Second language interference

Today I wrote “I sprained a ligament in my knie” (instead of knee). A friend of mine recently said “I don’t feel like a chicken pie today, I’d rather have a pig.” I could give you scores of similar examples.

The mad thing is, when you live in a foreign country or when you start learning a foreign language, your mind seems to slip into the skin of that language, and then you often find it hard to jump out of it. If this doesn’t make sense to you, I need to apologise for my second language interference :?

Do you have similarly amusing anecdotes?

Hi Ralf

I noticed this tendency, too. It was one of the reasons I made it a point to spend a month in the US every year during the 17 years I lived in Germany. I wanted to make sure the tendency didn’t become too pronounced. I also wanted to keep up with whatever changes were taking place in the language – and naturally visit friends and family, too.

I don’t think I slipped too often – usually I managed to catch myself before the slip could get out of my mouth. I guess you could say that I was hyper-aware that the “second language interference” was there. Nevertheless, the slip-ups did occur on occasion.

One summer, one of my cousins came over to Germany to visit me. We were out seeing the sights on a very hot day, and I unthinkingly remarked on how much cooler it was “in the shadow”. Well, my cousin picked up on that little slip instantly, laughingly saying “Ahem! You mean in the shade!” :shock:

Some people seem to be more prone to this sort of thing than others. Also, this phenomenon seems to be more pronounced in native English speakers who don’t get regular large doses of immersion in their native language (i.e. who don’t visit their home country on a regular basis).

I remember going into a class in a company one day. There was a flip chart in the room, and I could see that the American teacher who’d been in the room before me had been talking about food. On the flip chart stood the words “full corn bread”. I had to assume that the teacher had provided this as the translation for the German word Vollkornbrot. :shock: This same teacher used to call me on the phone and when I’d answer she’d say “Hi, Amy. Here is Mary.” – at which point I usually ask her to speak English. :lol:

This particular teacher made constant errors in English (errors caused by German). She was one of the reasons I became “hyper-aware” of second language interference. I made a vow never to allow my English to become “German” the way hers had. But it was a constant battle.

Hi, Amy

What you’re saying is quite interesting to me. (Surprisingly enough, I discovered for myself that it is OK for me to say “I speak English” in Russian, whereas the natural and right variant is “I speak on English”, but I find this sort of interference amusing, unless it starts pissing people off)
Do you think you can speak German more fluently that you speak English ?

I’m not quite certain of the difference between “shade” and “shadow”… Does “shade” in your example refer to the “shed” or “lean-to”?

Because I saw these sentences: “Most of the lake was in shadow” and “A stranger slowly came out of the shadows”

Could you shed some light on this “shadowy” business
Thanks !

You’re right, that’s a tricky one. My feeling tells me this

shade=a usually nonspecific area that has no exposure to the sun
shadow=the actual area that is sheltered from the sun

You could use a dictionary (or google) for better advice :wink:

Once I met a British woman who worked for the UN in Geneva, and her English was full of these problems. One time she said, “Is there still enough place for me on the bus?” I’d correct this Euro-English of hers, and she’d be stunned and embarrassed at the revelations.

In the Czech Republic, I went fairly native, and I had some problems with English when I moved home. Often I had to express concepts that don’t have expressions in English, and there would be odd hesitations in my English. So I didn’t say too many weird things, but I often had to stop, because I didn’t know how to say things.

My English was affected in another way over there. I had to slow it down and adapt my pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax, because few people where I lived could understand fluent, natural English. Apparently something of this adaptation has remained, because foreigners in the US often tell me that I’m the only American they have no trouble understanding.

Hi, Ralf

Thanks, your explanation makes sense to me !

Hi, Jamie

So, what is the right choice if this sentence Is there still enough place for me on the bus? is wrong? In the bus?

It should be, “Is there still enough room for me on the bus?”

I always snicker when I get postcards that say things like, “A hearty greeting from Florida sends you Magda,” but this is first language interference.

By the way, in American hospitals there is such heavy jargon – even for things that aren’t medical – that we often have to tell hospital employees to speak English to us. Some of them can’t do it. Doctors tell me that when you leave one hospital and go to work in another one, you have to learn a whole new language.

Okay, I’m off topic. Sorry.

The Malay language is supposed to be my mother tongue but it was not the language that I first learned. Our household speaks a dialect that is far different from the Malay language but there are words that have the same sound but different meaning.

For example there is a word that means ‘get oneself up’ in the dialect that I speak but in the Malay language it means ‘to pick up (something)’.

At first, I was really confident that my friends (from the west side, I am from the east side of Malaysia) were wrong and that they did not know the other meanings of the word but now I know all this while I was wrong.

How embarrassing! It really is irritating because I still slip once in a while. It’s like saying ‘I get it up’ instead of saying ‘I pick it up’.

I experience the same thing every time I go home to Malaysia. I need to stop many times and sometimes I just told people to forget what I said because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say.

The funny thing is, when it comes to the last week I’d be spending with my family, I am finally articulate enough speaking the language but by the time I reached Japan, I had to go through the process all over again. The first time this happened, my Japanese friends found this phenomenon really funny.

Not to mention English! My sisters (younger ones) laugh at my English. And not so long ago I told a friend I have started to grow ‘white hair’ because in Japanese it’s called ‘shiraga’ with the chinese character ‘white’. He corrected me indirectly by commenting on ‘gray hair’.