How German Is Screwing Up My English

In the four months that I’ve been living in Germany and learning German I have found that my English has gotten progressively worse.  It seems the better my German gets, the worse my English becomes.  I find myself forgetting the words for things more often, the quality of my writing has decreased, my grammar is appalling and today I had the very surreal experience of thinking of a sentence in English but writing it in German.  It even took me a couple of goes to spell a couple of words properly in English.  For the record, the words were coffee and tea – not particularly challenging words.

Has anyone else found this?  That as they learn a new language, their native language seems to suffer?  It is almost like my brain doesn’t have the room to hold two languages at once so the English is getting pushed out.

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12 thoughts on “How German Is Screwing Up My English

  1. Seems like I’m always the first to comment here! But, yeah – I had the same problem, it took a lot longer to manifest for me, but I don’t study as intensively as you do. (or… at all, lately)

    It happens to Pascal (my housemate), who is German – that he speaks so much english (works in english, talks english with us at home) – he often forgets German words; so it’s nice to know that it works both ways. (Rolling-pin being his latest example)

    I think that’s natural – and I really don’t know how these multi-lingual polyglots function, another friend of mine speaks English, Persia (Farsi), French and German… fluently.

    • Glad to hear that it seems to happen to everyone that is learning a new language or functions more in a language other than their native one.

      What is German for rolling-pin?

  2. Well, while you’re living here, I guess it’s not truly awful…perhaps the brain is spending so much effort on English that the mistakes, etc. are temporarily? I’ve not had the problem of actually writing in German when thinking in English but have noticed that my grammar is truly suffering in both spoken and written. I attribute it to focusing so much these days on German grammar so I end up with strange word orders and capitalizing things that should not be capitalized. In speaking, I find myself forgetting words sometimes but what happens more often is that I speak the sentence in the form a German would speak it – again, some strange sentence structure and tenses going on. This morning I even told my husband to “remember me to take out the trash”. HUH?? I’d be interested to hear how this works for others too….and if we go back to normal when we go home!

    • Glad to hear that someone else whose in the same boat as myself in learning to speak German for the first time is having the same problems.

    • If I was thinking, dreaming and functioning solely in German then I would expect my English to suffer, but my job is in English and I speak English every day and yet it’s still seems to be on a rapid decline.

  3. The exact thing happened to me! I love this post. I feel validated. (It just took me 10 minutes to think of the word validated). My spelling has gone completely down the drain. I play online scrabble to try and help counteract the deterioration.

    Hang in there!

    • Online scrabble! What an awesome idea.
      Actually if there’s a German version it would be a good way to improve my German spelling as well.

  4. I can attest to this phenomenon as well…. I am definitely not “losing” my German, but sometimes my sentence structure comes out weird and I can’t think of how I would say something in German (usually because there is no one-on-one translation and I need to describe it with more words).

    It’s kinda funny :)

  5. My oldest daughter was brave enough to attempt a second language even with auditory processing delay. She says the difficulty that remained after she became fluent was switching seamlessly from one language to the other. Sometimes she would be speaking French to someone English and not realizing that she was until their puzzled expression registered. She says the same about switching from salsa to ballet. At the point of fluency, she found she often wanted to borrow words from the language that expressed the concept more clearly. This is how languages grow, isn’t it?

  6. The same thing happened to me when I lived in Brazil. I finally just stopped trying to speak English. After about six months, all my journal entries were in Portuguese and whenever I spoke to family or friends I sounded like a ten-year-old. When I returned to the States, I would accidentally answer people in Portuguese and resorted to speaking to my dog in order to have a coherent conversation.

    Good luck!

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