Does learning an L2 affect your L1?

I started thinking about this several months ago and wondered how it affects other people. I’ve noticed that Russian (L2) has affected how I think/talk in English (L1) in a couple ways:

  • I now have a tendency (whether or not I actually do this) to feel that my English needs more words to feel “right”. Those words are usually pronouns like “which” that represents an object or idea. If I don’t use this word now, the sentence feels incomplete and vague (even if still completely understandable). I don’t necessary talk this way but it sometimes pops up in my writing.

  • I’m starting to change the order of words but use prepositions to keep the same meaning. These prepositions act like arrows that point between objects and keep the flow of information moving smoothly. A bad example would be something like “to the house went Jimmy”. I definitely don’t talk like this but it gets the point across.

Another difference that I’ve noticed with my L1 which I think is caused by reading different languages on LingQ is that I have a hard time noticing spelling errors now. This is a problem for my writing, and I wonder if it has to do with a strong focus on understanding meaning and not letting other small details get in my way.


L2 can affect language L1 if you do not keep the two languages “alive” by regular use. I can say this because I have been in another country for some years and, at the beginning of my experience here, I noticed that my L1 was getting worse (I was kinda “rusty,” putting it in a better way).
Anyway, if L1 is your native language or another language that you have already reached fluency in, I would encourage you to keep immersing yourself in Russian. You can retrieve your knowledge in L1 very fast. I believe that immersion in a “new” target language is very useful. I don’t worry too much about the languages that I have already been fluent in. I recommend you to keep consuming things passively in L1 and keep making progress in Russian with active effort.

Definitely affects. Modern Russian itself constantly borrows a lot of English words, but I started to close my sentences with prepositions and abuse passive voice, like “Кот поигран” or “тут уже всё пошучено” that sounds very funny to Russian ears :slight_smile:

Sometimes I just can’t come up with a more precise phrase in Russian. To me it looks like I store somewhere a collection of “ways of saying”, that are linked rather to phenomena or ideas than to their origin.

But I also noticed an increased amount of spelling errors. I’m gonna do nothing about that, because I think it’s exactly what you’ve described. The brain has a lot to do and lets small details slide.

(Лес рубят — щепки летят,

Absolutely! Now I say “Is that all” in English. In German, I am used to saying" Ist das alles"? A German way of thinking is creeping into my English.


Very interesting post, aronald.
I would personally distinguish between two different ways in which a new language can influence your native tongue:
a) Some people may use words or grammatical expressions form the new language in their mother tongue. This only happens when you use the new language a lot and (at least in some areas) more than your native language. It happens to those who use a different language for work or to emigrants who live in a new country. Coincidentally I talked recently and independently with two Romanian women who’ve been living in Spain for a couple decades and they both mentioned that they feel more confident speaking Spanish in many domains and that their Romanian sounds kind of off. Another example is Spanish emigrants to France (there were many in the sixties who still live there), they speak good Spanish but they just can’t help saying “usina” for “fábrica” (factory), “retreta” for “jubilación” (retirement) and using some expressions taken from French: “Me he hecho cortar el pelo” and so on. Another example is some of colleagues from the university who have been working abroad and have used English as their main working language. They often say, e.g. “aplicar a algo” to mean “apply for something”, which is totally incorrect and even sounds a bit cringy.
However, this point a doesn’t apply to you, as I understand, or to most language learners.
b) A very interesting thing is that every country has its own way to express ideas, which is not necessarily related to language features but to cultural patterns. For example both French and Russian tend to love “retorical questions” when they explain something. They tend to begin every explanation that way:
Как понимать этот вопрос? Во-первых надо обратить внимание на…
А, дорогие дурзья, что такое язык? Язык это …
[indicentally, the fact of calling “friends” to a group of unknown listeners is itself a feature of the Russian way of speaking. In this case English speakers sometimes do the same, although not so often not in the same contexts. In Spanish it sounds really strange]

They do so much more systematically than in English or Spanish.
Another example that came to me as a bit of a shock the first time I visited Russia.
I met a person (it happened to be a young boy but it is very common in general) and the conversation went:

  • Как твои дела?
  • Нормально.
    If in Spain they answer “normal” to “how are you?” it sounds as if the person doesn’t want to talk and kind of means, “none of your business”. In Russian, on the other hand, it’s a very usual way to reply to such a question. In general every culture has its own default way to answer the question
    “How are you?”

