“My favourite food blogger. A very special friend. A witty, fun writer. An amazing baker (she’s recently been in the Great American Baking Show – how cool is that?). A scientist who spends her days in a lab studying bacteria (yes, I know, that’s amazing!). A person who shares with me the love of languages – and their subtleties, and their power. A woman who multitasks – at all times. A dog lover. A people lover – someone who doesn’t find obstacles to help others. Do I need to say more? It’s a great honour to have Salete Newton as a guest writer in my blog. Over to you, Sally!”Denise Santos
When I left Brazil for the first time, decades ago, I thought I had reasonable knowledge of English. It was the type of knowledge offered by classes in school, by listening to music and figuring out lyrics, and by going to movies and trying to not rely on the subtitles. But I was not prepared for what the experience was really like: “total immersion.” The first thing I learned was that people speak faster than I expected. And, the proper grammar and well-structured phrases that I used to see in old textbooks were rare. Slang and shortcuts abounded. I’ll never forget one of my first awkward moments, in the grocery store with a long line behind me, and the cashier asking something I simply could not understand. It was clearly an important question, one that demanded a quick answer, but I was lost, totally lost. After a back and forth that seemed to last forever and that wasn’t winning any brownie points with the people behind me, I got it: she was saying “cash or charge? Cash or charge?” Do you want to pay with “cash,” or “charge” it with a credit card? It turns out that I had no idea that “cash” meant real money, and that using a credit card was expressed in short as “charge.”
That was just one small example of the learning process for a new language, when you go from classroom to real life.
But even when you feel comfortable and fluent, your new language will surprise you every now and then. It took me a long time to accept that when the alarm clock wakes you up in the morning, “it goes off.” How can it possibly go OFF while it is actually going on and on and on?
So another important point of embracing a new language is accepting its little quirks, incorporating them and moving on. In the beginning it feels strange for a Brazilian to say the alarm went off in the morning, but soon it becomes second nature. Just like the New Year bringing with it a lot of snow instead of the warm sand of a beach in Rio.
Recently I had the opportunity to deal with another interesting aspect of the English language: the differences between the American and British varieties. Baking is my hobby and a few months ago I was involved in a little cooking adventure in London. That led me to explore recipes in British cookbooks, and use ingredients in that country.
I thought it would be fun to list just a few of the many things that differ between the two regions.
Biscuits, cookies and scones
Biscuits… In the UK, biscuits are what in Brazil we call “biscoitos.” So the translation is almost literal between Portuguese and British English. But in the US, biscoitos are called… COOKIES! If you refer to them as such in the UK, they will gently correct you and insist that you use the “proper term.” American biscuits are totally different entities, having originated from British scones back in the 1600’s. Confused yet? Maybe a picture will help you out.
Scones also exist in the US, and they are usually flavored with other goodies, that take them into a sweet territory. Raisins, chocolate chips, fruits, they all find their way into scones, whereas the biscuit is for the most part kept savory and served with gravy. Very delicious, all of them.
Chips, crisps and fries
Another interesting difference. When you think of British food, I’m sure that “fish and chips” comes to mind. Having had the chance to try the authentic version in England, and other versions in the US, I can tell you the fish and chips you get in the UK is unbeatable. It’s one of those things to put on your gastronomic bucket list. But once again the USA and the UK do not use the same terms for the potatoes.
Americans who order the classic dish at a London venue might be surprised when their chips turn out to be quite a bit heartier than they expected from the name. And obviously a much better match to the fish sitting next to it…
Barbecue, grill and broil
Not only are food items named differently, but also cooking methods. If you go out to buy a grill, depending on the country you are in, you’ll come back with two totally different appliances!
In the US, we grill outside, in the UK it means using a very hot oven, to perform what in the US is known as broiling. Also, in the US we use a blender, but in the UK a lot of people use a liquidiser (not that far from our very own liquidificador in Brazil).
Those are a few examples that show how flexible languages are, always evolving, always changing. A person learning a new language will always face many challenges, and that’s ok. My advice, don’t worry about making mistakes, and as we say in Brazil “mantenha o senso de humor.” Be able to laugh and move on, but make sure you learn from every little mistake. Ask questions, and use all the technology available for you today (which is much better than what I had in those days). Websites will tell you how to pronounce words in any language, and of course an online translator can be a life saver.
I think even the desire of learning a new language, that first mental commitment we make of giving it a try, is a wonderful thing. Never easy, but always rewarding. And totally worth it.
Salete (Sally) Newton was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She is a biochemist/molecular biologist with a passion for baking. She moved to the United States in 1993, where she works as a Research Professor in Kansas State University.