America For Beginners

Bringing American culture closer to new immigrants

How English Affects My Native Language

Second language affects first languageLearning a foreign language is always affected by your mother tongue. Depending on how close the two languages are, the process gets easier (Russian-Polish, English-German, French-Spanish, etc.) or more challenging (English-Chinese).  So now you finally speak that foreign language and, like me, live in that language community,  spending 95% of your time expressing yourself in English.  Does it affect your mother tongue? Most definitely.

I’m not talking about people who develop a thick accent, sound awkward speaking their first language, or even forget it. It takes a lot of time and serious native language exclusion to end up in such a situation.  It is sad, and it is not my point.

My point is that there are some minor changes in the way we speak our first language, when the second language becomes the primary communication tool.  Here’s what I’ve noticed analyzing my own speech.


  • Use of nominal modifiers (one noun precedes another and modifies it), e.g.,  Facebook application =application for Facebook, an office desk= a desk for an office, etc. It’s a characteristic feature of English and something that almost never happens in Russian, yet I caught myself trying to use nouns in this function.
  • English in its standard form doesn’t allow the use of double negation, e.g., I don’t want no boring grammar lessons.  Russian gladly accepts double No Nos. Nevertheless, I started carefully avoiding double negatives in my Russian as well.


  • From time to time I experience a desperate need for the Russian equivalents of some frequently used English words, for example “busy”, “excited”,” all set”, “internship”, “roommate”, etc. I can definitely find words to express the idea, but it doesn’t sound same concise and well-rounded.

Is that just me? Or is that a fascinating thing that all immigrants and expats have to deal with?


6 comments on “How English Affects My Native Language

  1. casmige
    July 9, 2012

    I Agree.

    English is infecting my French Language with oddities I never expected….& inabilities at times to fully express my thoughts without some strange reactions to the sentence structures I compose.

    English is genetically averse to me as an emigrant from French Canada. I Still am needing to consult with on-line translators to make sure I am able to properly express what I am intending to speak about when I write. I find all the incongruity with regards to “i’s” before “e’s” but some-times not & the nouns prior to modifiers are not making sense to me when I write English, even after attending & graduating University here in the States (The primary reason I am here & still here).


    I hear a very good joke a while ago:

    Q: What do you call a person who is able to speak 3 Languages??

    A: “Tri-lingual”

    Q: What do you call a person who is able to speak 2 Languages??

    A: “Bi-lingual”

    Q: What do you call a person who is able to speak only 1 Languages??

    A: “Americain”

    The very frustrating issue for me is that Americains will coddle & cater to illegal emigrants from the southern border in having a lot of “Things” in Spanish translated for advertising, menu’s, directions, & even customer service agent representatives (Especially when Legal emigrants set about to learn the Language of the land: “L’Anglaise”), however alternately, they do NOTHING for French/Italian/Chinese/Vietnamese/ & other certainly equally deserving minority emigrant groups….& it seems to be empowering the Hispanic illegal emigrant “La Raza: Reconquista” attitude that the southern parts of the States were some-how obtained via conquest illegally.

    It’s no wonder the previous century’s French conquistadors fled out of old Mexico for north of the border with America…….they make Americains (Who are brutish, crass, & rude) look like St. Germaine.

    But then….French Canada and Truly personnes Canadiennes a Francais are a very vocal belligerent minority even in my Country where we tried to force others to speak French albeit we were indigenous and legal to the Country of Canada as a people unlike the southern border illegals here in the States with their demands & social expectations of services.

    Thank you, I thought only I was struggling with this issue.

    • Raine
      September 11, 2012

      You know what’s sad, most Americans only speak one language. In my family, my parents made us all take a language so all of us are at least conversation in 2 languages. I speak French well enough to have casual conversations. My mom is trilingual in French and Spanish and my brother is completely fluent in Spanish.

