“English As It Is Spoke”
By Peter E . Gibbons
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a similarity between an American immigrant learning to speak ‘’English” and ex-pats like ourselves learning to speak Mexican Spanish!
Having bought an American company in 1980, I was required to employ Americans to qualify for my Green Card and temporary residence in the U.S. I also needed to prove I had sufficient income to support my family. Although not mandatory at that time, it was recommended that I learned “English.”
Initially this rather puzzled me as I thought that was the language I’d been communicating in since I left my mother’s breast. It was also the language I used when completing the necessary immigration forms. Being a Brit, it took me a while to comprehend what the Immigration Department’s intentions were. They were not directed towards me specifically, but folks from countries whose mother tongue was something other than English.
Having figured that out, I concentrated on the business I’d bought. It was an audio-visual entertainment rental system used in pizza parlors, restaurants, bars, river boats, day care centers, nursing homes and summer camp grounds located in numerous States. I had a U.P.S. pickup station for exchanging films. It was necessary to visit these outlets sometimes and sell the system to others .
Very quickly I learned that my English was not always understood
In fact I talked “funny” or was accused of having a “brogue.” Rather than acquiring the services of an elocutionist, like many other immigrants I used the television programs. Having a basic knowledge of the language gave me a distinct advantage over those that didn’t. From the many TV choices at that time, I chose what represented the all-American way of communicating, understandably, bearing in mind my business clientele.
Henry Alfred Kissinger, former Secretary of State, topped my list, but I found his unique pronunciation a little difficult to master. On the other hand, the cast of All in The Family, the Honeymooners and Mel’s Diner seemed to fit the bill as a large number of those I did business with spoke in a similar way!
Having almost perfected a new and varied way of communication was worthless, as within two years my audio-visual business was worth zilch, nada and a few other negatives around at that time. Video had arrived and the new kid on the block rapidly replaced my antiquated system. I wasn’t “needed no more.” I gave every piece of equipment to Florida Atlantic University’s Media Department and was told I’d enjoy a tax credit which was also worthless as I had no income.
Having been involved in the end product of the movie industry for two years, I decided to get into the production end and became part of Disney and Universal Studios. My friends assured me that my “funny” British accent combined with the newly-acquired American one, I just couldn’t miss. There would be commercials and voice-overs in addition to the motion picture work. I was excited and motivated. Unfortunately, directors were neither. Talking “funny” and my “Americanize” didn’t cut the mustard.
Undaunted, I became an “extra.” These are the people you often see in crowds, walking about, sitting down or silently talking among themselves but never ever looking into the camera. I wore the uniforms of a general and admiral. Also was a state prisoner, later a medical doctor. Some scenes were shot on sound stages and others on location.
Even the commercials I did never required my linguistic talents, just how I looked, walked, drove a car or sat behind a desk. It was suggested that I did what most disillusioned Americans do; become a used car salesman or get a real estate license!
And now after many years later, I am still talking “funny” because when pronouncing my name it comes out “Glibbons,” “Gibson,” “Glisson,” or “Gobonz.” I probably do need an elocutionist but with my background I’ll be speaking Esperanto.