I’ve always heard that the best way to learn a new language is immersion learning.
This type of learning entails throwing yourself totally into the desired language and culture by interacting only with native speakers. Not the typical classroom setting like I had in high school where the only Spanish I retained was “ la pluma.” I have yet to find myself in a situation where I desperately needed a pen and the only people around spoke Spanish exclusively.
I guess la pluma isn’t the only Spanish word I know. I’ve been with friends from both Spain and Mexico who’ve taught me other words. Mostly curse words, though. Isn’t it funny that the foreign words we want to learn first, and actually retain, are the dirty words? Those friends wanted to learn the naughty English words, too.
But Spanish isn’t the other language I’m talking about learning here. No, I’m talking about finding yourself immersed in the unique dialects, colloquialisms and nuances of the English language spoken in different regions of these United States.
Take, for instance, a visit I made to the northeast. While at a shop in Boston, a store clerk asked my friend if she had “PSDS.” After several scrunch-faced replies of, “What?”, we finally figured out the clerk was talking about earrings she was selling and wanted to know if my friend had “pierced ears,’’ translated from the “PSDS’’ we heard in her thick Boston accent.
Most anywhere in the Midwest, if you want a sweet, carbonated beverage, you’ll need to ask for a “pop.” But if you’re in the South and want a soft drink, you ask for a Coke. You will then be asked what kind of Coke you want as all soft drinks are referred to as “Coke” like an orange Coke, or grape Coke, etc. On the west coast, you’ll ask for a “soda.”
Heading South, the language takes on more nuance as you move through Appalachia. It’s been said that the English spoken there is nearer the King’s English spoken in the original Colonies due to the population of Appalachia being cut off from the rest of the country as the language evolved. So, while it’s easy to mock the way folk from deep in the hollers speak, they may actually be speaking a more proper English than you and I.
Deeper in the South, you may indeed need an interpreter to help you get by. When my job took me to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, it took me some time to be able to decipher some of the spoken words there.
One of the first words I learned there was, “jeet.” It took some back-and-forth before I was able to discern, through context, that my new acquaintance was asking if I was hungry, “did you eat?”
I also had to learn the subtleties of spatial orientation between “out yonder,” “back yonder” and “over yonder.” The difference between “you-uns”, “y’all” and “all y’all” had to be learned, as well.
Additionally, I had to learn that in the South one can “pitch a fit” when angry but a “hissy” can only be ”thrown” by an irritated Southerner. And while some words are shortened to one syllable like “tire” pronounced “tar” or “far” for “fire”, other words gain a syllable like “fowah” for “four” or “ray-ed” for “red.”
When the job eventually took me west, I had to learn that highways and Interstates weren’t referenced, as in the rest of the country, with names like “Route 75,” “I-10” or “Interstate 405.” No, here they all have the prefix “the” prior to their numerical designation like, “the 10” or “the 405.” And the “0” is always pronounced, “oh,” never “zero,” so it’s “the four-oh-five.”
All other roads are deemed “surface streets” as if the freeways (not “expressways”) are somehow below the surface.
So, you see, learning a second or even third language doesn’t necessitate a trip to foreign lands. You can become just as confused trying to decipher unfamiliar linguistics without ever leaving the country. Luckily though, most of the curse words are the same in every region!