We often say "your English is rusty" to a native English speaker who has not been speaking English for a long time because they have lived in a non-English country.

Say, Bob was born in America but his family moved to China when he was 14. He attended a Chinese school speaking Chinese and he only talked English with his American parents at home. Now he is 24, so he has not been speaking English with many native English speakers for 10 years. As a result, Bob's English is rusty. Sometimes, he got wrong words and some grammar mistakes.

Tan was born in China. He speaks Chinese and he moved to America at the age of 14. Now he is 24. So, he has been speaking English for 10 years. Tan's English is good but sometimes, he got wrong words and some grammar mistakes just like Bob. People can tell Tan is not a native English speaker.

Do we say "Tan's English is rusty"?

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    Rusty in a language context is normally used to describe dwindling fluency in a second language, which can result from not having an opportunity to keep those skills up with native speakers of that second language; one does no become rusty in one's first language. Bob's English is not rusty. Bob won't make grammatical errors or use words incorrectly, not if he never made such errors in the past. Sep 1, 2023 at 18:52

1 Answer 1




  1. adjective

If a skill that you have or your knowledge of something is rusty, it is not as good as it used to be, because you have not used it for a long time.

Collins Dictionary

Just like how metal can become rusty - literally, covered with rust, iron oxide - when it's old and unused, a skill can become metaphorically rusty if it hasn't been used for a long time.

If a person's English was never very good, it cannot become rusty. If a skill is in constant use, but still not very good, it cannot be rusty.

For Tan's English to be rusty, we'd expect to see a situation like this: Tan move to America and was getting pretty good at English, then he moved back to China and stopped speaking English as frequently. His proficiency declined, so now his English is rusty.

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