He was having his papers checked at Border Patrol and they asked him how he got permanent residence. Side Note: One of our family discussions at the time was about this guy who gave £1,000,000 to the Labour Party to obtain UK citizenship.

Anyway, Border Patrol asked my Dad, “How did you get your permanent residence?”

He joked, “I gave £1,000,000 to the Labour Party!”

The woman questioning him looked blank and said, “Good for you.”

Okay, that worked out in the end. Still, I don’t advocate using humour. Border Patrol has NO sense of humour! They just get on with the job.

Honesty is the Best Policy:

If you are familiar with typical questions you are asked, I suggest you practice your answers if you have ANY uncertainty of what you are going to say! Border Patrol may try to throw you off with an atypical comment or question. It’s normal to freeze when that happens. I don’t have any right answer for when that happens. Just be kind to yourself, especially if you say something that you feel like you shouldn’t have said in retrospect. Frankly, I get panic attacks when that happens. Sometimes, I can come up with a good save in answer to an awkward question, but it takes practice. It didn’t happen overnight for me.

Here’s something people don’t often tell you. Sometimes, you have to tell the border officers which law(s) is/are applicable to your case. Border officers have to keep track of MANY different laws. I had a situation once where I had to tell the border officer the law that applied to me. Sometimes, you wonder if they really don’t know that law, and it’s true that it can be the case. Other times, it can likely be just needing to know all these different laws and it’s hard to recall them at the drop of a hat.

I’m glad Trevor Noah makes the situation lighter in this video.

If You Make A Mistake, Own It:

You might make a mistake in your paperwork or answer a question wrongly. In that case, admit the mistake. Don’t try to flatter the officers, like how Mike Wazowzki tries to flatter Roz. Yes, there will be consequences. I made a mistake once. I thought one regulation applied to me, but it turned out there was a new one. Because I was preparing to move I didn’t check for updates. It takes a while to go through those regulations, and it’s one of those things you only want to do once when you move.

Decide Which Information is Important to Share and Which Isn’t:

To be clear, I’m NOT saying you should hide information! Far from it! What I am saying is you should prioritize what information you should share. When I got dual nationality, I learned that I have to decide on a case by case basis whether I should disclose it. I don’t say I’m a dual citizen if I am entering one of my passport countries. They don’t need to know that. They just need to see my passport. I disclosed my dual nationality to Canadian immigration when I moved. When you look at immigration forms, they ask if you’re a dual citizen. Canada’s the first country I have seen who does this! That makes me very happy that they are recognizing that a lot of people are dual citizens.

When I repatriated to the US, my Dad sat me down and had a serious talk with me about being careful who I tell that I’m a dual citizen when I’m in the US. Basically, if anyone asks me if I’m a US citizen while on US soil, I have to say yes. You’re considered a security risk if you’re a dual citizen in the US. Honestly, I find that completely disgusting and backwards! There are more TCKs in the world than ever before because of globalization and more people are getting dual nationality than before! Frankly, the US and other countries need to catch up!

Know Your Rights:

This is where it can really get ugly. Your rights can still be violated if you’re a citizen of a country that you are entering. My uncle re-entered the US after a trip to a country in South America that the US deemed a security risk. They threatened to do something that would have violated his rights as a US citizen. He said, “I’m a US citizen. You can’t do this to me!” It worked because my uncle knew his rights. If you don’t know your rights, it’s easier for border patrol to exploit you!

Here are two more tips I have. First, check if you can ask to speak to a lawyer at no extra cost to you before you leave. Certain countries are legally required to provide you with a lawyer at no extra cost upon request. Check if that applies to the country you’re entering. I only recently learned about this. I had problems entering Canada. My Dad said, later on, I should have asked to speak to a lawyer. Glad I know that for future reference!

My second tip is to find out their discrimination laws. If you can find a reason why they can’t discriminate against you, use it!

Other Stories:

After 9/11, border patrol and airport security in the US got even scarier. I vowed to myself that I would visit there as little as possible. This wasn’t something that would calm down after a few years either. There were a lot of personal stories going around of US border patrol and airport security being more abusive overall. Things only got slightly better because of people complaining about their experiences.

I have heard of UK citizens being stopped at the border if they are naturalized citizens and questioned about the legitimacy of their citizenship. That’s one reason why I am leery about entering the UK again. Additionally, I have heard stories of Canadians who are Muslim being stopped at the US border because of Trump’s Islamaphobic travel bans!

Take Care of Yourself Afterwards:

I’m serious. In my post, Flying Internationally and Locally During COVID-19, I describe how I was feeling after going through Border Control. My Mum and I had to make our flight to Calgary right after that! Adrenaline was pumping SO hard then! I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out! I had to use the flight to Calgary to recover from that ordeal. The airplane views were beautiful, so I watched out the window.

If I hadn’t had to catch a plane, I would have taken care of myself. First, I would have gone into the bathroom to come down from the massive panic attack I was having. Then, I would have drunk a lot of water and maybe had some food once I felt better.

My point is that your body is going to respond to the stress of going through border patrol. It’s important to do whatever you need to do to manage it.

Laugh About It:

At some point, I can’t take what happens too seriously. I also remember that these border officers are people too and sometimes, you can see their human side. Then, it’s almost comical when something is way too easy. Listen to this last comedy routine to find out why!

What do you think of my tips and stories? Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!