Expats Losing Native Language Skills

Just an observation I think is interesting. As you live in a foreign country your native language skills begin to degrade a bit. What’s interesting to me is I’m not even speaking a second language, but it’s the habit of speaking in broken English to locals that begins to take it’s toll.

It’s the typical stereotype of speaking to Asians – instead of saying “No, I don’t really care for that”, you say “Me no like” along with pointing to yourself, waving a finger “no” and making a face. Just a bad acquired habit. Especially embarrassing when you run into an Asian who speaks English well.

You naturally adjust your speech patterns to the level of understanding of the listener. But what happens now is that even when I’m speaking with fellow Americans, we sometimes slip into this baby speak. And we all laugh, “oh no, I’m forgetting English” – but I notice it happens more and more.

I was with some friends the other day and was ready to leave and said “I go.” And I was with all English speaking people. I have even noticed sometimes switching the sounds of “r” and “l” like Asians often do.

The vocabulary has diminished severely too because we use the least words possible for communicating. And you learn which words are understood. If you ask for the “restroom” in China it means you want your room, you need to ask for the “toilet”. There is no “to go” over here, it’s “take out”. And a hundred other examples like that.

I notice it the most when speaking with fellow Americans – but we are doing it more and more now and not laughing about it, just accepting it. I’ve also noticed more typos when I’m sending emails and even doing blog posts like this here. Sentences without full grammar, dropping words. I emailed someone today saying I was “watching movings all day”, where I meant to say “movies”. That’s another example.

Because most of the Asians that learn English learn it in British style, I’ve also become accustomed to UK enuncation on many words. An example would be the word “hot” as in hot coffee, it is not “hut”, it is “hoht”, with very long “o” sound. Also a lot of Australians here, so you get used to their enunciations as well.

So what’s the big deal? I started working on a script yesterday, and that’s when it hit me how my language skills have degraded. I’m usually someone known for a pretty good command of the English language. But in starting on this script it really hit me how base my writing has become.

I don’t know how the locals here around Hong Kong do it. They all speak Cantonese locally, and you go right over the border and it’s all Mandarin. They do not understand each other – and the various accents in China are so strong that even Mandarin speakers vary wildly throughout China in their accents.

Me no like. Me miss home.

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