“It Isn’t My Language; I Only Speak It” Is Such A Mood

, , , , , | Working | February 5, 2021

I live in New Zealand. Most of my work colleagues are Europeans aged eighteen to twenty and their standard of English varies. One colleague takes the cake. Her English is less than fluent, but she is enthusiastic about improving. She has asked our colleagues to correct her English.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I need good English with clear pronunciation to understand something, even if the context is obvious. I am the only colleague to pester [Colleague] for good English, per her request. We have become close friends. I am male.

On this occasion, we are hiking up a mountain on our day off. This is a new topic of conversation.

Colleague: “Do you have special force?”

Me: “Pardon?”

Colleague: “Special force, do you have?”

Me: “What are you talking about?”

Colleague: “Like, hostage, James Bond, bang gun bang?”

Me: “What is special force?”

Colleague: “My friend is in Spanish special force. He is very strong.”

Me: “Oh, the Special Forces! You mean, ‘Does the army have special forces?’! Yes, they do.”

Colleague: “Do you have special forces?”

Me: “Yes. Now I understand. In English, ‘special forces’ is always plural. We never say, ‘Special force.’”

I checked this later. Apparently, it makes more sense in Romance languages.

Colleague: “Are you taken?”

She has a boyfriend back home.

Me: *Without missing a beat* “That means, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’”

Colleague: “No… Have you taken it? The food?”

I look at the picnic she made; I am eating a sandwich.

Me: “Oh! Do you mean ‘finish’?”

Colleague: “Yes, finish.”

Me: “Oh, no. I haven’t finished. You can say, ‘Have you finished eating?’”

Colleague: “Have you finished eating?”

That is the only time a woman accidentally propositioned me.

On another occasion:

Colleague: “Put out your headphone.”

Me: “Pardon?”

Colleague: “Put out your headphone!”

I wear bone-conduction earphones. I can still hear fine with them in my ears, but sometimes people aren’t comfortable because they think I am listening to music.

Me: “Yes, these are headphones?”

Colleague: “I think you listen music. Put them out!”

Me: “Oh! Like this?”

I take off my headphones.

Colleague: “Yes!”

Me: “Say this with me: ‘Take off your headphones.’”

Colleague: “Take off your headphone.”

Me: “Who taught you this?”

Colleague: “Me. You say, ‘Put on T-shirt.’ ‘Put out’ is the opposite. I am wrong?”

Me: “Hmm… Put on, put out… That’s difficult to argue with, but we actually say, ‘Take off your headphones.’”

Colleague: “English is stupid.”

Me: “Very.”

On another occasion:

Colleague: “What if you take a belly?”

In the name of all that is holy and unholy, what could this mean?

Me: “Huh?”

Colleague: “But what if you take a belly?!”

When [Colleague] misuses the verb “take,” it is usually unambiguous, like “Take a coffee.” This one sounds like it is dangerous or urgent.

Me: “I… What are you talking about?”

I consider the conversation so far. [Colleague] likes surfing. She wants to teach me how to surf, which involves a wetsuit.

Colleague: “You don’t have belly, but maybe you take one.”

Me: “A belly? What… Why is belly important?”

Colleague: “Because of the wetsuit. You do not buy a wetsuit. Because you have no belly now, but the future? Instead, hire!”

Me: “Oh! You mean I should hire a wetsuit instead of buying, because if I put on weight then a wetsuit I have bought might not fit me. Instead of ‘take a belly,’ we say, ‘Put on weight.’”

Colleague: “Put on weight! Like put on clothes!”

Me: “Yes!”

Colleague: “And don’t ‘put out weight’ like clothes, you ‘take off weight’!”

Me: “No, we ‘lose weight’.”

Colleague: “Confused!”

Me: “It isn’t my language; I only speak it.”

[Colleague]’s English has improved tremendously, thanks to some very hard work!


This story is part of our Best Of February 2021 roundup!

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