      In terms of translating signs, I agree it’s not fair to leave other minorities hanging. However, when the population demands it, business will cater to what is best. In Miami, 70% of the population is Hispanic. A lot of those people are unable to speak English when they first get here, or grandparents, or whoever. In order to include the non-English speakers, from a business perspective, Spanish in the signage is really wise. You’ll also see a lot of signs in Haitian Creole as well down in South Florida because of the huge population. As for immigrant expectations of signs in Spanish, I don’t think they “expect” it outside their communities. At least not a majority of those people who I’ve met.

      The signage an issue I’ve often wondered about as there is a decent French population in Miami (because I had a few French teachers about town). But they (the French immigrants) tend to be educated whereas a lot of immigrants from South America are escaping poor conditions and are often uneducated. What does this mean? An educated non-American probably knows English and can read the signs. It’s a nasty catch-22.

      Of course you have those people who REFUSE to learn English and that drives me insane. In Miami, that’s a problem. On occasion I get, “why don’t you know Spanish? You live in Miami.” RAWR! But I try not to apply it to all immigrants because a lot of my co-workers took English night classes or really made an effort to speak as much English as possible

      I think if you travel to a country (or live there) you should learn the language. Every time I go to France I brush up on French before I go. I took a month of Italian before I went to Orvieto. I’m dying to go to French Canada. What’s it like up there? I have a friend in Montreal who is moving back after school because she won’t live any place else!

      It would be cool if we had something like in the movie Minority Report where a machine scans the person’s retina and greeted him by name. Except it should change the second language of the sign to a native tongue!

      And, learning a foreign language affecting your native tongue. French has affected mine a bit, too, especially after I visit and then come home! Mostly I feel awkward using the word “you”. I feel the distinct lack of formal/informal usage and also differentiating between plural second/third person. A lot of adjective/adverb usage feels bizarre when I switch from French to English and I’ll find myself reversing adjective placement.

      Anyway, that was a novel!

  2. George Simons
    July 10, 2012

    The effect of a new language on the native one also depends on how our lifestyle changes. I remember after living in Hamburg and taking the train regularly, I returned to the US and was talking to an US friend, telling them about my adventures. I wanted to say that I went to the “train station”, words that I never used in Ohio, where I had perhaps taken the train only once or twice in my life while living there. “Bahnhof” was all that I can think of. Ich versteh’ NUR Bahnhof!

  3. America For Beginners
    July 10, 2012

    =) George, that’s a great example.
    I work at a restaurant and I have a hard time every time I have Russian customers. English phrases that I use so frequently and pretty much automatically sound awkward when you translate them in Russian. I have no idea how to adequately translate something like “How’s everything so far?” in Russian without sounding too informal. Same thing with addressing people: being used to “You”, it’s hard to switch back to the formal/informal “Ты/Вы”, or, since you mentioned German, “du/Sie”.

    • Raine
      September 11, 2012

      This is interesting, the ‘you/you’ thing. In Asian languages, as you know, formality is a huge thing. Korean has something like 7 different levels of speech! I have a few Asian readers who I will try to guide to your page cause I’m sure they’ve encountered these issues before!

  4. Ekaterina
    November 30, 2012

    Hey, Ann. I like the peculiarities and curious little things that you manage to notice=) I guess that’s a natural process when a person, speaking more than one language, modifies the other one(s). Even I (although I still live in Russia, as you remember=) ) notice from time to time that I try to apply nominal modifiers in Russian or to insert some words in English (or in Spanish or German – that depends on the subject) into Russian sentences. Or it takes time for me to say something, because I try to translate a word or choose the best equivalent. That’s odd, but that does happen. I do not speak English on the daily basis, but I read something in English every day, probably that is what influences my speech. I started noticing the changes when I got to speak English at school (to really speak it and think in it), and now it’s still no better))) And at work I encounter people who, being Russian, but working generally with English, prefer English terms to their Russian equivalents. So I can imagine how much your Russian is affected, taking into consideration your location)))

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