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   I interviewed a lot of people and almost all of them told me about their problems with English. But none of them did know why…

   That is why I consider my topic “How and why we learn English” to be actual, interesting and up-to-date. Let me then start…

How we learn English

Two English Languages.

   Everyone has had problems using English language as effectively as it should be used.

   Many, if not most, of our problems with English develop when we forget that there are two closely related but essentially different kinds of English - spoken English and written English. To use the language effectively, we have to be able to switch from one of its forms to the other with ease. If these two forms of English were identical, we could simply apply one set of rules to both, and many of our problems would disappear. But, unfortunately, spoken English and written English is not the same thing. And you simply can’t ignore their differences.


   When we speak, we don’t have to worry about spelling, punctuation and capitalization, or neatness and legibility. But when we write, these things become very important. When we speak, we can correct ourselves immediately if our listener doesn’t understand. But when we write, our writing must stand alone and explain itself without us. When we speak, our words vanish in the air. But when we write, they remain  for everyone to see. Small wonder that speaking seems so easy and natural; writing, so difficult and forced. Small wonder, too, that others are more critical of the way you write than of the way you speak.

   Because people from different parts of the country and different backgrounds speak English differently it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to establish hard-and-fast rules for a standard spoken English. But while people may expect varieties of spoken English to “sound” different, they expect written English to “look” the same. This is why fairly rigid and universal standards for written English have been established and why these standards are taught in schools. In fact the sort of “good” English an educated person is expected to use is called Standard English – or, more accurately, Standard Written English.

   To be successful in school and in the workaday world, we’ll have to demonstrate our mastery of the basic skills necessary for using English effectively. These essential skills include being able to write clear, complete, well-constructed sentences; being able to use the right word at the right time; being able to punctuate and capitalize correctly; being able to spell correctly; and being in command of a good-sized dictionary.  

   Now I would like to offer to your attention useful advice for learning English:

  1.  Learn six new words every day.
  2.  Make up vocabulary charts and memorize them.
  3.  Try to become aware of the grammar system and learn the rules of it.
  4.  Listen to the radio and watch TV, go to see films or plays in the new language.
  5.  Ignore difficult words and try to get the general meaning of  what  you are reading.
  6.  Repeat sounds several times to get them right.
  7.  Try to think in language you are learning.
  8.  Be willing to practice.
  9.  Find friends who speak  the same language.
  10.  Be willing to use the language in communication.
  11.  Get a pen pal to write to in the foreign language.
  12.  Find some sort of association for new words (visual, auditory).
  13.  Find the meaning of unknown words by breaking them to pieces (prefix, root and suffix).
  14.  Be critical about the way you use the language and correct yourself.
  15.  Compare your language (native language) with the new foreign language to see similarities and differences in structure.

   I do think that all of them are quite important and there is no use explaining the sense.

British English and American English: One language or two?

   The English language is at present spoken as a native language by  millions of people spread over four continents. Can it therefore be one language or must it have many varieties? You don’t have to be a linguist to admit that it must vary. It is an obvious fact now that every language is always changing. New concepts and ideas are created with the rapid development of civilization. American English, for instance, was influenced by native American languages and by the languages of other colonists, French, Spanish, Dutch and German.

   Different varieties of English are used in Great Britain, in the United States of America, in Australia, in New Zealand, in South Africa and in Canada.

   If there are so many varieties of English, which one should we learn? Either American English or British English, as those are languages of the two countries that shape the life of our planet. What is American English, then?

We can start with looking at the question of whether American constitutes a separate language from English. Henry Louis Mencken wrote an interesting book called “The American Language”, first published in 1919. The book contains the most complete survey of what is called American English. H.L.Mencken regarded British- and American English as separate languages. His book demonstrates the distinctness of American English, and stresses American linguistic creativity and independence. In fact, however, he was leading an anti-colonialist campaign about the language Americans use. Although political independence from Britain had been gained more than a century before, the influence of accepted canons of usage was still felt to be imposed from London. Mencken told that Americans had no need to be modest about their own characteristic form of English. Once he had pointed this out, it was obvious to everyone that an American English tradition was clear, and by accepting this fact it was no longer necessary to press for the idea of a separate American English. I should add,  that if we take into consideration the mobility of tourists, the exchange of literature, press, films, and TV then we will easily understand that British and American English mutually influence each other.

