This American Gramma is struggling with communication.
Mostly I find the Kiwi vocabulary and accent fascinating. For the first few weeks I was constantly repeating words and phrases in my head, trying to figure out exactly what they were doing to common words like “you” (prolonged, 2-syllable,) “no” (also two syllables);
“seven” (seeven) and so on.
Generally I can understand one-to-one, face-to-face conversations. Sometimes. If two Kiwis are talking to each other and I am simply observing, I probably miss about half of what they are saying. In a group I’m hopeless. I can listen to a lecture or sermon and get most of it, but if a conversation gets lively, I’m lost.
Admittedly, some of the problem may be my hearing. (I’m going to have my hearing checked when I get home.)
There is also a lot of recognizable, though different, vocabulary: Nappies for diapers; cot for crib (crib actually refers to a cottage); pram for buggy; grizzly for cranky; bubs or bubby for baby. Boot for trunk; bonnet for hood; domes for snaps; bench for counters; and so on.
To make matters worse, a lot of place names are Māori (pronounced mo-ri with another rolled “r”.) Although I am told Māori pronunciation rules are much more predictable than English, I can’t seem to master the rules. I know that “Wh” is pronounced “F” and “Ng” like our “ng”, but how does one say Mt Ngauruhoe? And then there is this town name, 55 letters long:
For that matter, it took me awhile to learn to say Charlotte’s middle name (Aroha) and I still don’t roll the “R” the way I should. Sounds like Are-oh-ha, which is acceptable, but not quite right. The rolled “r” can sound like an L, but not quite. I love that they chose a Maori middle name for their daughter, love its meaning, but I always have to pause and think before attempting to say it.
Years ago I spent a summer at a French camp in Quebec and found the experience of not understanding the language (in spite of 11 years of French classes!) very difficult. I could communicate enough to get by, but couldn’t really engage in meaningful conversations and I found that disheartening. I didn’t expect to experience that in English-speaking New Zealand. I’d noticed a bit of it when I visited the first time, but as a tourist, it didn’t bother me. It was more difficult when we spent a month here for Anne & James’ wedding and really wanted to understand all that was going on around us.
I was more prepared for it this time, but am still struggling with communication. In some settings, it doesn’t bother me at all; in others, I find myself close to tears. Mostly, I find a middle ground of catching what I can and guessing at the rest.