Expat Life

English translation

I need more than one English translation. English is not my first language. I was born in Havana, Cuba. When I was almost three years old, I emigrated to the US with my parents and sister. We came on the Mariel boatlift just like Tony Montana (Scarface) 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.

My first language was Spanish. It was the language I spoke at home with my family. I don’t know when I started to read, but I had books in Spanish. When I started school at five, I didn’t speak English, but I took to it quickly. In fact, I 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. I continued writing throughout high school and in college. I even majored in English.

The way I speak is not so different from the way I write. Some of my friends have observed it’s a little formal. I don’t use a lot of slang. I capitalise and punctuate properly most of the time, even in text messages. English is intuitive for me. Although I have embraced some text speak such as lol, omg, and brb, it 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.

I say things like sunglasses, chickens, barbecue, breakfast, and mosquitoes. Theo says things like sunnies, chooks, barbie, brekkie, and mozzies. Australians shorten just about everything. Theo laughs and says Americans are so British. I laugh and say Australians are so British. They say bonnet for hood, car park for parking lot, biscuit for cookie, holiday for vacation, and so forth. All we Americans have is the British imperial system of measurements and elevator, which apparently sounds more British than lift. I wish we had clotted cream to go with our scones.