Recently in Bournemouth, while trying to find a bus going in the direction of my new home, I had a déjà vu moment. Having asked the driver of the first bus stopping which way he was going, I received an answer that to my ears sounded a bit like “Younehgghguhghgsghdfejnkhredfhuhdkljepsfhgddnwle, love!”
Now, that took me back almost eight years, to when I first tried to find my feet first in East London and later in the picturesque market town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. A lot of the English I heard then had nothing to do with the language they had tried to teach us at school. I used a lot of buses during that time, too, and got quite used to be called ‘love’ or even ‘sweetheart’ (German bus drivers don’t do that, which is a shame. I quite like it), and to thank the driver when getting off the bus (you don’t do that in Germany, either. It’s partly because we have so many bendy buses, and yelling ‘thank you’ towards the driver while getting off through the last set of doors doesn’t seem like a good idea).
Anyway. I encountered many accents and dialects in the last eight years, and some I have been able to understand more easily than others. Trying to also speak some of them is a different matter, though. Weirdly, although I lived in Bury St Edmunds for about five years, I never managed to get a handle on the local idiom even though, when you listen to it, the Suffolk accent is quite distinctive. I don’t know why that is. As a non-native speaker, I imitate what I hear anyway, so it shouldn’t matter whether it’s received pronunciation or anything else. For a while, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn how to speak with a Scottish accent, just because I like the way it sounds. I spent ages trying to pronounce ‘Carphone Warehouse’ in a Scottish accent (don’t ask – it just felt like a good phrase to practise on). Still can’t do it. I remember a car journey with my former boss, a writer-director and actor, who very patiently tried to teach me a few tricks how actors practise accents – to my great disappointment, I was quite hopeless.
But after eight years, I am at least able to understand most versions of English I encounter, so this was a bit unexpected – although it made me smile. It just means that there is always more to discover and to explore, and for the next year, this will be the South West of England. Can’t wait!
P.S.: I got on the bus despite having no idea where it was heading. It took me exactly where I wanted to go.