Since we have moved to China my English has definitely deteriorated. I won’t even mention my Dutch as that has been going down the tube for a long time (I found myself saying ‘helpte’ recently, which obviously only makes sense to those who speak Dutch and even then it may not).
I’m not sure if it has something to do with trying to make myself understood in English or if it is just because I am learning a new language which has a different structure (although sometimes it feels like it has none at all). Maybe it’s a combination of both. For example saying ‘more better’, instead of just saying it the correct way sometimes helps. In Chinese the adjective does not change, instead they add a word so for example faster is translated as ‘more fast’. The more Chinese I learn, the more I can hear it coming through when Chinese people speak English.
My language teacher told me recently that Chinese people don’t pay too much attention to grammar and that I should not worry about this too much when practicing my Chinese. They will work out the tense themselves from the context. For example I could say ‘yesterday evening I go out for dinner’ and they will all know that I already went, namely yesterday evening. In Chinese there is no verb conjugation so for past tense you can add the word ‘le’ after the verb and for what my teacher calls ‘past experience’ you add the word ‘guo’ which means you have experienced it, whether it be drinking Chinese alcohol or flying a small airplane.
Despite the decay of my English language skills, I love learning Chinese because it has a lot of quirky touches to it. There are rules but nothing compared to the Germanic languages. Yes the tones are hard and when you add the characters you are really learning two languages, but it is definitely better than learning and applying the dry German articles (no offense).
In Chinese there is also a lot of doubling up of words which is done to make the sentence a little softer. For instance to tell someone to wait (deng) you can say: ‘deng deng’ or ‘deng yi deng’. When we take our break half way through class, my teacher always says: ‘women xiuxi xiuxi’ which literally means ‘we rest rest’. You gotta love it.
My teacher sometimes gets surprised when I find these little things funny. But not as surprised as one day last week when I asked her how to explain to the cobbler, who I was going to visit after class, what needed to be done to the size 45 shoes I had in my bag (not mine by the way). You should have seen her face when I took them out to illustrate my point!2