Santana with subtitles

Bio-doc on Carlos Santana on BBC4 last night. A nice reminder of the quality of the extended jams as opposed to many of the radio-friendly songs – singing was not the group’s strength. And, for British audiences, subtitles to cut past the perfectly lucid Mexican and Californian accents. All the pictures and music from San Francisco in the 60s would made me homesick anyway, but the need for subtitles made me cry.

Teaching in London since 1997, with many of my students not native speakers of English and virtually none of them speakers of American English – and, married to an Italian – I miss my idiom. Occasionally I dredge up simple expressions I grew up with – sometimes, just to acquaint my five year old with my authentic speech rather than the stripped-down Esperanto-English that goes with my life here. And I will never really learn to navigate the world of understatement and indirectness in British middle-class life – for those who are unfamiliar, it is half way to Japan.

Shouldn’t whinge, of course (there, stiff upper lip, I’m learning!) – I have it easy compared with anybody living (much less teaching) here who is not a native speaker. And as Simona reminds me, my English is often not nearly close enough to Esperanto. When we travel in places where not much of the language is spoken, her English serves better than mine, and she will tell me “you have to learn to speak English like an Indian form a Hollywood movie – then people will understand you” . She may be right, but that’s one particular part of my California heritage I’m not in a hurry to get in touch with.

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