Explaining that England and the UK are two different things: FAIL.

One of the most humbling things you will ever experience is finding that no one around you has ever even heard of your home country.

Koreans, at least the ones I’ve encountered in Daejeon, are not aware of this “Ireland” of which I speak. When I received blank looks a few times, I switched my answer to “the UK”, but this had even more unsettling results. I have since discovered that the Korean language doesn’t seem to have a word for the UK. For example, the Koreans speak “hanguk-mal” (Korean) and come from “hanguk” (Korea). I speak “yonguk-mal” (English), and I come from “yonguk” (England). This pains me somewhat.

It’s not that I have anything in particular against England, it’s just that I’ve been there all of three times in my whole life (and two of those times were simply for the purpose of changing planes) and don’t feel any affinity with it at all. For people to just wave aside my entire background and say “Ah, you’re from England!” in a “sure, well, it’s close enough!” sort of way is a little unsettling. It’s changing my nationality. It’s like telling Koreans they’re Japanese (NB – this is probably not a good idea!!).

Travelling through Europe, I did very quickly realise that my little home country, while the centre of my world for all those years, means pretty much nothing to the majority of people. Europeans and Americans (the people I most often encountered on my travels) had, of course, heard of Ireland, and knew that there was something dodgy about the top part, and doesn’t it belong to the UK or something? This limited knowledge was a shock to my system, and made me see for the first time just how huge the world is – that completely foreign cultures and totally different ways of living can be going on in countries we’re barely aware exist. It definitely humbled me and drove me to find out as much as I could about every new place I visited, read about, or heard of.

Still, at least I had that partial awareness from Americans and Europeans – although one thing that did irrationally annoy me was hearing Americans refer to a “British accent”. I could probably do a fairly accurate impression of the accent they mean – Hugh Grant, anyone? – but there’s no way I’d call that a British accent. There is no British accent! I tried to explain to a bewildered New Yorker in a pub in Poland. The Scottish are British… and let me tell you, they sound nothing like the accent you mean!

Maybe I’d call it an upper-class London accent. Even just an English accent, although that’s pushing it a bit, since there are so many of those, too. But a British accent? No. Such. Thing.

I did say that this was an irrational annoyance, and that’s because I will cheerfully admit to saying that someone has an “American accent”. :) I can identify the American twang, and while I can pick out the more obvious accents (like New York, for example, and a vague “the South”), for the most part I can’t tell them apart. I understand that it’s no different from someone talking about a British accent because they can’t identify what part of Britain it’s from… but it just does seem incredible to me that anyone could even connect a Glaswegian brogue with the accent of, say, the Queen, and say “yeah, those two are obviously from the same country, listen to the accent!”.

Anyway, I seem to have gotten sidetracked. What I was originally going to say was that Koreans, for the most part, cannot point out Ireland on a map. Fair enough… after all, it’s only recently that I learned where, well, most countries are on the map (thank you Traveller IQ Challenge!).  But if you say “in the UK”, they’ll look relieved and say “Ahhhhh! In England?”. I used to try to explain, somewhat indignantly, but it all got a bit confusing, so now I just tend to say yes.

“Ireland is in England?” Yes.

“London?” Erm… yes.

I mean, what does it really matter to them? Ireland, England, potayto, potahto.

Today, however, I attempted to break the poor geography cycle by teaching the six-year-olds all about the UK as part of the “Around the World” music class programme we’re doing for the next month. Last week was Egypt. We learned about pyramids and the Sphinx, we looked at a map, we came away with real knowledge about where Egypt is and what it’s all about. It was great.

This week is the UK. Obviously, it was an unmitigated disaster.

I zoomed in on Europe… then the UK… then England. Yonguk, I said carefully. England. Yonguk means England. England is one country in the UK.

I zoomed out again. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, I pointed out slowly. Also countries in the UK.

I pointed and circled and pointed some more. I showed photos of scenes and landmarks from around the UK. I got them to learn the names of the other countries.

UK, I chanted. UK. England plus Scotland plus Northern Ireland plus Wales. UK.

They were all looking quite agreeable, and I felt a small shiver of success. Time for some revision. Whose flag is this? I said, putting up a picture of the carefully labelled “UK FLAG”.

England! they cried excitedly. My face crumpled.

