Dances With Words – From one language to another, to another…

by Nick Wolochatiuk ~ Dances With Words
Dances With Words – From one language to another, to another…
TWO LANGUAGES – Britain and Canada are separated by a vast ocean of salt water and challenging differences in vocabulary. (Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk)


Acquiring language involves a series of steps. First, we hear, we listen in context, then we gradually learn to understand. Gradually we learn to speak well enough for others to understand what we are trying to communicate. Then comes the written form. We comprehend through context. It takes a long time to reach the stage where teachers, critics and spell check programs approve of what we write. Finally comes the mastery of spoken and written idioms and nuances that survive the scrutiny of lawyers, judges, diplomats and publishers.

Sometimes, one can best show their mastery of a language by using very few words. The best example of that is “Nuts!”, uttered by the commander of the 101st Airborne, when the surrounding Germans demanded he surrender.

One can be most eloquent by remaining silent, as Jesus had done on several occasions (Matthew 26: 63 and 27:12) when questioned by the high priest, elders, Herod and even Pilate.

We’ve all had our own journey in learning a new language. Just when I was getting along rather well in my mother tongue, Ukrainian, I had to start all over in English when our family moved to Toronto. It took two years in grade one to get my tongue working again.

Then came French. Five years in high school got me to the stage of being able to understand both sides of the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, but my lips remained sealed. Then travel abroad came to the rescue: attentive listening in France, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. As I had needs, French words started to come.

Later on, while working as a guide at Upper Canada Village for three years; I learned as I listened to some of the bilingual visitors translating my spiel into French for their friends.

However, I have yet to understand much of the joual spoken on the back streets of Montreal or in Gaspesie. Most of it is Greek to me.

A romance that started on August 18, 2008 introduced the need to learn yet another language: British. I must have done reasonably well in understanding and being understood, for we got married June 7, 2014.

I was confronted by a whole new vocabulary, words that mean something entirely different in British than in Canadian. Test your comprehension on these terms: bangers, biscuits, bonnet, boot, brilliant, building society, champers, chav sauce, chemist, chips, chunder, fairy cakes, estate car, fascinator, fender, free phone, head beams, hoover, kip, knocked up, layby, lorry, mains, off-licence, panel beater, rashers, roving phone, saloon, self-drive, shandy, shooting brake, skip, slip road, sorted, sparrow fart, tailback, take away, torch, traders.

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