Fluent in Denglish

Denglish: If you are an expat in a German-speaking country, you’re probably pretty fluent at it. It’s the combination of the two languages of Deutsch and English, and your fluency doesn’t really depend on how good your German or English is. Or even how committed you are to improving your German. Or how disciplined you are speaking one language with your kids, if you have kids. The fact of the matter is is that you often might not be able to to think of the passendes Wort for whatever you are trying to say quickly enough. Then both languages start to collide into one another in your brain and maybe oddly enough a latent language that you might have once spoken or learned like your high school French unhelpfully pops into the mix, and then the easiest way to express yourself is to just use the German word you were just trying to übersetzen. Akin to what Hyde has written regarding the Death of the German Language, employing Denglish certainly doesn’t do your German any favors and leads to the deterioration of your English, encouraging a lazy linguist.

I recently participated in a job interview in Germany with one native German speaker and one non-native speaker who had a basic understanding of German. It was tempting, but I summoned all of my discipline and strength to stretch my mind to find and use the correct English words I was looking for and not just blurt out, Mittelstand.

Even if it weren’t for Denglish as my crutch, speaking German in a German world has slowed my English down in multiple ways. Here are just a few:

  • Yodaspeak. I notice this with my kids a lot when they speak, but it has also crept into some of my writing. It’s that pesky German grammatical structure and verb placement infiltrating our English sentences. “In the frying pan should we put it in,” and we start sounding like Yoda.
  • Commas galore. I recently edited a manuscript written by German-speaking native English speakers. Let me tell you, I had to edit out a lot of extra commas following the word “because.” Unnecessary commas were present after many other clauses too. Here we see again the influential powers of the Nebensatz!
  • False friends. Again, my kids have gotten really confused with some false friends, and their confusion has started to trip me up. “Become” and “get” are big culprits that I am constantly correcting. “Mama, when Lenny gets three-years-old, he can finally join the big kids’ group in Kindi, right?”
  • Or? The worst I think is when I hear the affirmation-seeking “right” being substituted with “or?” by native English speakers. Ouch. That’s a clear substitution of the German, “oder” which was always one of the first things I tried to correct in my students during the brief time I taught business English.
  • Pesky prepositions. I am insecure about prepositions and often apply German rules when speaking English. “We were on Mallorca,” or “As we were playing on the playground.” Extra concentration is necessary to get back to native speaker levels.
  • Schh! Finally, I knew I had been here a long time when the letter “c” started infiltrating any words with “sh.”  I started typing, “Waschington, DC” or “Schut up. Get out of town!”

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