English is a global language, and people around the world learn to speak it every day. According to David Crystal, a world authority on the English language, about 400 million people speak English as their first language. That number would be impressive, if it weren’t for the 2 billion people who also learn English as a second or third language. Those who learn English in a classroom easily outnumber those “born into” English.
With all these global English speakers, we have several distinct dialects. US and UK English are the most well-known globally, but there’s also Australian, Canadian, Irish, South African, Nigerian, Singaporean, Indian, and many others.
With so many ways to speak English floating around, it should come as no surprise that Europe is developing its own dialect as well. Euro English, also called EU English or Globish, is on the rise.
The idea of Euro English isn’t new, but it’s come up a lot lately with Brexit. I knew about the existence of Euro English, and how it developed in the halls of EU institutions as English slowly became the common language of Brussels eurocrats. When all these people for whom English wasn’t their native language, besides the Brits and the Irish, spoke English together, some adaptations formed. Now that the UK has departed the EU, some wonder if English will still dominate.
Most think the answer is a resounding yes.
Where Did Euro English Come From?
Euro English migrated from the EU institutions to the rest of Brussels to the rest of Europe. Words or phrases that would never be used by a native speaker – or words that are simply made up – are acceptable ways of communicating in English across Europe.
You may be thinking that it’s natural for non-native speakers to construct their sentences differently or lack the exact diction of native speakers. Euro English is more than that, however. There are commonly accepted words, phrases and constructions that speakers of Euro English, as a community, recognize. It’s not slang, either, because EU officials use this language in documentation, meetings, and summits regularly.
Is Euro English a Dialect?
Euro English is not distinct enough to be a full-blown dialect — yet. Some scholars think that within the next 10-15 years, Euro English could develop codified standards. The British leaving the EU isn’t going to diminish the use of English on the Continent, by any means. On the contrary, Euro English might develop more fully and at a quicker pace, left to its own European devices.
So what exactly is Euro English?
Euro English is a form of English with diction derived from European languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, etc. Speakers of Euro English might construct their sentences in a way that a native speaker never would, or use words in a context that makes no sense to a native speaker. These variants on English also aren’t random. Many are widely accepted and considered a perfectly fine way to speak English.
Examples of Euro English
possibility = opportunity
actually = currently
propose = offer
we were two at the party = there were two people at the party
how do you call it? = what is it called?
finally = in the end/after all
punctual = occasional or periodic
eventually = maybe
Making things plural that aren’t plural
planification = planning
I am coming from France = I come from France
caution = deposit (like a security deposit for an apartment)
Euro English Examples from My Daily Life
My personal brand of Euro English is heavily influenced by French, because it’s the only European language I know, and because I have French partner. I’ve noticed some other modifications in our daily speech in addition to the above list:
I’m here = I’m coming/I’ll be right there
Like that = that way (Example: Let’s finish the dishes now, like that it’s done and we can relax)
As you want = it’s your choice
Lately = recently
What day are we? = What day is it?
To candidate = to apply for a job
You okay? = How’s it going? (The difference here is that in American English, I’d only ask “You okay?” if I thought something was wrong. Here, we say it to ask how you’re doing in a general sense.)
Colander = filter (the French word for colander is passeoir, so I don’t know where we got filter…)
Paper = paper towels or toilet paper or Kleenex (this one gets confusing, admittedly)
Apparently, refraining from using contractions is common in Euro English, but my partner is fluent enough that he manages most common contractions just fine (i.e. can’t, won’t, I’m, etc.)
Also, I’ve noticed my partner throws “have” in front of his past-tense verbs often. “I have worked on it yesterday” or “I have seen it last week” for example. I would say “I worked on it yesterday” or “I saw it last week.” I suspect this extra have is more British than Euro English, and is likely where my partner picked it up.
Which English Am I Speaking?
Although my speech in English is definitely altered from when I lived in the US, I hadn’t given Euro English much thought until I heard Professor Marko Modiano’s comments in Politico’s EU Confidential podcast a few months ago. Professor Modiano is an American who’s lived and taught in Sweden for over 20 years. He weighed in on the Euro English question, saying that it’s well on its way to developing into a new dialect of English.
He also framed the exit of the UK and the strictly European development of English in neocolonial terms, likening the growth of Euro English to Europeans throwing off the linguistic dominance of the UK and the US
That caught my attention.
Before living in Brussels, I lived in Limoges, France and all the English-speakers I knew were British. I had to adopt British terms so my friends would understand me. My sweatshirts became jumpers, my cilantro morphed into coriander, and I started eating crisps and biscuits instead of chips and cookies. When I wasn’t speaking French, I spoke a hybrid American-British form of English.
In Brussels, my partner and I speak English almost exclusively, despite his being French and our living in Francophone-dominant city. His English is much more fluent than my French, and as a freelance writer, all of my work is in English. A great deal of his work is in English too.
Related: Americans Abroad – A Monolith?
Our Brand of Euro English
Instead of the American-British English I spoke in France with my British friends, my partner and I now speak an American-British-French English. That’s about 80 percent American, five percent British, and 15 percent Frenchisms we’ve adapted to English. My sweatshirts are no longer jumpers nor sweatshirts, they’re now “sweats,” the French word for them.
Although my partner is fluent in English, there are still words he doesn’t know, obviously. Sometimes he’ll ask me what they are and sometimes he’ll just go ahead and Frenchify an English word.
All this time, I didn’t realize that the English my partner and I were developing together was essentially Euro English. He takes words and frames of reference from his native language, applies them to what he knows of the English language, and fills in any gaps he comes across so he can communicate with me. Since I’m the native speaker, I have fewer gaps to fill than him, but I still have to get creative sometimes if he doesn’t understand me. That could mean saying the word in French or finding another way to explain it in English.
Language Is About Power
When I read Professor Modiano’s comments about Americans and Brits imposing “proper” English on Europeans, it made me wonder: should I correct my partner if he “errs” in English? Modiano considered it chauvinistic for UK and US English speakers to push their form of English on Europeans.
When I first heard that, I felt slightly affronted. It’s my language, shouldn’t I get to speak it however I want to? It’s not like I start making up anglicized words in French when I can’t get my message across…except that I do. We all do when we speak a foreign language.
Unless you’re in class, foreign language isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being understood. This is exactly the point that Professor Modiano makes.
I’ve decided that, being an American in Brussels, I should embrace Euro English. Even if my partner says something that isn’t quite right, I still know what he’s saying. Language is a negotiation. You bring your skills and offer them up to see if they’re enough, if you can be understood. When you can’t, you make another offer. Europeans have been giving and taking English in ways that native speakers never would have thought of, and they’re developing a distinct style because of it. I find Euro English fascinating, and I’m definitely not going to slow it down so everyone can speak “proper” American English for me.
What About You?
Are you a native English speaker who’s noticed Euro English examples I haven’t listed here? Maybe you’re a European who learned English as a second language and you use Euro English regularly. Tell me about your experiences in the comments!
One Reply to “Learning to Speak Euro English as an American in Brussels”
Very interesting article. You should post it on Medium.