In the past ten years I've started working with people who's native language is not English. I've noticed that these folks say thing to get a concept across, but it's not something you'd hear a native English speaker (at least from the US) say; Examples would be "Do the needful" or "I couldn't able to do x". These types of phrases are uttered by several people I work with who's native language is not English. I assume it's an artifact of them mentally processing English through their native language.

Is there a concept or word for such utterances?


2 Answers 2


Since the question is tagged as "translation", the examples quoted in the question are just translation errors. There are more subtle effects that are not errors by still exhibiting the underlying language of the translated original, called shining through.

Departing from the theory of translation and going to the theory of second language acquisition, such effects are termed interference of the first language and the second language.

  • 2
    That's it, language interference.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 16:50

In the teaching / academic world, this is known as 'L1 transfer' (L1 = your first language).

If the speaker shoots and misses, it is known as 'negative L1 transfer'. However, sometimes mentally processing using a first language actually works. In these cases, it is known as 'positive L1 transfer'.

As others have suggested, 'interference' is another term for this (my professors told me that 'L1 transfer' is more up-to-date so I go with that).

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