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Thread: Things that betray the non-native speaker

  1. #61
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by ThomasK View Post
    interesting list. BTW: the last one refers to registers !

    But I don't agree with 'mostlt similar to other languages': it is way more difficult! And you know, what could be typical too, is mixing us v/w. Just teasing...

    Oh no, I did it again!


    I meant that we can apply the same three-level categories to all languages. Of course, phonology and words aren't the same in Finnish and eg. Spanish, but that's just a minor point.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Don't worry!!! But by the way: if you split up words (part of morphology, or of lexicon) and phrases (part of syntax) we arrive at about the same categories (in my other message).

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    A teacher once pointed out to me, and I've noticed since then, that since English is some kind of a mix of German-based and Latin-based, and because the German-based English words tend to be a lower register (less formal, I mean), Spanish-speakers when speaking English may use a higher register than a native English speaker would.

    For example,

    make (lower register) --> prepare (higher register) <-- preparar
    wonderful --> marvelous <-- maravilloso
    end --> terminate <-- terminar

    So if a Spanish speaker said "I prepared a marvelous cake," because it sounded similar to what he would've said in Spanish, his use of a different register would betray the fact that he's not a native English speaker.

    By the way, I guess I don't mean "higher" or "lower" registers, necessarily, but just different.
    Please correct my mistakes!

  4. #64
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Wow... I have never thought that my formal and "highbrow" manner of speaking was a dead give away of my non-native speaker status.

    That is very interesting... And all that time I thought it was because of my horrendous accent.

  5. #65
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Hi miss_sparkles,

    You're correct!
    Italians do the same, generally because of the historical reasons for the Romance lexicon to enter English, it was to do with being more formal / upper-class (i.e. French being the language of the king and the courts) and Latin being the language everyone spoke across Europe, science and general formality was conducted in French / Latin for the most part, resulting in this language entering English.

    For this reason, I know so many 'fancy' words in English, through their relatively normal Italian counterpart, so it works the reverse for me. These following examples are all my personal opinon.

    "Greedy" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "avarous" (avaro in Italian)
    "Start" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "initiate" (iniziare in Italian)
    "Red-hot" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "ardent" (ardente in Italian)
    "Understand" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "comprehend" (comprendere in Italian)
    "Get" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "obtain" (ottenere in Italian)
    "Tiredness" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "fatigue" (fatica in Italian)
    "Let (someone do..)" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "consent (to)" (consentire in Italian)

    Etc etc, so it has certainly introduced me to many words that I might have read / heard but have been unsure of the meaning, but generally what you are saying, I believe is true!
    As someone who has spent time with Italians speaking English, they translate quite literally and I'm often quite impressed that they know a few words that are quite formal in English, but then I remember these are just their normal words, and it's not like showing off, but they know this word exists in English and using it puts across a more highbrow nuance (in my opinion) so it can be quite misleading, and to the person that knows about it certainly something to betray them as a non-native speaker!

    [In this post I have purposely made no statement about levels of formality of the Italian words in relation to the normal English ones, only that there is a formal counterpart to the formal word in English]
    Last edited by Alxmrphi; 11th January 2010 at 8:43 PM.

  6. #66
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by miss sparkles View Post
    A teacher once pointed out to me, and I've noticed since then, that since English is some kind of a mix of German-based and Latin-based, and because the German-based English words tend to be a lower register (less formal, I mean), Spanish-speakers when speaking English may use a higher register than a native English speaker would.

    For example,

    make (lower register) --> prepare (higher register) <-- preparar
    wonderful --> marvelous <-- maravilloso
    end --> terminate <-- terminar

    So if a Spanish speaker said "I prepared a marvelous cake," because it sounded similar to what he would've said in Spanish, his use of a different register would betray the fact that he's not a native English speaker.

    By the way, I guess I don't mean "higher" or "lower" registers, necessarily, but just different.
    I always thought this phenomenon would be limited to Romance speakers, since prepare and marvelous are more accessible.

    I apologize if this is elsewhere in this thread (which I haven't read entirely yet), but I also find this "higher register bias" among non-native speakers from a variety of speaking backgrounds.

    For example, the graduate student in our lab is Tamil-speaking and I have never heard him say the word "make" - exclusively, "prepare." (Some other interesting phenomena unrelated to register are he uses the verb "keep" to mean "put/place" ("I have kept a book on the desk for you" etc.) in addition to "keep" and I have never heard him utter the word "put." I assume this has to do with the semantics of Tamil?)

    He also has a bias towards using the "have"-compound (so-called "perfect") tenses instead of the simple past tense.

