What’s the most difficult for me?
- Accents: I’ve learnt English with people having either a French accent or the typical “Oxford” like accent. Even in TV show / movies, accents tend to be limited (except for TrueBlood, which gave me a hard time). I usually need a few days to get used to accents. But sometimes, I never succeed. Hopefully, my husband has lived in England (read English pubs) before, so he understands accents a lot better and helps me. Also, because I’m fluent, people tend to forget English is not my first language and speak as they would with anybody else.
- Puns / cultural references: I can get some puns, but clearly not all. Cultural references are a nightmare, as they are often half said and half implied. The songs, movies, TV shows, celebrities that are part of the general knowledge of an average American person are not mine. So if you talk to me and I end up laughing halfheartedly with everyone else, that may be because I didn’t understand your punch line.
- Talks between native speakers: Listening to two colleagues who know each other speak together can be tough. Names of people / places I don’t know, reference to past events, speed and level of speech… There are usually too many obstacles for me to properly understand all the subtleties.
- Slang: Granted, I love swearing and learn naughty words first. That doesn’t mean I’m always up to speed with slang. Some English colleagues like to do that famous game where you change one word by another on the condition they rhyme. That’s fun, but please keep it outside the office. Incidentally, I know a few internet slang words (and I’m not above using them as revenge!).
- Technical words: In my company, even in France, we use a lot of English words (that we butcher daily) to describe our activity. That doesn’t mean I can easily talk about specific details of our cartons for instance (I work for a document management company) in English without struggling to find the right words. I don’t know much about car vocabulary (in French neither actually), but I know plenty when it comes to cooking or make up. It all depends of my center of interest, the words I use daily and those I’ve been taught. And as an English major in college, I’ve learned plenty of useless words and still lack many essential ones!
- Volume: I’ve learned with time and experience that if I can understand French at a low volume, I need the person I’m speaking with to be loud enough in order to understand them. With TV, I usually turn up the volume. If I can’t, I’ll enable subtitles so I can figure out what I missed (though I always end up reading stupidly the subtitles…).
- Phone calls / drive thru: This last point is very much influenced by the previous one. If I can’t ear clearly, I can’t answer right. But also, I have a quiet voice that doesn’t get picked up well by microphones. Between that fact and my accent, I always end up screaming at drive thru. I’ve eventually found earphones that have a noise cancelation function and pick up my voice pretty well. I still spend my conference calls holding the mic in front of my mouth, but at least people can hear me.