Union Jack  American Flag

England and America share a common language. Or at least that is the theory. Yes I know there are lots of differences in individual spellings – humor and humour , neighbour and neighbour, and all the rest. Then there are differences of use - they walk on sidewalks whereas we use pavements. They eat cookies and biscuits, whereas we eat biscuits and scones.

To be honest, I still don’t know exactly what grits are (?a type of crushed maize) any more than most Americans know what a Yorkshire pudding is.  Yet in the main we share a language. I can laugh at an American comedy and they can delight in a production of Macbeth or My Fair Lady. We can share,  enjoy, and a smile is international.

I have recently been taking some courses at an international college. It was a very positive experience. There were students from many countries, a priest from Indonesia, a young  mother from Mumbai, a nun from Canada, an American teacher, a yoga teacher, a widow from Israel and many more. We came together with various abilities and were of different ages with very different life experiences. There were people who were married , single, divorced ; Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and those for whom faith was an unknown, untried  concept.  But what was wonderful was that we were able to share in our common humanity.

There were regular chat rooms, often with a theme. One week I began by saying I was eating lunch – pie and chutney, followed by strawberries from the garden. This set off a long discussion where we shared our ideas about favourite foods – our mouths were watering after only a few moments.

On other occasions we were able to share at a much deeper level  - the fact that we were able to talk to each other , but would probably never meet, became a positive thing. Barriers did not exist. One woman was able to pour out her feelings about the recent death of her severely handicapped daughter. Another her frustrations as a woman in a male dominated society.  Another, in a poem, described the day her husband literally threw her into the street.  We found out about experiences of the tsunami on one hand  and the problems of drought on the other, but also everyday things – the scarcity of buses, councils who don’t reply to letters, the delight in fresh plums or snuggling up with a good novel.  We delighted in many things, most of all in having friends who cared and who responded to our writing.

In our last week we wrote a poem together, each contributing a line, and then these were edited  into something to be treasured.

If you haven't done it already, why don’t you join a chat room or a forum?  Or join a social networking site like Google Plus or Facebook, there are so many topics out there and there must be at least one for you, whatever your interest.  There are rooms for gardeners, on politics, social issues, feminism, religion, history and lots of other topics.

There is someone out there you can talk to, share with and enjoy, and at the same time you will be using and honing your English skills. You can share your experiences, ask questions, comment, criticise and all the rest, including making new friends.

There are also lots of language learning chat rooms, sometimes called language exchanges. You can either share with other learners or find a native speaker who wants to chat.  Take care though , some people are just very rude and coarse, and others are only concerned with sex, but these are only the few, and you don’t have to spend time with them, unlike in real life, you can block anyone who annoys you.   Wouldn't it be nice if life came with a "mute" button?

You can learn more about the differences between American and British English on Network.