This article on the English language, by certified TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher Barbara Freedman De Vito, discusses the strong points and peculiarities of the English language, and their ramifications for learning English.
I really like the English language. I’ve been speaking it all my life, but it’s not until I became an English teacher, teaching English as a foreign language, that I really started to understand how it functions and to appreciate both its richness and its versatility.I believe that, at an elementary level, English is easier to learn than some other languages. A beginner can form good basic sentences without knowing a lot of complex grammatical forms. English verbs don’t have many different endings to memorize before one can express the simplest of thoughts.Another strong point is that English does not, as a rule, have masculine and feminine nouns and there are no changing forms for adjectives to slow a learner down. For instance, in French you must memorize a number of verb endings and match adjectives to nouns before you can verbalize even the simplest ideas, but a novice does not need to study engels for long before being able to construct good basic sentences.English has a mix of vocabulary with Germanic roots and vocabulary with Latin or French roots, allowing speakers of numerous European languages to recognize and understand many English words. Although sometimes the meanings are no longer the same in the two languages, they are often still similar enough to serve as an aid to comprehension and to help a learner get the gist of texts.Once English learners have reached a more advanced level, they become exposed to additional structures that reveal some unexpected complexities in the language. For example, the uses of the present perfect tense can be quite confusing. On the other hand, English verb forms allow for a wonderful element of subjectivity and point of view in expressing attitudes towards events. Consider “I’ve just lost my glasses” and “I lost my glasses an hour ago.” Both are fine, but your choice of one or the other reflects your attitude toward the situation. Do you want to emphasize the consequence of losing your glasses? If so, then choose the former, the present perfect tense. If you prefer to focus on when the glasses were lost, then use the latter, the past simple tense.English can be wonderfully expressive. Because it has accumulated vocabulary from many different languages, there are far more words to choose from than some other languages offer. You can discuss a topic at length without ever repeating yourself or overusing a specific word. You can choose from an array of words with similar meanings to find the most perfect match in meaning and connotation to suit the thought that you want to express.Sure, you can simply walk down the street, but you can also stroll, march, amble, trot, mosey, shuffle, skip, run, race, promenade, lope, slink, fly, zip, crawl, gallop, whiz, zoom, or careen down the street. A cursory glance reveals that the English section of my bilingual dictionary is considerably larger than the French portion. The enormity of English vocabulary allows for precision and economy of expression. Ideas and instructions can be concisely stated. When viewing multilingual signs and equipment usage manuals, the English version is frequently shorter than that of many other languages. To take a simple example, in French it takes four words, “sautez a cloche pied,” to express what English does in just three letters: “hop.”English easily absorbs new words from other languages and cultures. Just think of “salsa,” “smorgasbord,” “taboo,” “wampum,” and “pajamas,” for starters. When necessary, English also seems to revel in inventing entirely new lexicons of words, such as for new technologies like the Internet. Internet is full of colorful and amusing imagery from “the web” to “spidering” and “click on the mouse,” let alone such silly sounding words as “googling,” “blogging,” and “WIKI.” It is a riotously “living” language and this flexibility has helped English become such a widely used international language.I also love engels because colorful wordings and vivid imagery abound in both old and new expressions. I picture tall sailing ships and Errol Flynn films when I hear someone say, “She passed her exam with flying colors.” Think of other expressions, too, such as “That makes my skin crawl,” “It sent shivers up and down my spine,” “He’s got his head in the clouds,” “She’s full of get up and go,” and “They’re head over heels in love.”English even has a strong sense of whimsy, and so lends itself to delightful combinations of alliterative phrasings like “the whole kit and caboodle,” or “footloose and fancy-free.” It’s also chock full of amusing words that are especially for children. Think of “choo-choo train,” “puppy dog,” “kitty cat,” or “do the hokey pokey.” Fun-loving authors have added to the festivities by feeling free to invent their own words, just for the pleasing sound of them, from Edward Lear’s “Dong with the Luminous Nose” to Dr. Seuss’s “Sneeches with stars on thars.” J. K. Rowling has invented an entire vocabulary of her own to use in the magical world that she has created for Harry Potter. The so-called “language of Shakespeare” has contributed much literature and poetry to the world, plus other beautiful expressions of thoughts through the abstraction of words. As someone who writes stories for children, I’m also fond of simple jingles and fun forms such as Mother Goose rhymes.Now that I’m an English teacher, I try to unlock many of the mysteries of the English language for students who have other languages as their mother tongues. In doing so, I’ve taken a much closer look at the language myself, in all of its complexities and inconsistencies, all of its rules and abundance of exceptions to its own rules, in its enormous vocabulary and subtleties in shades of meanings. Whenever possible, I try to give my students the logic behind the grammar, so that they can gain a deeper understanding of the thought processes behind our many ways of looking at time, rather than just have students randomly memorize rules.To put English into perspective and make allowances for its many idiosyncracies, I try to briefly explain the history of English and the many historical influences that have affected it, from a series of early invasions of the British Isles, by people such as the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, to later British Empire building around the world, and then to America’s melting pot of cultures and languages from the world over. With each new group has come an infusion of new vocabulary. Some element of comprehension of that historical perspective can explain to students both the richness of expression and vocabulary that English possesses, plus the maddening inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation. I’m no authority on other languages and I’m not saying that English is the best language in the world but, as I’ve taught English to others over the years, my own appreciation of it has grown immeasurably and I’ve really come to love it.