Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bad English

On coming to Switzerland, my English has gotten worse and worse. So far, I’ve found five reasons for this:

1. In explaining anything in English to a non-native speaker, I tend to simplify my speech so I end up sounding something like my neighbor: “It coming. I go to market. You too?”

2. I hear and see bad translations of German into English and somehow my speech seems to soak them up like a sponge. For example, in e-mails I get at work, the greeting is: “Hello, together.” Or, “No, she cannot just translate this. Her German is yet too young.” Or, on listening to the train announcer translate to English: “First class, sec-tone A. Second class, sec-tone C.”

3. The stress of English on demand makes me forget my entire vocabulary. For example, a co-worker will come in and expect, on the spot, that I can think of the English word for a group of boxes lined up together. I stutter and spew and finally, 10 minutes later after they’ve already given up on me I think, “oh, a column, what was so hard about that?”

4. Word order. The German word order puts things very backwards when you think of the English way of saying something. Instead of saying “they will get a translator now”, it might be said, “now get they a translator.”

5. The mix of British and American English and the confusion over each. For example, two German friends looked at an image of a woman in a magazine and pronounced that she had “goosepimples.” When I said they should say “goosebumps” they proceeded to say that both their teachers taught them “goosepimples” and perhaps it is a British thing. Anything I don’t understand about their English is never wrong, it’s simply “British”.

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