What is it like to learn English?

If by some strange chance you think it’s hard to learn a language which is foreign to you… what’s it like for those who learn English when it’s foreign to them?

Most native speakers of English now deal at some point with people who are not native speakers of English, but how many of us ever

think about what these learners might have struggled with in order to communicate with us?  Very often learning a new language gives us a greater appreciation of the kind of issues that people who’ve learnt English must have had to go through!

If you’ve been learning your new language for some time now, you will no doubt have acquired a feel for what is easy and what is difficult about it.  Of course, different people may react differently to the same situation, so your perceptions may not be quite the same as those of others learning the same language.  Generally, though, people tend to agree about what is difficult and what isn’t.

So what is difficult about learning English?

We should just mention that the perceived difficulty of a foreign language is usually linked quite closely to a learner’s previous linguistic experiences.  If you’ve learnt Spanish, either as your first language or as a second language, you shouldn’t find Italian too hard, because the two languages are closely related.   If you’re a monolingual speaker of Chinese, however, any European language is going to be quite a challenge, because they work in a very different way from your own.  Things which are unfamiliar tend to be harder to grasp.  When it comes to learning English, then, some people will be confronted with points which for them are really challenging, whereas for others they are quite straightforward.

Interestingly, though, English has certain characteristics which are tricky for pretty much everyone, and this is what we’re going to touch upon here.

Most of us are aware that our spelling system can be a minefield: surely any “system” in which “ough” is pronounced differently in “cough”, “rough”, “thorough”, “bough”, “ought” and “through” is going to fox any learner of the language!  Yes, our  insistence on spelling words the way they were pronounced in Chaucer’s day is a bit tedious.  And yet, oddly enough, spelling doesn’t seem to be the biggest problem that learners face.  First of all, it’s not totally erratic: if you suddenly saw the (non-existent) words “moggle” or “vebbit”, you’d know exactly how to pronounce them, and the reason is that we do have certain rules – lots of them –  which are pretty much inviolable.   Secondly, people tend just to learn the spelling of the words when they learn the meaning (much as people learning European languages try to remember the genders of nouns).  And thirdly, spelling is not crucial to communication anyway: it clearly doesn’t matter when we speak, and we do have spellcheckers on our computers when we write!

Pronunciation is perhaps another matter:

it’s much more obvious.  Some of our sounds are found in pretty much every language, and shouldn’t be too hard; examples are “m” and “n”.  Overall, however, English pronunciation is quite distinct from that of all other languages, even those which are quite closely related, and any non-native speakers may have trouble with a good few unfamiliar sounds.   Some of the sounds which are not very common across the spectrum of languages are as follows:

Consonants

“r” – some sort of “r” is probably found in most languages, but both the British and American variants are quite rare

“h” – not a very unusual sound, but a lot of well-known languages don’t have it (e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, Russian…)

“v” – often absent from Asian languages

“th” – we have two sounds represented by these two letters (think “the” as opposed to “thing”), and neither of them is very common

Vowels

We have a big range of sounds, and many of them are quite unusual.  The vowel sounds we have in “and”, “up”, “caught”, “show” and “pure” are quite distinctive, and not often found in other languages.  Just to complicate things further, our own pronunciation of vowel sounds varies so much depending on where we come from: just think how people fromNew Zealand, southernEnglandand theUSAwould pronounce the word “car”.  Which model is the poor foreign learner to follow?

And yet, even if your pronunciation isn’t spot on, you can still make yourself understood very well.  If someone has a stereotypical French accent and says, “Eet’s quite ‘arhrd to speak weezout a Frhrench acceonn”, we can surely understand as well as sympathise…

When we look at English grammar, we can actually say that a lot of it is pretty straightforward.  It used to be more complicated, more like German or Russian today, but it has been greatly simplified over the centuries.  We don’t add many bits onto our words, and it’s not that hard to string a few of them together to make something which makes sense even if it’s not perfect.  But our grammar still presents its challenges!

The thing which nearly all learners have trouble getting to grips with is our excessive number of tenses.  Technically, a lot of what we tend to call “tenses” are not tenses at all, but rather a reflection of “aspect”, which deals with the way in which we look at an event rather than whether it’s set in the past, present or future.   Whatever we call these things, just sympathise for a moment with the poor learner who has to distinguish between “I went”, “I have gone”, “I have been going”, “I was going”, “I used to go”, “I did go”, “I had gone”, “I had been going” – all of them relating to some event in the past!  No other language has this pattern of tense forms.   Mandarin doesn’t have any tenses at all…  You can rest assured that learners of English will have spent many hours grappling with the tenses.  And yet, if they get them wrong, we still understand them, don’t we?  “I have seen him yesterday” may sound funny, but we know what is meant.

