I’m Losing my English

I’m Losing my English

It’s been a slow & steady pace, and we’ve seen signs of it every once in a while – teasing one another when it happens and then moving on. Today though, it happened again so I thought I’d make a note of it to share with you.

We’re losing our English.

Timo Goes First

I think it’d be fair to say that we first noticed it with Timo. He was the youngest when we arrived and so the one whose language was the most still-in-flux. Then he went to school in the French system and there were words & concepts that he quickly picked up –becuase they were part of his daily experience – for which he had no English equivalent. Some of those things had never been part of his daily experience in English. Such terms included:

un carnet de classe – a record book of all things school related, which needs to be carried at all times.

une croix – an “x” in your “carnet de classe” for misbehaviour. Proudly, Timo never got one during his first year.

un binôme – a class partner – if you were absent, you (and they) knew that they were responsible for getting notes & assignment info to you.

So little by little, when he’d want to tell us about his day – in English – more and more French words crept in.

Sophie & Dominic are Next

Dominic experienced this as well and Sophie, when she started in the French system, went through the same thing. With them, however, we saw an increasing amount of acronyms creep in on top of regular vocabulary:

STMG – The acroym for Dominic’s high school program – Science Technique du Marketing et Gestion (a marketing & management program)

TPE – An assignment that Sophie had to plan & present (Travaux Personnels Encadrés), essentially an interdisciplinary assignment on a chosen topic.

EMC – Education Morale et Civique a class on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

There was a breakdown between their daily experience and the lexical resources, afforded by English, to express that experience.

It slowly became quicker and easier to just insert the French word into an otherwise English conversation than it was to either translate or explain, in English, a uniquely French concept

Not to be Outdone… (or is it age)

Liz & I regularly experience it as well.

On the age argument: I once heard a pastor say the following:

“As we get older, people say we get more forgetful. It’s not that we can’t find the information that we’re looking for… it’s definitely there. Rather, it’s like a filing cabinet that gets stuffed with more files as the years go on. We just have to sort through more files to find what we’re looking for… it just takes more time.”

Seriously though… there’s an argument to be made for age, but there’s also an argument to be made for that same lexical disconnect. We’re increasingly used to using or referring to a French word so it’s the first one that pops into our mind… similar to the kids.

However we also experience it with regard to things that pop into our minds seemingly randomly… but which seem somehow incomplete. (This is what prompted me to write today’s post)

Up & at ’em

There are a few little phrases like that that we use (at least in Eastern Canada, where I’m from). One such phrase is:

Let’s get at ‘er: let’s get started / let’s get going / let’s begin / let’s go (the most flamboyant rendition is: “pitter patter let’s get at ‘er”)

As I entered the kitchen early on a Saturday morning, Liz asked me rhetorically:

“Up & at it?”

It didn’t sound right to me. Shouldn’t it be “up & at ’em”? That’s what my lexical memory thought it should be.

But then I started to self-analyze: It makes more sense to say “it”…. “up & at it”. What does them refer to to in “up & at ’em”. But then I thought of “Let’s get at ‘er”. The ‘er is a shortened form for her but it doesn’t refer to a person at all (In Atlantic Canada we personify a lot of things with her/she).

… see how my brain works?

In the end…

You know that old saying right? …about “the boy and the country”?
My version would go a little like this:

“You can take the boy out of Atlantic Canada,
But you can’t take Atlantic Canada out of the boy.”

Maybe… just maybe, that’s not entirely the case.

I do think it’s “up & at ’em”, but just the fact that I had to think about it… ad nauseum is a sign that I’m further away from my native language than I once was.

That’s part of mission work that happens in a foreign language context. The longer you stay there, the more you may find yourself searching for words in both languages.


I talk about language and many other topics in my book
Short Term Missions Success, available on Amazon.

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