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Education: Why is "English" so hard to learn?

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posted on Jul, 29 2011 @ 12:47 AM
reply to post by m1991

Ever notice how trends in the English-speaking world mostly begin on the two opposite sides of Anglophonia - California and England?

No, I hadn’t noticed that. What I have noticed is that ‘Anglophonia’, like the world, is round. There are more English speakers in India than there are in Britain and the United States combined.

I have also noticed that linguistic innovation and variation exist wherever in the world English is spoken. Singaporean English, for example, is very different from Nigerian English. Yet both are valid versions of the language and can be understood without much trouble by someone who speaks, say, Australian English.

And in fact, it isn’t even valid to talk of ‘Nigerian’ or ‘Singaporean’ English, any more than it is to talk about ‘American’ or ‘British’ English. Linguistic variations reflecting age, social class, educational attainment, etc., exist in all English-speaking countries. There are also geographical variations. This is particularly the case in England, where people from Sussex have trouble understanding Yorkshiremen, and West Country folk sound nothing at all like East Midlanders.

The truth is that English has long since ceased to belong to either the British or the Americans. It belongs to the world. It is not only the most cosmopolitan of all human languages, it is the also most versatile, which accounts for its universal adaptability and its multitude of local usages, forms and dialects.

posted on Jul, 29 2011 @ 01:12 AM
reply to post by TheWalkingFox

You know, because of the Norman period, I always thought modern English is a de-creolized creole. I think there are a lot of people against this thought because of the implication that it somehow belittles our language. However, a hallmark of creoles is that they are isolating languages (languages that have rigid syntax and simple or non-existent morphology). English indeed is very isolating, with few inflectional morphemes (that is mini-words that don't have a meaning on their own, but only modify the meaning of the word they're added to):

-s, -ing, -ed, -en*, -t* (verbal morphemes in English - *are irregular or dialectal)
-s (plural morpheme)
-'s/s' (possessive morpheme)
-er, -est (gradation morphemes)

Compare with Spanish:

-o, -as/-es, -a/-e, amos/-emos/-imos, -ais/-eis/-is, -an/-en; -e'/-i', aste/iste, -o'/io', -asteis/-isteis, -aron/ieron; -aba/ia, -abas/ias, (ibid), -abamos/-iamos, -abais/iais, -aban/-ian; -ando/-iendo; -ado/-ido; and many more (verbal morphemes
-s (plural morpheme)
-o/a, -os/as (adjectival morphemes)

This is unusual when you compare it to the languages it came from. Indeed, all Indo-European language are morpheme-rich, with ample conjugations. We are unique in this instance of preferring separate words to conjugate our verbs in most instances: would, will, did*, used to*, (if) was/were to*

ENGLISH: I go / He goes / I went / I was going or used to go / I will go / I would go
HAITIAN: M' ale / Li ale / M' te ale / M' te ap ale / M' pwal ale / M' ta ale
FRENCH: Je vais / Il va / Je suis alle / Je allais / J'irai / J'irais
SPANISH: Yo voy / el va / yo fui / yo iba / yo ire' / yo iria

NOTE: 1) English has a simple past form that is usually regular with -ed, but in some cases not (like went).
2) Haitian Creole "te ap" are usually contracted to "t'ap" but for clarity I didn't do it.
3) French Je suis alle' is called the passe compose and it replaced a conjugation similar to the Spanish one below it in more recent times - it is akin to English "I have gone" in literal sense, even though you understand it as "I went".
4) Spanish does not need the pronouns yo or el because their conjugations are very clear on who does what. In English and HC you cannot eliminate the pronoun because there is no conjugation (except in present tense English he/she/it where we put an -s on the end). In French, for pronunciation reasons stemming from more recent sound changes, too many forms sound the same, even though they still write them differently.