The last area to mention is vocabulary.  English is fortunate in that it has a lot of short words – hundreds just have one syllable, and you can go quite a long way with simple words which are not that hard to learn.  So what’s tricky about the vocabulary?

Well, take the word “get”.  In itself, it has quite a lot of meanings, but look what happens when it’s combined with other little words: “get on”, “get up”, “get in”, “get through”, “get by” – not to mention “get out of”, “get with it” and “get off with”, and (literally) dozens more.  Just to add to the complexity, sometimes there are literal and more figurative meanings – “get

on the bus” is not the same use of “get on” as in “get on in the world”.

These structures are called “phrasal verbs”, and they’re hard!  There’s no avoiding them if you want to master English, and the only thing you can really do is learn them when you come across them.  And don’t think it’s just “get” which has all these variants – most of our other common verbs can also be used with little words like “up” and “down” and turned into phrasal verbs.

The thing is, though, no one sits down and learns a list of hundreds of phrasal verbs.  You may start off with some really common examples like “stand up” and “sit down”, and actually before you know it you’ve learnt dozens of them.  Sometimes there are alternatives: you may feel that “I descended the mountain” sounds awkward compared to “I went down the mountain”, but when you think that in French this is “J’ai descendu la montagne”, you can see which of the English variants might have greater appeal!

A rather sweeping, but perhaps not unreasonable conclusion about learning English as a foreign language is perhaps this: it’s not that hard to make yourself understood, but if you want to speak it well, it still needs a fair bit of effort.  But then if you think about it, we could probably say something similar about most languages.  So don’t be put off if you get something wrong.  OK, you won’t sound like a native, but everyone knows you’re not a native anyway!

__________

Multilingual language expert Peter Chapple has spent many years studying English-speakers learning foreign languages, as well as non-English speakers learning English.

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How you can benefit from learning a second language

Most of us at some point or another have wanted to learn a second language. Some of us have learnt French or Japanese at high school. But most of us are still surprisingly monolingual (around 80% of Kiwis).

Some New Zealanders still think English is the lingua franca of the global village, only to be surprised when they visit faraway towns in Europe, South America or Asia. However, learning another language is useful not only because it opens up great travel possibilities. Learning a foreign language also helps give us an understanding of and appreciation for people that are different from us. Your understanding of the world will be enriched by gaining access to resources not available in English.

And as far as careers go, you don’t have to be an aspiring United Nations diplomat to learn a second language.

In our global village today there is almost no career that you could enter where second language skills wouldn’t come in handy at some time.  Even the big metropolitan cities – New York, London, Paris, Sydney etc. – which were once homogenous – now have sizeable populations of people who speak English as a second language. Being able to say on your CV that you have attempted to learn a second language would certainly make you come across as someone who is adventurous and serious about understanding people from other cultures. If you’re already doing business with people who speak a foreign language, you should at least be able to say a few words in the language of your business counterparts. You will no doubt win their respect, and in time this will translate into business deals.

Before you book your air ticket for that

trip to Europe or Asia this year, consider learning the local language to enrich your holiday experience.

Euroasia Language Academy offers programmes in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Call Cedric now on 0800 387627 or visit www.euroasia.co.nz for information on courses starting 26 April in Auckland and Christchurch.

For those of you super-busy people, there are two additional options:

  • if you are keen to learn as much as you can within a short timeframe, consider the 2-week Fasttrack 2 programme, starting 13 April,
  • if you can’t make it for class every week at one of our centres, you can still sign up for the online language buy propecia 5mg online uk course – delivered live by a language teacher from our centre in Auckland.

Posted via email from Euroasia

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Recession: The best time to learn a language

Recently I wrote that Britons are missing out on jobs at home and abroad because of their inability to speak languages other than English. Leonard Orban, the EU commissioner for multilingualism, says that small- to medium-sized companies in the UK are increasingly turning to foreign nationals to fill jobs that call for more than one language. In previous articles, I’ve explored the reasons why people need to learn a second language.

In recessionary times, it’s even more important to keep improving and to consider learning a second language. Now is the time to be upskilling to future proof yourself. The ability to speak a second language puts your business or your job prospects one step ahead of the competition. You are also demonstrating to future employers that you have what it takes to stick to something. Employers realise that people who embark on language learning have some key characteristics that are highly valued in such times: commitment and dedication being some key ones.

The reasons people give for not learning a language include lack of time, the cost involved and the difficulty of the subject area. Part of what makes knowing a language a great skill to have is simply because it’s not that easy for someone to acquire fluency. If it was, it would quickly lose it’s value and won’t be treasured as much.

Let’s think about it this way. What if you manage to land a big business deal in Asia or Europe, or secure a great job, because you speak a second language? What if you get yourself out of a sticky situation in a foreign country because you speak the local language?  What if you find the love of your life as a result of your language learning journey?  At Euroasia, we’ve seen these things happen, and we certainly deem it a privelege for us to play a small role in ensuring the success of our clients.

