Author: Ela Britchkow, Speech Therapist, Certified American English Pronunciation, Accent Reduction Specialist
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."
English is full of contradictions. Many English as a second language speakers lament that nothing seems to make sense in this language. There are exceptions to every rule. Once you get excited that you've mastered a rule, ten exceptions pop up. Don’t be discouraged. We offer solutions that are easy to learn and apply for all the following challenges:
Every language has idiomatic expressions that are typical for that language or country, but if you don’t understand the expressions you can find yourself totally lost, confused or making a big mistake if you take the expression literally. Take these sentences: “It was raining cats and dogs the morning the meeting was called and we were expected to attend at the drop of a hat (immediately). The president of the company had the floor (had permission to speak) for about an hour. The vice president suggested that we table a discussion (postpone) about the salary issue until the next meeting. Someone suggested that we hire a number cruncher (an accountant or someone who works with numbers) to get us out of the red (debt). We were looking for ways to kill two birds with one stone (solve two problems at one time with a single action). The meeting left a bad taste in the mouth (to leave a bad feeling or memory) for many of the attendees.”
Now, is English really such a hard language? As we’ve seen, English can be pretty challenging. But it’s not the only contender for the World’s Most Difficult Language. Other notoriously tricky languages include Finnish, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin. Mandarin’s tone system, for instance, is famously tricky. Finnish is held to be difficult because of its numerous cases; Arabic is written from right to left whereas English (and other Western languages) are written from left to right. In the Arabic script, short vowels are usually not written and letters change their shape according to their position relative to neighboring letters in the word. Written Japanese differs from spoken Japanese, and there are three different writing systems – including 2,000 to 3,000 kanji characters that must be learned by heart. It makes English sound easy in comparison!
I came across this fun and very old poem written by an “anonymous” author, which expresses the frustration of many English-as-second-language speakers. This poem first appeared in 1858 in the Presscott Transcript in Wisconsin and then later in 1896 in various American newspapers.
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But a bow if repeated is never called bine,
And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.
If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular’s this and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,
So the English, I think, you all will agree,
Is the queerest language you ever did see.
The difficulty of a language also depends on its similarity to your own language. You’ll probably find it easier to pick up French if you’re Italian, because these languages use many of the same roots, and the same alphabet. If you’re used to the Roman alphabet then you may struggle to learn oriental languages that rely on symbols, such as Japanese. English isn’t so bad once you get used to it, and it’s probably only commonly talked about as being hard because so many people are trying to learn it.
As I stated in the beginning of this Blog, we offer solutions that are easy to learn and apply to speaking English clearly and confidently. Check us out on www.clearenglishspeech.com. Have questions about what we offer, call 215-322-6781.