The chart above shows that HC and English are more similar when it comes to verb conjugation for two reasons: 1) English tends to use a separate word for all tenses but the past and 2) English requires use of pronouns which many European languages do not require, or only in some cases for pronunciation reasons.

For example, if I walked up to you and said "know" in a question intonation, would you know what I meant? No. It can't be a command (which is usually the only time an English verb can stand on its own: Go! Come! Eat!), if it's a question, then who is doing the knowing? Do I know? Do you know? In Spanish, the same problem would not exist: If I said "Sabes?" You would know I was addressing you. If I said "Saben?" You would probably understand that I'm talking to you about those people over there (whoever they are). Etc...

The reason I said "de-creolized" above is because we have to remember that change in language happens from the ground up, but there are also things like social stigma, prescriptivism and others that affect how someone views the "proper" way to speak the language. If we are to assume that the elite of England during the Norman period spoke French and the peasantry spoke "Old English", then there would have been a give and take between the classes. Upward mobility would have meant learning Norman French; Speaking with your chattel would have meant attempting English. Neither group was going to succeed perfectly. In the end, a lingua franca would have formed; a pidgin. As the "chattel" had children, the children would have learned this "pidgin", which turned it into a creole - a native learned hybrid. (The elites would still have taught their children Norman French - odds are though, that people like wet nurses, care-givers and assistants would have spoken the English creole and eventually the children of the elite would have learned that language as well).

I just realized I'm going on and on and some or most of you might not even follow what I've written so far...

In that case, I'm going to stop here. But I suggest looking into this hypothesis (called the English Creole Hypothesis by linguists) and learning more about it on your own. What I've written above departs from the scant stuff I've found on the subject. I've added more of my personal research into Creoles, such as Haitian Creole and de-creolized creoles (such as African American Vernacular English)...but I can't assume you're all versed in linguistics or its terminology, so ...go forth and research!

posted on Jul, 29 2011 @ 01:21 AM
reply to post by gort51 - puriizu dzu injoi mosuto intoresutin saito!

Sekondo rain.

posted on Jul, 29 2011 @ 01:26 AM
reply to post by Wetpaint72

Thanks for the article. It’s enlightening about unsuccessful Victorian-era reform attempts but is silent about the only spelling reforms that really did work. These took place in the early nineteenth century and their originator was Noah Webster. It is due to him that Americans write gray instead of grey, aluminum instead of aluminium and so on.

posted on Jul, 30 2011 @ 08:27 AM
reply to post by Sphota

Languages are complicated. I think that is why they are so interesting. After Chinese and Japanese, Hungarian is supposed to be very difficult for English speakers. Though I am not sure why. And apparently it is particularly hard for the British.

posted on Jul, 30 2011 @ 08:40 PM
reply to post by nixie_nox

Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian are all related languages that don't come from Europe. So, it's plausible to say that any languages outside of the Indo-European languages (the ones English belongs to) would become progressively more difficult.

I think there are a lot of factors to consider:

-Sound inventory (does the language you are learning have a largely overlapping inventory of sounds?)
-Writing system (does the language you are learning have a similar writing system?)
-Cognates (are there a large percentage of words in the language you are learning that sound similar and mean the same thing as yours?)
-Morphology (does the language you are learning have similar inflexions and parts of words, such as plurals, as yours does?)
-Culture (does the language you are learning have a similar cultural tradition?)

All of these things affect whether or not the language you want to learn is going to be "difficult". Culture is especially complex because you can't have language without culture (and vice versa). But few languages are spoken by people who occupy a similar cultural context, which means that beyond any sort of 1 to 1 ratio of words or grammar, you also have to consider myth, metaphor, expressions, humor, history, gender roles, religion and everything else that one would discuss while using the language.

