I am often asked by pupils how they can perfect their accent so that they can pass as a native Englishman. But it is not just about accent: it’s about the words and phrases we use. Too often we just translate what we want to say in our mind from Russian, but, of course, it usually doesn’t make natural English and can even give the wrong meaning. For example: if you want to leave a lesson to visit the lavatory, you may translate "Можно выйти?" quite correctly into "May I go out?". But of course, this will give quite the wrong meaning in English. If this were used, the teacher would be shocked to think you wanted, not to leave the room, but to leave the school to go into the street. To give the correct meaning, one should ask "May I please leave the room?" or "May I be excused, please?". And also remember that it would be impolite to ask "Can I be excused?". The teacher in this case might reply: "Well, you can but you may not!".
Another giveaway that you are Russian would be the over-use of the phrase "Yes, of course". In English, "of course" usually expresses surprise as in the answer to the question: "Have you brushed your teeth today?". It would be very strange to answer "Yes of course" to such a question as "Shall we go to the cinema?".
If you want to pass as an Englishman, smile in the street, talk about the weather, talk to strangers in the metro and read a newspaper on a bus. All this may sound crazy to you but would help.
In our next blog we shall discuss the north of England and Scotland and how to understand this old grammar.
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