    Is there such a thing as Standard British? There is! It is the language of the educated class of people centered in London and its vicinity, and spoken by BBC radio announcers. The differences between American English and British English are considerable. Different words are used for the same common objects, and they may be spelled differently, different phrases are used, and different sounds are heard in speech. I’ll illustrate the main groups of  the differences:

The main groups of spelling differences

(1) The colo(u)r group. Most words of this type are from Latin or French:

arbo(u)r, armo(u)r, endeavo(u)r, favo(u)r, hono(u)r, humo(u)r, labo(u)r, odo(u)r, neighbo(u)r, rigo(u)r, savo(u)r, tumo(u)r, valo(u)r, vigo(u)r. 

The ending -our becomes -or in American.

(2) The centre/center group. In words of this type British English has -re and American English -er, and the difference is exclusive. The chief members are of non-Germanic origin and are:

fibre/fiber, goitre/goiter, litre/liter, meagre/meager, mitre/miter, sabre/saber, sombre/somber, theatre/theater; centred/centered; centrefold/centerfold. 

(1) The instil(l) group. In such words, British English has a single written vowel plus -l, and American English has a single written vowel plus -ll, and all disyllabic verbs stressed on the second syllable:

distil(l), enrol(l), fulfil(l), instil(l), etc. 

Exceptionally, extol prevails in American English over extoll. In American English -l in a syllable that is not stressed is not doubled.

5)The -ize/-ise group. Some verbs can only have -ize: capsize, seize. In some, only -ise is possible: advise, surprise. In many, both -ise, -ize are possible, as in civilise/civilize, organise/organize. For such verbs American English has systematic, exclusive -ize, and British English has both -ize and -ise. 

Conclusion. Where differences exist, American English spellings tend to be shorter than British English spellings:

5.1 Pronunciation

According to Tom Mcarthur there is no analogous basis for comparing British English and American English pronunciation.

(1) A few words have their stress on a different syllable:

AmE -----> BrE

address -- address 

cigarette -- cigarette 

detail -- detail 

garage -- garage 

laboratory -- laboratory 

5.0.1 In American English 'r' occurs before vowels and before consonants, and also word-finally:

air, are, arm, bear, beer, more, care, deer, fear, hair, or, peer, pure, wear, work, etc.

5.0.1 In American English when 't' occurs between two vowel sounds it is pronounced as 'd':

bitter, catty, latter, utter, shutter, water, waiting, writer, etc. 

5.1 Grammar

The most common differences can be grouped under three headings:

differences to do with the verb

differences to do with the noun and pronoun

differences to do with the preposition

5.2 Vocabulary and idioms

It is possible to distinguish three types of vocabulary:

5.0.1 The common word-stock 

The greater proportion of English words are common to both main forms of English. Words such as man, woman, fish, sky, tree, week, math, green, hot, smell, and thousands of others are exactly the same in both kinds of English.

5.0.2 Common ideas, different words 

The second category is a large number of items where an object exists in both British and American culture, but where different words are used for them in the two forms of English.

'e.g.' Differences in the organization of Education in Britain and America lead to different terms:

AmE -----> BrE 

public school -- maintained school 

private school -- public school 

grade school -- elementary school 

high school -- secondary school 

grade -- mark 

student -- pupil 

semester (quarter) -- term 

required (subject) -- compulsory 

graduate -- post-graduate 

electives -- subsidiary subject 

dissertation -- thesis 

Associate Professor -- Reader 

Assistant Professor -- Senior Lecturer 

Instructor -- Lecturer 

Other examples: 

anyplace -- anywhere

someplace -- somewhere

noplace -- nowhere

attorney -- barrister, solicitor

hood -- bonnet (of a car)

trunk -- boot (of a car)

fender -- bumper (of a car)

suspenders -- braces

automobile -- car

parking lot -- car park

cab -- taxi 

candy -- sweets 

French fries -- chips 

checkers -- draughts 

elevator -- lift 

fall -- autumn 

fine -- good 

outlet -- power point 

windshield -- windscreen

American English and British English sometimes have slightly different idioms, such as:

AmE -----> BrE

a home away from home -- a home from home

leave well enough alone -- leave well alone

a tempest in a teacup/teapot -- a storm in a teacup

blow one's own horn -- blow one's own trumpet

sweep under the rug -- sweep under the carpet

5.0.1 Words with no counterparts 

The third category covers words for ideas and objects in American English which have no counterparts in British English.

GEOGRAPHY: gulf, prairie, canyon; state, downstate, upstate; downtown, uptown, ranch, etc..

GOVERNMENT: Congress, Senate, veep, honeymoon, House of representatives, President-elect, State Department, Attorney General, etc.. 

