Why English is Unique Linguistically and Geographically
English, like any language, is first and foremost the mother tongue of a person. Languages often are influenced by or entirely derive from migratory groups of people. The original native tongue of France, for example, was Gallic. The Latinized French we know today was only born after centuries of Roman occupation and assimilation. More confusing still, the nation takes its name from the Franks, who were themselves a Germanic tribe which conquered the territory from Rome. Despite this, their native German tongue had an only minor influence on French, as Roman Gaul had a quite large population.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Cole T. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
From the history of English
A very similar series of events transpired in Britain, with the exception that the Roman province did not have an overly large population, and it was made up primarily of Celtic Britons. The result of this is that the Germanic tongues of Angles, Saxons and Jutes entirely replaced the indigenous Brythonic language when the Romans withdrew and foreign tribes moved in. Welsh is the last remnant of that Celtic language branch.
English in teaching
What does all this have to do with teaching? After all, unless students are going to be reading Beowulf, an intimate knowledge of Old English and its context probably isn't relevant. Well, comprehension of English history can help us to understand its relationships with other languages, and how that may affect certain students' ability to learn it. Because English is a West Germanic language, it is closely tied to Frisian and Dutch. Afrikaans has even more direct English influence, and native English speakers will often find themselves able to understand what an Afrikaaner is talking about despite not know the language. English is a slightly more distant cousin of German, and about 10% of our everyday vocabulary are loan words from Old Norse. Some scholars believe that the two languages were mutually intelligible during the Viking Age.
Naturally, native speakers of other Germanic languages (Scandinavian, etc.) are found to have an easier time learning English. That isn't the end of the story though, as English also has considerable Latin influence through French. The Normans (who were in fact Vikings who'd become Catholic under the wing of France's king) conquered England in 1066, and enforced their rule with an iron fist, along with its dialect of French.
Fast forward a Millenium and you have a Germanic language in a mostly Celtic region, heavily influenced by other languages from the continent. On top of everything already mentioned, the English went in to colonize many regions of the Earth, each of which has developed their slangs, peculiarities and in some cases full-blown dialects. The English umbrella contains not only their individuality but also by unique grammar changes which have taken place in its former colonies, too many of which the language largely owes its continued dominating relevance today.
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It's easy to think of English as plain or uninteresting, as it has become the lingua franca for most of the world. One way for teachers to spark a student's interest in the language could be by showing them the vibrant and fascinating heritage the language has, arguably one of the most unique in the world. If they are anything like me when I was a student, learning that the reason behind language elements are much less nonsensical and arbitrary than they seem will only increase their love and appreciation of the language.
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