What happened to me? ESL – that’s what!

What happened to me?

Of course I can speak English. Born and raised in Australia, I’m English mother-tongue.

But being bilingual and living in a non-English speaking country has evidently presented me with some brain function problems.

What happened to me?

You may notice it in my writing (if you haven’t already), my grammar and manner of speaking.

I get constantly told by a particular sibling who resides in Australia – well, put eloquently by said sibling – that my “grammar and writing has gone to shit!”

What happened to me?

A good friend of mine recently consoled me. She said (with a completely straight face), “Oh it’s very common. You have ESL.” That I now apparently speak English as a second language!

It’s the effect of being just about fluent in Italian, speaking it every day and switching in between the two, come se niente fosse (like nothing.. like it’s natural) – see what I did right there? Just switched. Just like that. I now speak some mixed-up inbred Italian kind of English and an English kind of Italian. Kind of like the broken English spoken by Italian post-war migrants to Australia, US & Canada.


When I’m having conversations in English, often a word will escape me. I’ll stutter and take a little to remember the word! Absolutely fine when you’re speaking to someone who can also speak Italian and can help you out, but a little awkward when to a native English speaker.

It’s as though where my Italian improves, my English deteriorates!

What happened to me?

I have many English mother-tongue friends who suffer from the same syndrome. It seems ESL is a common language spoken by expats. I declare it the national language of native English speakers, adopted upon living for an extended period in a non-English speaking country.

Some of the crazy things I have found myself saying in English (as a direct result of now translating literally from Italian) include:

I’ll inform myself
Taken from the Italian, “Mi informo”.
In English you would say, “I’ll find out” or “I’ll look into it”.

He had an important story
In Italian a serious or long term relationship is una storia importante so this is a classic and bad literal translation.

No, I’m fine.. I’m tranquil
Ahh, when do you say you’re tranquil in English? Derived from the Italian, tranquilla (calm or relaxed).

You eat really well there
A literal translation. To say that a restaurant is really good in Italian, you say, “Li si mangia bene”.

It’s really absurd
Not that you can’t say something is absurd in English but it’s a little stuffy and probably not called for every day. Whereas in Italian, “É assurdo” gets thrown around like a hot potato!

At this point
Again, not grammatically incorrect, just something I’ve noticed creep more and more into my English vocabulary because I use “a questo punto” in Italian a lot.

In practice
Completely wrong and should be, “Basically…” – which in Italian is, “In pratica”.

Seriously, what happened to me?

If you are a native English speaker who also speaks Italian, I’m sure you are able to resonate and I’d actually love to hear of some of your examples.

I also find myself pronouncing some words in Italian only – ever. For instance even when speaking in English I refer to myself going to have a piega (blow-wave) or that I can’t catch up with someone because I already have an impegno (prior engagement) or that there is going to be a temporale (storm) tomorrow or that we might do a giro. And believe me when I say, this is not an exhaustive list.

Conversations just seemed to jump from Italian to English and back again. Sentences start in English and end in Italian.

Oh and don’t get me started on the words I have invented in Italian derived from English. Now that’s a very post in itself!

Basically, these are the effects of being an English mother tongue speaker in Italy.

Things just get a little muddled sometimes ok!

And despite the fact that my brain can obviously not keep up with the swift interchange a lot of the time, for me it’s a reminder of my ability to speak two languages and of my heritage. One that I am extremely grateful for and fiercely proud of.

Love to hear your ESL stories if you have any! I’m sure there are plenty more sufferers out there 🙂

Signing off from Trastevere
Baci Maria

Leave a Reply