Others: drive-in-cinema, hot dogs, hamburgers, potluck, yard sale, popcorns, Manhattan, Times Square, toothpick, die-in


   From what has been said above, it is clear that American English is a variety of English Language with its own identical aspects, different kinds of dialects which are conventionally treated under four broad geographical headings: North, Coastal South, Midland, and West.

   From my point of view American English is a beautiful and original language. If I had to choose between the languages I would choose the American spelling (it is shorter), but English pronunciation (in my opinion it is more melodious and romantic)!  

   Additionally I am to say that the whole body of the language is the same. Its similarities still predominate so it won’t be the case that if you learn British English you will have to use a dictionary when you go to the United States, or Canada, or Australia.

Why we learn English

The most important reason for learning English is:

“English – Best Hope for a WorldLanguage”

   What hope is for a common language and how can this goal be best reached? There are, of course, supporters of new international languages. Esperanto has made some progress although it is improbable that it will ever provide the answer. Of the existing languages, English has by far the best start. The total number of languages in the world is large: between 4,000 and 4,500. There are only five languages that can claim a very large number of speakers, namely, Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi-Urdu and Russian (in that order). Of these languages, only English can claim to be a more or less universal language

   Now I would like to present the table I’ve made. As we could see the most spread language is Chinese. It is spoken by about 1 billion people. It is easy to explain. China is the most populated country in the world. That is why every sixth man speaks Chinese.

   Chinese is followed by English. Gone are the days when United Kingdom was a great Empire. Now there is the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was created by the Statute of Westminster, passed by the British Parliament on the 31-st of December 1931, as a successor to the British Empire. All states in the Commonwealth are given equal status, and all recognize the British monarch as the official head of the organization. The Commonwealth is a voluntary organization whose primary function is to encourage cooperation between member states. Membership has changed considerably since its inception. Original members of the Commonwealth included Australia,Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and theUnited Kingdom. Ireland and South Africa withdrew from the organization in 1949 and 1961 respectively, with South Africa later rejoining in 1995. Pakistan withdrew in 1972 but rejoined in 1989. That is why English covers such a great territory and we are to call it worldwide spread.

At this map you are able to see English-speaking countries, they are painted in red.

More than 600 million people speak it as their first or second language and can therefore be “reached” through English.

   What is more important, this number includes most of the world leaders. English is by far the most useful language from the stand-point of business, politics and science. In every field of knowledge more is written in English than in any other language. More television programs use it. There are English-language newspapers in many important non-English-speaking cities. If we are going to have a world language it will almost certainly be English.

   It is obvious that those who learn English develop closer ties with English-speaking countries. They read books from these countries and learn about their history and their customs. The young study at schools and universities in English-speaking countries, the middle-aged travel and do business there.

So, I guess, future of the world language is defined. Some people try to refute it offering Esperanto for this purpose. But as for Esperanto, it is not able to become a world language, because it is a synthetic language and lots of people just refuse  to learn it.

  There are some people who say that we don’t need international language at all. Machine translation has made a lot of progress in the last few years. Perhaps the day when computers will take over the whole business of translation isn’t too far away. But from my point of view computers will be able to help us in reading or writing, but as speaking and communication in English are concerned, computers will never be as intelligent and interesting speakers as people usually are.

   At the end of my report I want you to see that table, which shows us the results of Questionnaire I made among our students of Lyceum grades. I interrogated them for one question: “Why do you learn English?”. 

The results are:

  1.  For future profession - 67%
  2.  For fun and pleasure - 30%
  3.  For commucation and corresponding  with friends abroad -30%
  4.  For listening to popular music groups - 25%
  5.  For watching satellite programs. - 23%
  6.  For exploring Internet. - 19%
  7.  For reading foreign writers and poets in original - 13%
  8.  Because teachers force me - 19%
  9.  I am at a loss to answer - 6%

   Such results show us that the most part of students understand that English will help them with profession. Students like English and use it for communication. English helps them with listening to music, reading, watching TV, exploring Internet. But there are people who learn English just because teachers force them. And the smallest number is at a loss to answer.

   Finally I’ve come to a definite conclusion (suppose you join me too) that English influences on our life to a great extent. English is famous, popular and necessary. English opens us new horizons and opportunities. At last English  - best hope for world language!

The list of the literature:

  •  Werner Beile, Alice Beile-Bowes. Learning English: Modern course
  •  Maria Correlak. Step by step.
  •  McArthur, Tom (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language, New York: Oxford University Press
  •  Goodey, Noel (1984) The Magic English Grammar, Paris: Esselte Studium AB

Created by Gangelord. All rights reserved. 2/26/99 12:15

E-mail: gangelord@hotmail.com


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