*I know that Hungarian has a complex vowel system and they are surprisingly different from what you would expect them to sound like (if you see an "e" you would be shocked what you heard the person say) and that "s" is pronounced /sh/, while "sz" is pronounced /s/.

posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 10:35 AM
I've read that English is easier to learn than continental European languages, like German and French. That is also why generally many English speaking people around the world can't speak another language. It is easier for instance for German and French people to learn English than vice versa. English also would resemble languages of southeast Asia, more than e.g. German and French.

posted on Jul, 31 2011 @ 10:30 PM
reply to post by OldThinker

English is technically a Germanic language... Technically.

Realistically though it is a bastard language. The English language is almost viral with how it can adapt, change or absorb new words from other languages. That is the reason why English seems odd or hard to learn. Because it has many words from many different languages/language trees.

posted on Aug, 1 2011 @ 08:14 PM
reply to post by Aquarius1011

I've read that English is easier to learn than continental European languages, like German and French. That is also why generally many English speaking people around the world can't speak another language. It is easier for instance for German and French people to learn English than vice versa. English also would resemble languages of southeast Asia, more than e.g. German and French.

I wouldn't say that many English speaking people can't speak another language. In fact, outside of the UK, you have the settlement areas: the US, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Then you have the English-speaking colonial holdings (some of which are/were American), which all have retained English in some capacity or another (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Belize, Jamaica, Guyana, and a host of nations in Africa that I won't begin to list including South Africa, Kenya and many more).

So, first you have: the UK (without analyzing Scotland and Wales and the dialects of the different parts of Great Brittain). This is "ground zero" of English.

Then the settlements: US, Canada, NZ, Australia and Ireland, the native populations were displaced (won't derail with that topic, though it's valid, doesn't belong here) or, in the case of Ireland, acculturated. English culture and language set up shop with variations depending on the contributions of local flora and fauna, first nations, immigration and contact with new cultures.

Then the colonies: South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, Africa, Guyana, Belize and the Caribbean all retain English in some form or another due to colonization. In this case, however, though there were battles and genocide, the majority of the original populations still inhabits these places (though in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean we have mostly the descendants of slaves; in South Africa you have mixtures of European, South Asian and local tribes). There is no exact, overall picture. The bottom line is that English usually exists in an official capacity in these places, but not as the only language learned. Most people who learn English in these places are bilingual (or even trilingual) having the ability to speak their parents' tongue (or tongues), the local dialect, as well as English.

In the case of Jamaica, you have Patwa (Patois, or Jamaican Creole English). Many Jamaicans can also speak regular English, but JCE tends to be their first language. South Africa is multilingual, with Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and many others sharing the limelight with English.

The final group in the world are non-colonized, unsettled nations that have begun rigorous English training (places like Latin America, Eastern Europe, East Asia, etc.) where English is a learned second language.

All in all, there are more people who speak English - whether as a native first language, native second language, or learned second language - than any other language. Likewise, there are more people in the world who are bilingual than there are people who can only speak one language (i.e., Americans lol).

I think English speakers (native, first language English speakers) tend not to know a second language for various reasons:

- UK is insulated
-America has had "the Monroe Doctrine" and "Exceptionalism"
-Canada is insulated (surrounded by oceans and America) - of course we have to recognize that Canada does have a good bilingual program, considering Quebec and French-speaking parts of Ontario.
-Australia is insular; NZ is too.
-Ireland is Insular.

Another common contributor in all of these places: HEGEMONY. Why learn their language if they've learned yours? Invalid argument, but potential cause nonetheless.

posted on Dec, 13 2011 @ 05:11 PM
English may be more difficult to learn than some other languages because it has the largest vocabulary of any language. The english language has absorbed words from all the languages from the old british empire. It is the same reason that it's rules have exceptions. There are words from a hell of a lot of languages and areas.

posted on Dec, 13 2011 @ 09:52 PM

Originally posted by Nobama
reply to post by OldThinker

Op have you ever seen this video?

Probably a bit off topic, but I thought its a good example.

Holy crap !!! I actually ENJOYED that clip and such a great beat...
Now, who would have thunk

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