The UK, I corrected gently. What countries are in the UK?

——blank faces——-

——upsetting silence—–

Europe? ventured one kind-hearted little soul, not liking the disappointment on my face.

It was a very long and confusing day, and I had to give up.

My name is Hayley, and I am from England.

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12 thoughts on “Explaining that England and the UK are two different things: FAIL.

  1. That must be really frustrating!

    Re the American “accent,” except for a few places (Boston, New York, Jersey, New Orleans, the South, Texas…) most Americans do sound the same. There are some regional differences, but they are usually very slight. (I can hear a tiny difference in the way I say “caught,” for example – it sounds exactly like “cot” the way I say it, but I’ve heard other people who also have “standard” American accents pronounce it ever so slightly differently.)

    Can you tell I once spent a whole afternoon reading the Wikipedia pages for various regional American dialects? ;)

    • Jane says:

      Croquecamille- any woman who spent a whole afternoon reading about “accents” is my kind of gal! However, I would add a few more distinct accents to the American roster, including Maine, which has an almost Colonial aspect and Wisconsin and Montana – they seem to have incorporated a Canadian flavor and then there’s Iowa which has a Northern pronunciation with a lilt of the South. And, alas you cannot say that a Georgia accent is the same as a Tennessee accent, despite the fact that they are both Southern I think it has to do with vowel pronunciation as well as rhythm. Also think much is due to an individual’s perception. I have a traditional Mid-Atlantic accent (slightly flavored by a Yorkshire-bred grandmother). I also speak very rapidly and when talking to someone, rather than slow down (they should just listen faster – we [native speakers] CAN process information at a much faster rate than we usually do…it’s just lazy – OK rant over) I distinctly enunciate the first and last letter of every word and emphasize the vowels (caught rather than cot). As a result, many people perceive that I have an “English” accent. English is not a traditional tonal language, however in the US, there have been so many wonderful foreign influences (pronunciation and tonality as well as interpretation) the result is a unique, multi-dimensional, dynamic “English-esque language. A question for Hails, does South Korea have very distinct regional accents or dialects….and, now that I think of it, does Ireland? If you are from Donegal do you sound the same way if you’re from Kerry?

      • See, that’s what I suspected, and I absolutely cannot pick up on all those differences! I just hear “American”, or very strong New York or Southern. Although this seems to be understandable to most people, nobody can ever believe that I genuinely can’t tell the difference between an American accent and a Canadian one! I really can’t – unless a Candian person says the one word I’ve ever noticed as being pronounced differently!

        South Korea doesn’t seem to have very distinct regional accents. That’s not to say that accents don’t exist, because they do, but rather that because there’s very little room for variation in how you pronounce the words – by subtly altering one vowel sound in a string of syllables, you can completely change the meaning of the word or sentence. So regional accents are never going to be different enough for a non-native speaker to hear, and from what I can tell all the dialects are mutually intelligible. Pronunciation is more important in Korean than in any other language I’ve studied, and it’s really frustrating to do all the hard work and studying and learning, only to remain misunderstood because you have a foreign accent!

        As for Ireland, yes, there are regional dialects and accents. I’m less of an expert on the South, and can’t really tell the difference between those ones, because they all just sound “southern” to me, but I do know that there are lots of differences. But Northern Ireland has many variations too. I can easily pick out a Ballymena (my home town) accent, a Belfast accent, and a Derry accent. And of course it’s all about what you’re most familiar with, because although I can’t tell based on accent what part of Belfast someone’s from, I can have a fairly accurate guess at what part of Ballymena someone’s from – Harryville, Cullybackey, Broughshane, Galgorm… and those are basically all little villages within or on the outskirts of a relatively small town! Parts of Northern Ireland (and I’m assuming the South, too) also have dialects that most people in the country can understand, but which other native English speakers would struggle to follow, and most likely find close to impossible. I’ve even found myself talking to people from Belfast, and them saying “Hang on, what did you just say?!” when I used a word or expression they’d never heard before, yet which I’d grown up thinking was used all over the country!

        Sorry, I’ve practically written another blog post. I just love languages and accents and dialects, that’s all!

  2. Hails – it the word “about/aboot,” or “sorry/sore-y?”

    Jane – I agree, I did forget about Maine and the Northern Midwest (best known from its brilliant use in the movie “Fargo”).

