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Nearly fluent in English, but more at ease in your native tongue? Blogger Kasia explains why she's still more at home in Polish.

It's not a secret to anybody who reads this blog (even to people randomly popping in) that English is not my first language. It's a close second, though! I started learning English when I was seven and have been learning (on and off) ever since.

You'd probably think that my English should be way better by now, but quite frankly until I moved to the UK I had never had a chance to use and test it.

It was quite tough in the beginning. I somehow thought my English was so much better (I was a teacher at some point, after all). But, let me tell you, there's a huge difference between written and spoken English. You can read as much as you like in a foreign language and when you actually live in the country you are lost for words on more than one occasion.

Words like ‘hot water bottle’, ‘storage heating’, ‘ladle’ and ‘conifers’, just to mention a few I was lost for. I won't even start on the extent of the confusion caused by slang, accents and commonly used alternative [sic] grammar.


But at some point it all gets easier. You get a grasp of the language and it gets more natural to speak it. Up to a point when one of my Scottish friends told me that she thought I was speaking English at home (for those of you who don't know: my other half's Polish, too). When asked why on earth would I speak English to Marcin, she replied, “Oh, I don't know, because you sound so natural when you speak English!”

I should perhaps mention that at home we speak our version of Ponglish, a mixture of both languages, which mainly uses Polish grammar, but some English vocabulary and lots of loan translations. And a few words in other languages, too.

I was laughing out loud then, but I think I know what she meant. My English-speaking friends got used to my way of speaking English, with my odd (at times) pronunciation, my grammar and vocabulary errors and even my Polish loan translations so much that they stopped realising it's not my first language. And as I get more and more confident in using English, they get less and less aware of the fact that it's still a foreign language to me, and that it still requires a good deal of concentration for me to speak it. Just to clarify: I still speak Polish better. *wink

And of course for people who heard me (and could understand me) speaking Polish, my English sounds as far from natural as possible.

What's really difficult (and at the same time quite thrilling) to learn is not grammar nor vocabulary, it's the context. Historical, literary, cultural context. It takes time and I wouldn't underestimate the power of media in teaching me the cultural context. Bring on the TV!

It's not easy to switch between contexts though. I'm still deeply seeded in the Polish cultural context and very often can't find a proper British equivalent. Which is not a bad thing, I'd say that most of my friends are kind enough to be willing to learn about the Polish context, but I feel silly not being able to express some thoughts without a lecture. And yes, I get the same problem when having a conversation in Poland and I have to explain all the complexities of British politics and society.

Bear with me, I'll get there. I'll be switching between contexts fluently. Or maybe there's no need to switch? Maybe not switching makes me more interesting? Because that's who I am after all: a person raised in one context, then placed in a different one. But that's a topic for a different post, I guess.

I'm one of the million Polish people who have invaded the UK recently. Unlike most of them I don't work as a kitchen porter, I do speak English and I'm sharing my expat experiences at Clockwork Orange: my life in Edinburgh, discovering the country, the language and the cuisine. 

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