The economy may be going through recessionary times, but your personal life shouldn’t. This is the time to be preparing yourself

for the next boom.

There is one final opportunity to enrol for a language course in 2008. Euroasia has an intake starting 10 Nov.

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Why learn French

French is the second most popular language at Euroasia, after Spanish. Here are some reasons why you should consider learning French:

  • Together with English and Spanish, French is one of the most international of European languages, spoken in all the continents of the world.
  • French was for centuries the international language of diplomacy and culture; it’s still important in those fields.
  • The French-speaking world has contributed an enormous number of great artists, writers, philosophers and scientists.
  • France has a large economy with a huge international presence.
  • Young Kiwis can go and work in France, Belgium or Canada for one year under a working holiday scheme.  A knowledge of French would obviously make a huge difference to anyone’s job prospects.
  • France itself has an incredible variety of scenery, from the rugged Atlantic coast, to the beautiful central valleys, to the Alps, to the Mediterranean landscapes of the south.  It offers great opportunities for outdoor activities.
  • French cities are active, busy places, where there is always a lot going on.  They have

    a unique café culture, and there are great opportunities for cinema, theatre, eating out and clubbing.

  • French cuisine is world-renowned, and French is still the international language of cooking, so at least a smattering of the French language is useful for chefs and food enthusiasts.
  • If France seems a long way off, New Caledonia and French Polynesia are more accessible holiday destinations.  And they are very French!  Even a limited knowledge of the French language can enrich and enliven your tropical holiday.
  • Much like speakers of English, French speakers tend not to be very enthusiastic about speaking other languages, so in France, for example, there is no guarantee you will find someone prepared to speak to you in English!

Find out more about learning French with Euroasia.  Or to enrol for a French course, check out the French timetable!

Courses start week of 13 October.

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Learn languages or lose out on jobs

Britons are missing out on jobs at home and abroad because of their inability to speak languages other than English, the European Union commissioner for languages has warned. I came across an interesting article that is perhaps informative for us here in New Zealand.

Leonard Orban, the EU commissioner for multilingualism, says that small- to medium-sized companies in the UK are increasingly turning to foreign nationals to fill jobs that call for more than one language.

His comments came as it emerged that the European Commission is facing such a severe shortage of native English-speaking interpreters that meetings are being cancelled. The commission also warns that it may have to cut the number of documents it translates because of the dwindling number of British students with degrees in French and German.

Since 2002, member states have been committed to a policy of working towards all citizens speaking their mother tongue plus two other languages. A league table to be in place by 2010 will show the competence of students in different EU countries at the end of compulsory schooling. It is widely accepted that Britain will be near the bottom.

If British graduates are missing out on jobs because they are on the whole monolingual, then surely this is true, if not more so, for New Zealand graduates as well. The tragedy is that we live in ignorance of this fact. I have yet to see any local publication talk about this issue.

Does this mean we should force everyone to start learning a second language? No.

Not everyone is into language learning, in the same way that not everyone is into algebra. However, students who are keen to explore language learning should be given the opportunities and encouragement to do so.

Increasingly, knowledge of a second language is not just something that's nice to have, but an economic imperative.

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Why young people must learn a second language

Data has just come out of the UK showing a drop in the number of people taking foreign languages at GCSE level (roughly NCEA Level 1). In analysing why this is the case, a major newspaper interviewed various academics and bureaucrats.

Greg Watson, the chief executive of the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Art exam board, blamed the fall on “signals from the outside world”. He said: “Young people are particularly sensitive to the force that qualifications have. I think you hear loudly and clearly from the jobs market it would be good to have maths and good to have some science. I don't think they hear a very loud signal from employers clomid spain that a language is required … It is pretty hard to see any reflection of that in job adverts.”

Throughout the article, the reporter did not bother interviewing anyone from industry, and the headline read: “Business blamed for slump in foreign language entries”

It's highly unfair to blame businesses for the current predicament. The reality is learning a language is hard work, an

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d given a choice, students would far prefer easier subjects. This doesn't mean that businesses do not value language, and far more importantly, cross-cultural skills.

I scanned through the letters to the editor subsequent to the publication of the article, and found a response by Susan Anderson, Director of Education and Skills, Confederation of British Industry, London:

“Languages are growing in importance to UK firms, as they operate in an increasingly global marketplace. Three out of four employers value their staff having conversational ability in another language. Firms don't necessarily want employees to be able to negotiate the finer points of contracts in a foreign language, but they do value the ability to strike up a rapport with a potential customer that might help a contract being drawn up in the first place”

“Young people should therefore be confident that language skills are wanted by employers”

Why didn't the media bother asking businesses for their opinion?

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