3 Distinct Peculiarities of the English Language
For the native English speaker, English is easy. It is only when learning another language do L1 English speakers begin to see peculiarities in their own language. It is then compounded when beginning to teach English as a foreign language. Although the English language has commonalities with other languages, especially since English is derived from other languages, there are plenty of unusual aspects of English that can cause difficulties when learning and teaching the language. For example, English spelling, grammar, and pronunciation all contain such peculiarities.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tanya L.
English spelling is inconsistent
Learning to read and write English is no easy task since English is one of the least phonetic languages compared to other languages. The written English word has survived several generations and pronunciation changes. And because English was derived from French and German, it contains words that are not spelled consistently with other words. English contains French words that are spelled with a “ch” but pronounced “sh,” like chef and parachute. There is no consistency of how to pronounce words spelled with “ough,” like: although, through, bough, cough, tough, and so on. English contains homophones that cause English students difficulties when writing assignments like: accept and except, affect and effect, stationary and stationery, as well as advice and advise. And to make things more confusing, there are differences in British and American spelling, like: color and colour, meter and metre, as well as organize and organise. Business English teachers should find out which English standard is used in the company to avoid potential confusion during lessons.
English grammar differs from many other languages
Growing up in an English speaking country, a typical L1 English speaker does learn grammar rules in order to speak and write well. But different language cases and tenses, other than past, present and future, are rarely taught (or emphasized) in English high school classes. For example, using the “perfect” tenses are easy to use for L1 English speakers, but not easy to teach to students whose first language does not use perfect tenses. Another peculiarity in English grammar is the use of articles. Although many languages, like French and Spanish, use articles (“a” and “the”), languages like Russian and Turkish do not. Therefore, it can be very confusing for students to learn when to use them (not used for every noun like plurals and proper nouns), and which article to use. The most convoluted part of English grammar for learners is past tense and past participle forms of verbs. The most common verbs used in the English language have irregular past tense forms not adhering to the common “ed” ending like: sit/sat, write/wrote, read/read, eat/ate, see/saw, and so on – the list is long. Learners must memorize and practice saying the correct words. Then after this lesson, a later lesson on perfect past tense will give another long list of past participles that are not consistent in form: swim/swum, dive/dived, drink/drunk, fly/flown and so on. All ESL teachers should find interesting activities that provide students the opportunities to practice using these verb tenses correctly.
English contains sounds that other languages do not have
Within the English-speaking world, words are pronounced differently due to the many different accents of L1 speakers. Setting those differences aside for now, there are certain sounds peculiar to the English language that other languages simply do not have. For example, many languages do not use the “th” sound. Learners tend to substitute the sound with a “z” or “f” sound. The most complicated for learners is the wide variety of sounds with a vowel and “r” combination. Some languages roll their “r” sounds and some others do not even have an “r” sound. English uses a soft “h” sound when other languages use a harder, more throaty “h” sound. And although the English alphabet has 5 official vowels (a,e,i,o,u), there are between 20 to 44 vowel sounds (depending on which article you are reading) in the English language.
These peculiarities in the English language can be difficult to learn considering L1 speakers make mistakes as well. A good ESL or business English teacher should be aware of these potential obstacles and find creative ways for students to enjoy learning, speaking, reading, writing, and speaking the peculiar language of English.
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