Does Living In A Non-English Speaking Country Change The Way You Speak English?

Having lived in Germany for almost six months and spending most of my time speaking English to non-native English speakers I have found that the way I structure my sentences and the words I choose has changed dramatically.  It sometimes gets to a point where my English no longer feels fluent and instead feels halting and disconnected.

I’m curious if other people who also live in a non-English speaking country and have lived in one for much longer than I have, have also noticed differences in the way they speak English compared to when they lived in an English speaking country.

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10 thoughts on “Does Living In A Non-English Speaking Country Change The Way You Speak English?

  1. I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years bouncing between various countries in the world courtesy of my Dad, spending a lot of time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

    I hadn’t really considered how I spoke English then, primarily because I went to International schools that were in general taught by native English speakers (well, mostly Americans unfortunately ;P) – however now I look back at it, and even NOW, when talking to anyone outside of the bubble I can definitely notice that I have a totally different way of talking.

    In general I would class myself as at least partially capable of eloquent conversation, but when speaking to anyone else – especially in KL where people would speak Malay, Chinese, or Tamil, with a mixture of (frankly) broken English thrown in for good measure – I find myself almost mimicking the way they talk English in an attempt to improve their understanding. Obviously this isn’t actually the way to do things now I stop and think about it, they are probably used to hearing English spoken properly and fully.

    Anyway, I could go on and the in’s and out’s of English as a foreign language, and living in foreign language situations, but I think that about covers the question!

  2. I definitely speak a different kind of English when I’m speaking with non-native speakers. Dependending on their fluency, I try to speak a little bit slower, and try not to use as much slang or as many idiomatic phrases — especially instances that are particularly tied to American English, since British English is the English that Germans learn in school. I don’t really notice it while I’m doing it, but I do notice that my English relaxes a bit when I do get around another native speakers.

  3. I simply started forgetting words. When I got back from living in Brazil, I was constantly searching for words in English, directly translating sentences from Portuguese and incredibly frustrated when the English equivalent didn’t quite match the meaning I was trying to convey. People also said I had an accent in English. It all self-“corrected” eventually, btw.

    So strange how the brain works.

    But, yeah, you’re definitely not alone with this. :)

  4. Sometimes you learn new words in German, that you don’t know the English translation for at all. Either there isn’t one, or it’s something topical in the news, that you’ve never needed in English before.

    I remember in my first year here, I learnt a lot of very specific technical vocabulary, and really had to think about the English translation when talking to people back home.

    And then there are the cases of Denglish, where an English word gets used in German, even though we wouldn’t use it in native English. eg. Handy

    • even though we wouldn’t use it in native English. eg. Handy

      Reminds me of “Mobbing” too. I don’t mind the appropriation of English terms for specific (and different) things in German; what bugs me is the expectation from German native speakers that their usage of “our” English word is correct and appropriate in an English-language context.

      Early on in my life in Germany, when I raised my eyebrows at these cases, they assumed it was because my American English isn’t “the real English” anyways. And that really burns my toast.

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  6. Heh. Definitely. Since most of the English I speak is to non-native speakers, I find myself mimicking their Euro-English. But as long as it doesn’t happen when I’m talking to people back in the US, then I figgure what the hell? The goal is to be understood, and sometimes that seems to mean using weird prepositions and vocabulary.

    Some folks in America have told me that my speaking register has gotten lower as well, which sounded kind of random to me. Maybe I’ve just finally finished going through puberty. Haha.

  7. I have to agree with all…my English has definitely changed some. I find I speak a lot more slowly and use less contractions than before. And of course I do find myself searching for words periodically when speaking with people from back “home”. I don’t worry, as I do think things will “self-correct” as Emma mentioned. :) I guess we can say that I speak more “correctly” than I did before.

  8. I lived in Germany for two years (in the Stuttgart area). In the first year, I spoke English with other American students, but during the second year I did an internship at Mercedes, speaking only German with my colleagues (and learning quite a bit of Schwäbisch too).

    I didn’t think my English skills had changed that much, but when I went back to the United States I found that my English had degraded so much that I was having a great deal of difficulty speaking it after having hardly spoken it at all for a year. I spoke haltingly and I had trouble thinking of the English words for things. I apparently had adopted the German way of pronouncing things because people told me I had an accent and asked where I was from. That went away after about six months, but I probably continued thinking in German for a year after I came back.

    If you continue to practice English, it probably won’t get that bad. Now I’m learning to speak German well again after I’ve decided to speak to my little children only in German. I’ve found that the fluency didn’t disappear, but a little bit of the grammar and a whole lot of the vocabulary did. I’ve been busily reviewing lots of vocabulary and it’s slowly coming back. It would be way quicker if I knew more native German-speakers around here.

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