It’s a sad story that began more than two and a half years ago.
I had always been “the best” student in my English class. So I was very confident about studying in England in English. However, when I arrived there, I soon felt as if I was in a completely different world. Like a black ant thrown into a red ant hill. Not only that there were some culture differences (I’m mainly referring to carpets, separated water taps and food), but especially the language made me feel rather excluded.
In the first few weeks I tried to absorb as much English as possible and forced myself to mainly think in English. However, as for speaking… there wasn’t much going on. I wasn’t very confident. This made my life rather depressing, because I couldn’t make friends without opening my mouth.
Diary entry, 13.09.2008 (after 24 days in England): “… I understand (almost) everything, but then I hear the others speak and think ‘gosh, they can express themselves…!’. Sure, I can do that in German. But I need to be able to speak in English (for my exams (in two years) at least). When I speak English it sounds sh**”
Diary entry, 25.10.2008: “When I speak English, I feel as if only rubbish comes out of my mouth.”
At some point, after some weeks or months or so, I had a phase in which I really detested English (no diary entry but memory footprint). Speaking in English. Thinking in English. Listening to English. I just wanted to “let it all out” – in German (I mean, I had barely talked in a while and so a lot had compiled in my brain that just wanted to be said). However, not a single person in my circle of acquaintances could speak German.
After a bit, my tension ceased and I became more confident and relaxed. I started speaking more and made friends. Then it all changed; I started to dislike German. I didn’t want to speak or hear it anymore. Every time I talked to someone in German on the phone, I felt really relieved when I hung up and could “forget” German again.
Fear overwhelmed me when I went back home in my Easter holidays; I was afraid to forget a great deal when I’d be exposed to nothing but German for two weeks. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I think that my English had even improved when I came back, maybe I was so happy to be able to speak English again that I couldn’t stop 😉 I was no longer at war with German (I mean, after all, I made quite a lot of money giving German tuition).
When did I first notice that my German started to ‘decay’? I think at least by the end of my first year. When I spoke German, sometimes the words were just not in my head and I’d just integrate a borrowed English word. So first, there was loss of words.
Next (as far as I can remember), I started translating English phrases into German, literally. (here a random example – note thought that I would NEVER say this in real, the German equivalent is just too good and should be borrowed into English! ;P E: “I’ve got a song stuck in my head.“ What would I, theoretically, say in German? “Ich habe ein Lied in meinem Kopf kleben” – instead of “Ich habe einen Ohrwurm“ (“I have an earworm”) Note: From now on, simply say “I’ve got an earworm/Ohrwurm”)
Well. And now? It’s getting critical… That means, my grammar is being affected. I recently recorded a ‘learn German’ video on physics and chemistry vocabulary (on youtube). I naturally said “das Alkohol” (alcohol). I uploaded the video. Thank God, a friend of mine watched it and noticed my mistake: it’s “der Alkohol”. Or yesterday I skyped with a friend and wasn’t sure about the plural for weekend (“Wochenende“)! Aww. So there we go. My German goes down the stream (> Mein Deutsch geht den Bach hinunter; borrowing phrases works (not) either way :P)
Appendix: Of course I can still speak German (pretty well) and my language skills will never go down to “zero”. It’s my mother tongue and even though I might forget and confuse things now and then, it doesn’t take me that long to get back into the language when I speak it for a longer period of time…