    But in general he uses more high register Romance vocabulary where simpler Germanic vocabulary would be more common. I wonder if it has to do with how English is taught in his region of India? He doesn't speak a Romance language so there's no reason that the Romance vocabulary should be a priori easier for him to remember.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    The tense issue: I would not call it a bias. I notice myself that German for example uses more perfects where we in Dutch and English use simple past. It is a peculiarity but not a bias.

    The register issue may be a matter of bias indeed. One cause might however be that foreigners tend to use dictionaries, and thus are misguided by that non-distinct (if that is the right word) list (frequent verbs are listed alongside very uncommon words). But the result seems to be a register conflict indeed.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by ThomasK View Post
    The tense issue: I would not call it a bias. I notice myself that German for example uses more perfects where we in Dutch and English use simple past. It is a peculiarity but not a bias.
    Well I meant to conjecture that it was a bias in the way he was taught English. The Tamil language doesn't have a verbal construction like the Germanic or Romance perfect constructions, so there's no reason to think he has an influence there from his native language.

    The register issue may be a matter of bias indeed. One cause might however be that foreigners tend to use dictionaries, and thus are misguided by that non-distinct (if that is the right word) list (frequent verbs are listed alongside very uncommon words). But the result seems to be a register conflict indeed.
    I am actually quite curious now about English instruction in India, because I've noticed similar phenomena like I've stated in my previous post from speakers of a variety of languages (Dravidian or Indic), which are otherwise unrelated. Anyway, I'd probably start a new thread to explore that.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    As for the perfect : are we speaking about the same concept here of 'bias' ? Influence from some other kind of language or from other time concepts is not a bias to me, rather a value judgment - and I cannot imagine any regarding perfect. Do you have one in mind ?

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    I think we´re all referring to bias in the sense of tendency toward, not value judgment.

    Anyway, I´ve noticed some tense tendencies too, like the perfect tense tendency Clevermizo mentioned. I hear native Spanish speakers use the simple present tense in English more often than native English speakers would. For example, they´d say "You come pick me up at my house?" instead of using the present progressive "Are you coming to pick me up at my house?" That makes a lot of sense to me since the present simple tense is used in Spanish in a lot more situations than in English. Also, I imagine it´s easier to form the present simple.

    Similarly, I bet my overuse of the present progressive and even the "ir a" tense in Spanish betrays me as a non-native speaker.
    Please correct my mistakes!

  11. #71
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by miss sparkles View Post
    I think we´re all referring to bias in the sense of tendency toward, not value judgment.
    Yes, that's exactly what I meant. When I say he has a bias towards the perfect compound tenses over the simple tenses, I mean he subconsciously chooses the perfect compound tenses, despite the fact that he understands me when I use the simple tenses, so he is aware of their existence.

    Quote Originally Posted by miss sparkles View Post
    For example, they´d say "You come pick me up at my house?" instead of using the present progressive "Are you coming to pick me up at my house?" That makes a lot of sense to me since the present simple tense is used in Spanish in a lot more situations than in English. Also, I imagine it´s easier to form the present simple.

    Similarly, I bet my overuse of the present progressive and even the "ir a" tense in Spanish betrays me as a non-native speaker.
    Actually in this case there's an even more specific reason for the error. Verbs of motion and translocation in Spanish are rarely used in the estar+participio progressive construction, unless the emphasis is on the in-progress nature of the action. However, in English with these same verbs (go, come, etc) we mostly use the progressive construction be+-ing unless we mean something habitual.
    Last edited by clevermizo; 24th January 2010 at 7:25 PM.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Wow! Very interesting discussion.

    In my opinion two of the most difficult things to learn (and therefore that can spot non-natives) are the right use of prepositions, and the register.
    I'm always editing a text like hundreds of times before I send it, especially if it's something formal, because for a foreigner is really difficult to know if a word is low-register, normal or high-register.

    As regards English-Spanish, besides the obvious accent (some of my British professors have lived in Italy for more than 30 years, and they still have a very strong accent, and the same goes for the Spanish, and us Italians), probably a non-native speaking Spanish would not guess a single por/para. I had a very hard time learning the use of those prepositions, and I believe I still make mistakes. I actually understood the usage only spending a semester in Spain. Back in Italy our professors would explain it again and again, but I never really got it. But then, hearing Spanish people using it, I understood it.

