Living and Learning in London

When I graduated from college, I got myself a 6-month work visa and headed to London, which I heartily recommend to everyone. Interestingly, I met hardly any actual English people, or even British people, while I lived there – even though I ended up working in the National Gallery. Well, the café in the National Gallery.

Instead, I met mostly other travelers like myself, people who for one reason or another had caught the travel bug and headed out. You’d expect the folks at the hostel where I lived 4 of the 6 months I was in the UK to be mostly foreign, of course, but the staff where I worked was mostly foreigners, too. Some were citizens of Commonwealth countries taking advantage of Britain’s ongoing relationship with its ex-colonies. A handful were Americans like me on short-term work exchange programs. And most of the rest were European Union members spending a year or two in London after getting their A-levels (the European version of a high school diploma, except you learn stuff), mostly to learn English.

For most of my friends in London, England was a gateway to their future careers, a stepping-stone to the rest of their lives. They’d all learned English in school, but it was formal, “I’d like a room with two double beds, please” English, not the kind of stuff that real people talk about in their real lives – the stuff that they would be expected to talk about as workers in the mostly English-speaking global economy. London promised the opportunity to hang out, talk about music and shopping and just everyday stuff. Some of my friends and passing acquaintances (you have a lot of intense 2day friendships when you live in a hostel) went to formal English schools, but most didn’t – they learned by talking.

And by doing – I worked with, and for a while supervised, easily a half-dozen folk from France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere who spoke almost no English. With their livelihoods in very expensive London on the line, they learned fast – often through trial and error, and just as often by listening to the chit-chat of everyone else. This, of course, led to some odd juxtapositions – the gorgeous Swedish blonde who spoke with a Cockney lilt, for instance, or the Italian women who picked up my New Jersey friend’s way of saying “cwowfee”. Such a mix of accents, of cultures, of ways of living in and understanding the world!

Frankly, if I were not already a native English speaker, and I were that age again, I can think of nothing that would keep me away from London to improve my English. London is an astonishing city – even though I’ve lived in New York City and San Francisco and various cities in Europe, London is the only true “world city” I can think of, where members of every culture you can imagine are present everywhere you look.

Except, of course, the British.

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No comments yet to Living and Learning in London

  • Anonymous

    Nice looking blog, with lots
    Nice looking blog, with lots to good tidbits to chew on. Enjoy London. May get over there on some research within the next twelve months — if so, let’s tilt an ale.


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