    I have a “Western” accent, which is , to quote wikipedia, “the largest dialect region in the United States, and the one with the fewest distinctive phonological features.” Could explain why I think everyone sounds the same. :) For those who are exceptionally interested, here’s the page on the “caught/cot merger”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cot-caught_merger#Cot-caught_merger
    Ok, that’s enough research for Saturday morning.

    • Jane says:

      Hails & Croquecamille – Thank you both! There are so few people I know who actually LIKE to explore accentual (?) differences — you have both made my day! Hails – Am quite intrigued to know that Ireland has a northern and southern accent. I am not unfamiliar with Irish history, but am evidently quite ignorant of Irish culture. ;) Perhaps, someday, over a bottle of wine and a chunk of good Irish cheese. Croquecamille – and if you would join us… choose the wine and bring your linguistic research skills. Thank you for the reference! I’m off to explore. ;)

  3. It is indeed “about”. Canadians tend to say it like people in some of those little villages of my home town say it! Hadn’t noticed “sorry” – must look out for that.

    I’ve just been sitting here saying “Cot. Caught. Cot. Caught.” to myself. As you do. I was just confused about what the difference between caught and cot was supposed to be. Then I clicked on the link and saw that there isn’t one in my accent, because Scottish and Ulster accents have this feature too. Oh right. I have to say, though, I’m having trouble hearing what the different pronunciation would be, in my head!

    • Jane says:

      Yes… it is all about that!…. Or “a-bhoot” as opposed to
      “a-baut — or hoouse as opposed to how-se. Sorry, it’s been so very long (lang?) since I took (tok?) that linguistics course (corse?) I forget the phonetic spelling. Or, as a good friend of mine says…Great Britain and America – two countries separated by a common language. Or, in the case of Georgia and Maine, one country separated by the same
      language. Doncha’ just love ENGLISH?

  4. I’ll bring some good Mature Irish Cheddar. :)

    If you’re interested, here’s a clip of a woman speaking in a fairly typical Northern Irish accent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YGYXlk3MW8 It’s closer to Belfast than my own accent, but not as completely different as some Belfast accents can be. The man has a Northern Irish accent as well, but it’s quite faint, as the news people tend to speak in an accent that verges on English. We call their accents posh. :) This second link is an English actor doing a pretty good, slightly stronger, Belfast accent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmIciZ6uzWw

    This, on the other hand, is an interview with a famos Irish boy band on an Irish talk show. They all have southern Irish accents – again, not very thick accents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGjoKTTJgIU. And for a stronger southern accent, here’s the national celebrity, Dustin the Turkey! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv0pRxu02tg I have to concentrate very hard to follow that turkey, and all the Dublin taxi drivers and barmen who have similar accents. Oh, and so you know, the male presenter there has an English accent, and the female presenter has a Northern Irish accent. If you watch them (and I don’t expect you to, but, y’know, if you’re bored at all…!) I’ll be interested to know if you can hear all the differences, or if they all sound the same to you in the way that most American accents sound the same to me – because the Irish ones are all pretty different to me!

  5. Jane says:

    What fun!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!!
    OK – I can tell there is a difference…but…to my American ear…
    Joanne Stuart – Irish pronunciation, with an English/Irish rhythm. The man interviewing her, has a more distinct Irish accent – perhaps a more English pronunciation, but with a very decided Irish lilt [rhythm]. Very similar to a good friend of mine from Belfast. Had no idea she was “posh.” 
    The English actor sounded a tad “muddy” to me. Had you not described what was going on, I would have been confused as to what his accent might be.
    The Irish Boy Band had the American perception of the “classic” Irish accent. Think Maureen O’Hara in the movie “The Quiet Man.”
    And the people interviewing the “Turkey” sounded much more authentically Irish than did the Turkey, who sounded like an American comic affecting an Irish accent! ?????!!!!!
    I guess it is all one’s perception.
    Speaking of muddy, you should hear the accents of Sioban, my darling daughter-in-law’s family. Originally from Boston (Bahstan), they’ve lived in Georgia (GEORG-jah) for years. Think classic Bahstan Irish with a Southern drawl. Alas, Siobahn has lost all trace of her accent and now sounds just like her husband, Colin.
    Thank you for this – it’s been a delight, and most informative.

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