    And of course you can spot Italians because of our gestures. No matter what language we're speaking, we'll always have our hands moving around our body

  13. #73
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    And of course you can spot Italians because of our gestures. No matter what language we're speaking, we'll always have our hands moving around our body
    I noticed in Australia I was chatting to an Italian girl (in Italian) and my hands were moving everywhere, I don't do that with English and I stopped mid conversation and said something like "Non capisco il motivo ma non riesco a tenere firme le mani quando parlo in italiano...", I don't know about any other learners but I think it must be the language that makes people do it!
    (un pensiero: penso che stessimo parlando delle mosche, le mosche da incubo ....... allora forse c'era buon motivo per i gesti )

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by VivaReggaeton88 View Post
    I think not using the subjunctive and using the wrong prepositions are mostly what make English speakers sound like non-natives in Spanish.

    True! I am better now at using the subjunctive correctly and choosing the right prepositions, but I know I used to mess that up a lot! I think another major mistake English speakers make in Spanish is with direct and indirect objects--their place in a sentence, mixing the two up, and leaving them out altogether (or just using a mí and not both a mí and me). I'm sure it makes us sound very non-native.
    Please correct my mistakes!

  15. #75
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by gurseal View Post
    Some speakers of English as a foreign language use the simple present where a native, at least in US, will use the future:
    I get it for you now instead of I'll get it for you now.
    Here. I do it instead of Here. I'll do it.
    I've noticed that too, although as a side note, sometimes this isn't a future tense but rather "will" in the sense of "I am willing to."
    Please correct my mistakes!

  16. #76
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by Alxmrphi View Post
    I noticed in Australia I was chatting to an Italian girl (in Italian) and my hands were moving everywhere, I don't do that with English and I stopped mid conversation and said something like "Non capisco il motivo ma non riesco a tenere ferme le mani quando parlo in italiano...", I don't know about any other learners but I think it must be the language that makes people do it!
    (un pensiero: penso che stessimo parlando delle mosche, le mosche da incubo ....... allora forse c'era buon motivo per i gesti )
    Lots of native English speakers would say "non posso tenere ferme le mie mani" (I can't keep my hands still).

    P.S.: Alex, che sono le "mosche da incubo"?
    Beti egongozera uda berrikua, lore aintzinetako mantxa gabekoa.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by Montesacro View Post
    P.S.: Alex, che sono le "mosche da incubo"?
    If you ever go to Ayers Rock you will find out (sufficient to say you need a fly-net)

    Lots of native English speakers would say "non posso tenere ferme le mie mani" (I can't keep my hands still).
    But what I said was correct, right? (except for the firme/ferme svista, of course)
    But I see your point, the typical English way of speaking instantly gives away the fact they're not native by using possessives for parts of the body (which Italian doesn't do) and the riuscere / potere distinction that doesn't exist really in English.
    Last edited by Alxmrphi; 29th January 2010 at 10:01 AM.

  18. #78
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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by Alxmrphi View Post
    If you ever go to Ayers Rock you will find out (sufficient to say you need a fly-net)

    Ohh, I see


    But what I said was correct, right? (except for the firme/ferme svista, of course) yes, it was
    But I see your point, the typical English way of speaking instantly gives away the fact they're not native by using possessives for parts of the body (which Italian doesn't do) and the riuscire / potere distinction that doesn't exist really in English.
    Another tiny svista, Alex

    It also works the other way round: when speaking English Italians often don't use possessives for parts of the body..
    Beti egongozera uda berrikua, lore aintzinetako mantxa gabekoa.

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    In my opinion two of the most difficult things to learn (and therefore that can spot non-natives) are the right use of prepositions, and the register.
    You are right. I had a native American teacher to whom I had complained that I always had some errors on prepositions in my tests, 'What could I do?' She answered me, 'Never mind, we natives are never sure about that to'. Then I realized that the same is true for us natives, we don't use the right prepositions all the time - most of us - in our own language too, because 'regência' is one of the hardest part of grammar for us.
    Eu quase que nada não sei. Mas desconfio de muita coisa...- Guimarães Rosa

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    Re: Things that betray the non-native speaker

    Quote Originally Posted by clevermizo View Post
    Actually in this case there's an even more specific reason for the error. Verbs of motion and translocation in Spanish are rarely used in the estar+participio progressive construction, unless the emphasis is on the in-progress nature of the action. However, in English with these same verbs (go, come, etc) we mostly use the progressive construction be+-ing unless we mean something habitual.
    You lost me here Clever....estar + participio progressive construction, please!! give me some examples...on the other hand I think that the "You come to pick me up..." it's a literal translation de "Vienes a buscarme.."..another thing that betrays the non-native.
    en las letras de 'rosa' está la rosa, y todo el Nilo en la palabra 'Nilo'.

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