Wednesday, October 3, 2012

So, English is a more or less dumb language

                  Here is the thing about English: you can study it for years and years and still never be right. English is a compilation of every other language's cast offs. There are Germanic, Latin, Welsh, African and many other origins of words. Really, the only language sector that doesn't affect English is Asian and other character based languages. Because so many of the romance and germanic languages use a similar alphabet, English words come and go, mesh and become a entire entity in and of itself. This does not even count all of the idiomatic expressions on which so many English speakers are so keen.
                  English, for Korean students, is really difficult because of ridiculous spelling, grammar and various other tidbits we use to explain the unexplainable. For example, why
does the gh" sound change depending on the letters around it? In the word night it is an aye sound, but when it is in enough it is an eff sound. I can't tell you the answer to this, except if a vowel precedes it and a consonant succeeds it, then it is an aye. If it is at the end of a word, it will always be an eff.Native English speakers rarely take the time to question these more or less absurd nuances because we know it. We grew up knowing that all of our verbs are irregular, and there is no rhyme or reason to our plural system. But, for an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) student, these questions may grate on your mind while you are trying to sleep, when counting sheep just won't do it for you.
                  The English language, to a native speaker who has taken a lot of time and effort to study the language at its most basic functions, seems to be a bigger abyss the more I study it. Yes, grammar rules become clearer in my head, although rather muddy upon explanation. But, the sheer make-up and diversity of my language continuously stumps me. William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll made things up, and they integrated
words into speech patterns and dialects. English, as a language, varies throughout the world. Not just the accents and dialects we use, but legitimate and actual words. In America, you may compliment someone's pants, but that would be rather offensive and crude in other parts of the world.
                  So, I can see the trouble of EFL students would have learning the written English language. It is confusing with all of the letters gathered in places that don't
always make sense. It is hard when there are three words for the same sound (even my American students would mess those up 97% of the time). In my limited knowledge of the Korean language, I find it so very difficult to wrap my head around the way written characters work.  When I write them, I do the lines out of order, and the words and groupings of sounds just do not make sense.  I can understand the struggle of going from a completely linear text and character based language to learning one with curves and three different ways to write a “g.” 
                  In comparison to learning other languages, English proves to be one of the most difficult because of its complete lack of one language root. When you learn German or French or Spanish, of course there will be irregularities, but for the most part you can figure out the words (both pronunciation as well as meaning) based on a defined and traditional set of rules. While I learned French in high school, I was able to pick up the alphabet and phonetic sense rather quickly, which allowed me to focus on the grammar rather than questioning whether this group of letters and that and that group of letters, which look the same, make the same sound.  I also learned quite a bit about my own grammar rules when learning them in a different language.  I never questioned why I used could, would or should instead of can, will, or shall. I just did it, as if I were on language auto pilot.  But, when I had to learn it in a different language, the rules became necessary to how I was able to express myself.
                In all seriousness, the English language is rife with both written and spoken anomalies with which many students, both native and non-native, struggle. We also like to add unnecessary phrases, set apart by punctuation, to make our sentences longer, so as to make them a “more intelligent” sounding sentence. But, really, the biggest issue of translating any foreign language into English lies within how the written language does not always match how a word sounds.  The written language turns upon itself and creates a maze of meaning, which frustrates and confuses students of all language abilities. So, from one confused English speaker to another, it will get better.

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