Friday, 11 April 2014

The fish and chips shop

People often ask us how did we come up with Lexicum. To answer this question we are posting a series of stories. Each of these was a small step towards starting to work on Lexicum. These stories also illustrate different ways people can use Lexicum. We started with the introduction to Bulgarian and now continue with my (Martin's) first experience of British traditional food - my visit to the fish and chips shop.

Let me start with a bit of background about myself. I've grown up in Bulgaria, but I went to university in Germany. This was on an international programme that attracted students from all over the world. This is where I started having English as the language of both classes and casual conversations. Since then I've been working for a number of international organisations, and more often than not, English was the official language at work. I've worked with people from the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. All this gave me confidence that I am a proficient English speaker and that when five years ago I moved to London I shouldn't have any problems with English. Well, I was wrong and I found it out in my very first days in London.

This happened during my induction at work. My new boss, a very kind lady, and a gourmet-lover, decided to take our entire group to a very old and classical fish and chips restaurant. One might say that this is not exactly the fines of cuisines, but you have to appreciate that it is something very British to people that come to London for the first time.

So we went to the fish restaurant. On the way to the restaurant I was told how people commonly have fish battered and with sides such as mashy peas and tartar sauce. Then they told me that it is typical in England to season fried fish with vinegar, which I found quite strange.

But it got more confusing when it came to choosing the actual fish. I had previously had the Portuguese bacalhau, so the traditional choice of cod didn't sound so exciting to me. I wanted to try something new. This is when I opened the menu and realised that I should have prepared myself. It wasn't the case that I only knew cod. By that time I also knew what herring and haddock are, but I had no clue about hake, plaice, skate or pollock. Those words meant nothing to me and seeing several battered fish lumps didn't help either. I had to order something randomly and do my homework better when I went back home.

This story is only one of many similar experiences I've had. There are whole loads of other topics that have their own vocabulary. This is as true for gardening, fishing or cooking conversation, as it is for professional topics or extreme sports. Now I am convinced that regardless how proficient one might be in a certain language, there are always contexts that one has never encountered and that can be a surprise with loads of new vocabulary. And, of course, this is exactly what Lexicum is made for. Try it now, you will probably need it very soon.

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