Do I still speak English?

Maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t plan on teaching English much longer because I have been forgetting my own language. In my vocabulary classes, the students basically work for 90 minutes straight on learning new words and how to use them properly. They have to answer questions and write paragraphs and record themselves talking spontaneously while I listen, read and correct constantly. Except sometimes I don’t remember what we say in English because I’ve gotten so used to my students’ mistakes that I tend to just translate literally from French into English just like them.

Now I have doubts about what people actually say in my native language. When describing a picture, is it normal to start with We can see instead of just saying There is/are? I know French loves to use on all the time, so whenever I hear my students start a sentence with we, I wonder if it’s correct. Like when they say We are five instead of there are five of us when talking about how many people are present in a group. We are five is still awkward in English, right? And how about firstly? Is it normal to say that instead of just first?

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: mdid

Just this past week, almost everyone began their sentences about household chores with It’s my mother who… or It’s my father who + verb. In English,we’d simply say My mother or father + verb… Are there any cases in English where this weird it’s my [person] who is possible?  I’m thinking this is just a literal translation mistake, but perhaps other native speakers who aren’t losing their language can verify it?

And for British English speakers, is to take a decision really possible? In American English that is so wrong and of course my students want to use the verb take since it’s prendre une décision in French. I think I’ve heard that take a decision is possible in formal British English, but not so common in everyday speech. How about to take breakfast? Once again it’s prendre with meals or food in French, so I think  it’s just a mistake that all of my students make, but with the British English differences, I’m not so sure…

I’d really like to know why every single student says come back at home instead of come home or practice sport instead of play sports when they’ve been learning English for 7 or 8 years already. Do middle and high school classes just not teach proper phrase constructions? Or do students really think they can just translate word for word and it will work perfectly in another language?

I’d say that I’m 50% angry that students constantly make the same mistakes over and over and I have no idea how to make them learn the correct constructions, and 50% angry that they are making me doubt my ability to speak English. I actually said practice a sport the other day and I was so mad at myself for letting their mistakes influence me.

At least when pronunciation is concerned it’s a different story. I may have trouble with grammar sometimes, but I know without a doubt when a word is pronounced wrong. I almost laughed out loud when a student said “I don’t like to sleep in dirty sheets” but she pronounced sheets with the short [ɪ] vowel. I don’t think anyone would like sleeping in that.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.