English Translation

English is not my first language. I was born in Havana, Cuba and I was two-and-a-half years old when I came to the United States with my parents and sister. We came on the Mariel boatlift just like Tony Montana except that none of us of went on to rule a drug cartel. My dad became a handyman, my mother a housewife, and my sister and I just went to school.

I don’t know when I started talking or reading, but I quickly took to the English language and excelled in Language Arts. I wrote my first short story in grade school, something about a haunted house and it won some local community prize, and I continued writing through high school and college where I majored in English.

I speak largely the way I write, which some of my friends have observed is pretty formal. I don’t use a lot of slang and I capitalize and punctuate properly (most of the time) even in brief text messages. English is intuitive for me. Although I have embraced some text speak such as lol, omg, and brb, it actually requires more time and effort to decipher text messages like this one by a 13-year-old student: “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.” (In translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.”)

I am not alone. A small Australian study revealed that although text speak is faster to write, it takes more time to read than normal English. But I digress.

I, like most Americans I suppose, say things like sunglasses, chickens, barbecue, breakfast, and mosquitoes. Theo says things like sunnies, chooks, barbie, brekkie, and mozzies. Apparently Australians shorten just about everything.

Theo laughs and says Americans are so British, which I find rather amusing because many Americans like to have a little fun highlighting the differences between American and British English and it seems to me that Aussies speak something like an informal version of British English. After all, they say bonnet for hood, car park for parking lot, biscuit for cookie, holiday for vacation, and so forth. All we have is the British imperial system of measurements and elevator, which sounds more British than lift. I wish we had clotted cream to go with our scones.

About the image: Canberra Lake Sunset (with a view of the National Library of Australia) by Sam Ilić on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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