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Blessing or a curse?
Is English your first language? It’s certainly my first language – the only language I can speak. Which makes me wonder; is having English as my first language a blessing or a curse?
English is now the most widely used language in the world. There are more native Mandarin Chinese speakers and more native Spanish speakers, but English is the most commonly used second language and combined, more people can speak English than any other language in the world.
I’ve travelled to many different countries where English is not the first language and I didn’t speak any more than a handful of words of their language – but I’ve always done just fine. A blessing you might say, to be brought up speaking a language which is understood in more countries than any other, but like a rich kid who can never appreciate what he has I’ve always really struggled to learn another language.
Why would I want to?
I’m always impressed by people who know more than one language. Two is better than one right? Communicate to more people, have more tools of communication at your disposal, more of a citizen of this world! I would love to be fluent in a second language; I just think it would be awesome to be able to ‘rock up’ to a stranger in a foreign country and to be capable of a proper conversation in their language.
So why haven’t I learnt a second language?
Time. Money. Excuses. I’ve been living in Montreal, a bi-lingual French and English speaking city in Canada for almost ten months now and I’m embarrassed to say I barely know any more French than I did when I first came here. The problem with knowing English, is that in my life so far I’ve never really needed to know another language – the curse.
Tips on learning a second language
So if you want to learn a second language, here’s what to do (don’t worry; I’m not telling you what I’ve done – I’m telling you the opposite).
- Give yourself time to learn - immerse yourself in a foreign language
- Don’t work from home
- Don’t make excuses
English, most widely used yet still stupid as bat shit
I have enormous respect for people trying to learn English as their second language, it does have its oddities. Sometimes as a native English speaker I only realise how odd the use of various words are when a foreigner points them out to me. Why for instance does a hamburger not have ham in it, while a ham sandwich does?
There are so any instances of words which have the same spelling, same pronunciation and different meanings. What, same, same yet different?
- Content (noun: the content on this blog or adjective: a person can be content with a life of travel)
Words with the same spelling, but different pronunciation to give different meaning.
- Wind (noun: the wind blew over the hills or adjective: to wind up your little brother)
Words with different spellings, yet same pronunciation and different meanings.
- No and know (I say no to the pirate because I know he is not to be trusted)
- There, their, they’re (They’re all going up their neighbours stairs to see who is there)
I’m not going to start on different words which have virtually the same meaning. The English language has over 250,000 official, distinct dictionary words!
English also offers some very versatile words, but for the life of me I can’t explain why they’re so versatile. Take the word ‘up’. If someone says “up” to you in no particular context you’ll probably, well, you’ll probably look up. But consider:
- Give up
- Turn up
- Get up
- Write up
- Wake up
- Eat up
- Live up to someone’s expectations
Pretty cool how a single word can be so versatile, but I can understand how learning this language could also be rather frustrating. For instance, I may write up a blog post, however in the process of writing up that post I will actually be writing down words. If you don’t find the word ‘up’ frustrating, consider the words ‘make’ and ‘do’. While I may make a sandwich it would be incorrect to say I make the cooking - I do the cooking. I may make a mistake, but I do a favour. Speaking of ‘favour’, how should this be spelt? Well, if you’re from the United States you’ll spell it ‘favor’, while most other English speaking countries will spell it ‘favour’. While the US spellings may have been created to simplify the English language, the different spellings certainly create their own level of complexity.
I’ve known English virtually my whole life, yet I still find keeping correct ‘tense’ difficult at times. To do something, doing something, did something, now it is done. Correct use of plural can be seemingly bizarre, take these examples:
- one goose, two geese
- one mouse, two mice
- one duck, two ducks
- one moose, two moose
Find a pattern in that!
Then you have slang, different accents, common sayings and different words for different things in different countries…
Son of a gun Jim, give me my thongs back and I ain’t going nowhere till you skull that vessel – mate, am I feeling tanked…
To anyone who’s read this when English isn’t your first language – respect!
How do people learn English as a second language?
Kaplan put together the following graphic on how people learn English as a second language. Comment – let me know what you think, sign up for my emails and head over to the Kaplan competition page to vote for my blog. Votes (comments) count from May 19th through June 1st.