Another example is something you mentioned: Russian tends to like relative clauses (which …) or its equivalent in formal speech (participles) much more than other languages.
There are many other features in the way speakers from different cultures express themselves.

IMO, once you realize those different possibilities you notice that there’s more than one way to get ideas across and you subconsciously realize that adding some new ways of speaking to your “toolbox” is in fact helpful and certainly beats falling back to the same old mannerisms in all contexts. So you add some of them because sometimes you see value in being more concrete (as in your case) or don’t think that the default answer to some question is good enough and so on.

I consider that, whereas the first case (point a) is detrimental and something to resist, the second case (point b) is in fact very positive: it makes your communication richer and more flexible but, of course, it also makes you different from those who haven’t had the experience of thinking in a different language.
But that’s exactly how life works: every experience makes different and more unique. Getting to know a new culture is a very special, powerful kind of experience so it has a particularly profound impact.

Back in the stone age when newspapers and their op-ed pages were more influential our leading paper had an editorial questioning the sense of high schools continuing to offer Latin as a foreign language option. I had had two years of Latin a few years prior and had found that although the grammar-focused program did not make me fluent in Latin, it did enhance my understanding of grammar concepts that greatly improved my use of English, my writing in particular. My letter to the editor with my experience and views on the subject–very carefully written so as not to betray my thesis–was published by the newspaper. That’s the only letter that I’ve ever sent to a newspaper, and it surprised (and pleased) my parents from whom I was living apart at university at the time.

Like you, @aronald, I do find myself more critically analyzing and adjusting my word order and general sentence construction, particularly in writing. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, or whether it tends to make my English more rigid and stilted. This I attribute more to Russian influence than Latin as I’ve gone much farther for much longer with Russian. Both languages are highly inflected Indo-European languages, so their grammars are conceptually similar in many ways. When composing answers on these Lingq forums for a non-native speaker, I am hyper-aware of how usage affects the order of words and phrases, and how it might be difficult for a non-native reader who from birth has gotten these semantics from word morphology. It must be difficult sometimes to determine where one phrase or clause ends and another picks up in a long sentence, so I am more apt to include words like “which”, etc., that are often left out of quick, informal English.

A corollary to the L2-L1 influence is L2-L3. For reasons I don’t remember, I selected both Latin and Russian for my first year, and for some reason the high school allowed it. While we were busy learning the alphabet for Russian, our Latin class launched right into the grammar. I had previously had no concept of things like declensions and conjugations, which rather blew my mind. But when the Russian class finally got around to such matters, I was conceptually much more prepared for them than my fellow beginning Russian students. :slight_smile:


I discovered that when I start to hit “fluency” in speaking a language, my L1 (English) temporarily gets “blocked”. I reckon I’m somehow suppressing my English in order to remember my L2/Lx.

Also wierdly: I used to be perfect at spelling English but since I learned Spanish my spelling has deteriorated. Not much but some words I am confused what is the right spelling. Possibly because the spelling in Spanish is close enough to interfere with English.

So yeah your Lx does indeed interfere with your L1. But in the long run it makes it stronger.

For example: I know what excupate vs disculpate mean because of Spanish. How many native english speakers even know those words LOL?

Is that all isn’t completely abnormal in English. I hear that all the time in drive throughs.

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I see others have experienced the same thing! I saw L1 spelling issues mentioned a couple of times and I’ve definitely noticed that with myself too. I used to be pretty good at spelling and now it’s gotten considerably worse :confused:

It’s staring to feel like our languages are different sides to a die (dice) and they each contribute to how our brain processes language instead of just being completely separate things.


It is a romantic idea that not only do languages have differences but L2 speakers of a language that also share the same L1 can create their own patterns when they bring their L1 language customs into a new language. That makes you think about the fluidity between “languages” and it starts to feel more like one big “language” with just different ways of saying the same thing.

That’s an interesting part about cultural differences leading to language “differences”. I’ll have to pay more attention to that.

Apparently, it does.

For example, English as the most popular L2 around the planet is affecting all the other languages both in vocabulary and in grammar

Yes!! I’m having such a hard time with this with Korean(L2) affecting my English(L1). I have always really cared about my spelling and have given care to making sure my grammar is right as well, and I’ve noticed Korean changing the way I think in English. Most often, it’s speaking more briefly in English or using a lot more simple words than I normally would, but it’s changed around my word order sometimes and I have to quickly chance it when I’m speaking.

I also notice more spelling errors as well, like forgetting how to spell easy things momentarily.

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Guys, you gave very useful advice, thank you very much.

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