English as a second language (55)

1 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-09 15:43 ID:Heaven

Let's discuss learning English as a second language (or third or fourth or whatever, for you nitpickers)!

What's the best parts of the language? The worst? The most utterly frustrating? What are the things that native speakers just don't understand about their own language?

2 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-09 15:46 ID:Heaven

To start it off: It took me years and years before I could figure out how to pronounce "segue".

Also, it's totally awesome how English not only has about a billion homonyms ("raise" vs. "raze" is classic, as the words are also antonyms), they also have words that are spelled them same but pronounced different: "bass" (the fish) vs. "bass" (the sound).

3 Name: bubu : 2006-03-09 17:34 ID:Heaven

worst parts:
it has clearly not enough vowels (3-5 vs. for example 14-15 in german)
its rhoticized vowels are a pain in the ass.
the mangling most loanwords are being subjected to is just plain horrible. acceptable would be: leaving them alone, or ending up very fucked up and cute (like in serbian).
two dictionaries, of which both are very useless when precision is a must.

best parts:
syntax that is dead easy on paper but ambiguous as hell in practice.
garden-path sentences actually work.
it's easy to break in funny ways.
300-400 years ago it was one of the most beautiful languages in europe.

4 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-09 19:27 ID:9u7ZeT/p

> it has clearly not enough vowels (3-5 vs. for example 14-15 in german)

shouldn't that make it easier to learn?

5 Name: bubu : 2006-03-09 21:14 ID:Heaven

>shouldn't that make it easier to learn?

shrug, I can pronounce all 15 okay, so it doesn't matter.
besides, ease of learn isn't really a criteria of quality for a language if you ask me. for obvious reasons.

7 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-10 03:19 ID:Heaven

How about trying to learn the Queen's english - accent and all. A majority of the vowel problems go away when you use it.

8 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-10 06:12 ID:aXJ7kbV4

No but you create the problem that you are pronouncing things differently to every other English speaker.

9 Name: bubu : 2006-03-10 07:48 ID:Heaven

countering with wikipedia. very cunning.

10 Name: bubu : 2006-03-10 08:00 ID:Heaven

also, I lied when I said 5, more like 10 (i y M u e @\ o O a A) actually. I don't count h as a vowel in english, the evidence just isn't strong enough for my taste.

11 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-10 15:27 ID:XKMINkfS

English only has one vowel: The schwa.

12 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-10 15:29 ID:XKMINkfS


> No but you create the problem that you are pronouncing things differently to every other English speaker.

There really is no way to speak English and not have this problem.

13 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-11 17:02 ID:Heaven

Yes, random people on internet message boards are much more reliable. (;¬_¬)

14 Name: bubu : 2006-03-11 18:02 ID:Heaven

I'd give them just about the same credibility, on par with the Правда.

15 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-03-11 18:48 ID:Ba4Km0RZ

In one of the lessons in the lower-level textbooks I teach out of (I think the lowest level, not sure), there is a dialogue that begins with one of the characters asking:

"Would you like tea or coffee?"

Looks like a rather innocent question, right? But the problem arises that, with no context before this line, we can't be sure how this sentence is to be read aloud, because it could have two meanings in English depending on connotation.

Try it. If it is said with a short pause after "tea" and falling intonation on "coffee," we know that the answerer is thirsty, and are giving them a choice between two drinks. That is, the answers are "Tea, please." or "Coffee, please."

But if it's said with no pause and rising intonation on "coffee," we don't know that the answerer is thirsty, but are outlining their selection in case they are. That is, with this intonation, it becomes a yes/no question. The answers are "No, thank you," "Yes, tea please" or "Yes, coffee please."

Also, occasionally the head office will send out memos about the current student "resign" rates. What they mean are students who are signing up again for classes ("RE-sain"), not those who are quitting ("re-ZIAN").

I've come across plenty more on the job, but those are two off the top of my head.

16 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-12 12:51 ID:UXv/M21R

Concerning the tea or coffee-issue - really, I don't know if you just picked a faulty example for what you wanted to prove, but it's like that in any language.

17 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-13 03:21 ID:Heaven


baka gaijin.

18 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-13 10:24 ID:Heaven

>>17 is unable to construct the same sentence in a sane language.

19 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-13 12:56 ID:A/eY8kHr

I had to reread >>15 twice to figure out what the hell he was talking about. answerer->questioner/inquisitor and both could be answered with no thanks...
Any sane person is going to say "I'm going to get something to drink, would you like something?" if they thought it was ambigious.

20 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-03-13 20:20 ID:Heaven

>>16: Care to give examples of other languages in which questions can be interpreted differently based solely on intonation? I'm not saying it's not true, but even if it is, I fail to see how it's a faulty example.

>>19: You could answer the first intonation example with "No, thanks," but it would be an unexpected answer. At least to my ears; perhaps not in your corner of the world.

And you're right about the "sane" person, but I was just stating what the dialogue said.

21 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-14 12:18 ID:XKMINkfS


There is no language where intonation doesn't convey meaning. If you find that surprising, it's hard to see how you've even been able to speak before. For reference, other things that convey meaning beyond simple syntactical structure of language include: Body langauge, facial expressions, and context.

This has nothing to do with English.

22 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-14 13:20 ID:A/eY8kHr


23 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-15 09:04 ID:6Vym5WK5


I think in English when a listiner is given two possible choices, one can eathe anser with one of the selections given or not at all. even among native speakers such as myself this has come into question

24 Name: bubu : 2006-03-15 10:40 ID:Heaven

>>23 is the bestest troll ever

25 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-16 12:54 ID:XKMINkfS

I guess one of the awesome things about English is how weak a grasp a lot of its native speakers have on the language!

26 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-17 15:44 ID:Nd0YlrCU


Sadly, this is all to true. However languages are victims to interpretation and adaptation.

27 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-18 07:36 ID:tcDl8Rpm


And how!

28 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-21 19:01 ID:tcDl8Rpm


Not verbally, but you still have body language cues which would be analogous. Last I checked, deaf people were still capable of being sarcastic smart-asses, which is a pretty transparent example of how intonation can change the meaning of a phrase.

29 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-21 22:22 ID:Heaven


That is very ironic.

30 Name: bubu : 2006-03-22 10:35 ID:Heaven


31 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-22 12:16 ID:Heaven

Intonation specifically refers to sound and pitch.
ASL doesn't have sound.
Intonation is impossible in ASL.

move every zig

32 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-24 01:07 ID:gxEkZvzo

>garden-path sentences actually work.

What's a garden-path sentence?

33 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-27 17:50 ID:pLAoSaPE

I learned English on the web, I can understand anything in English, but it's hard to write in a clear, natural style, and people have to speak slowly and pronounce every letter for me to understand.
Is somebody else experiencing this difficulty?

Since I didn't learn a specific language of English, I'm sure I often mix up British, American, Australian and Canadian spellings and idioms. I don't know if the result looks stupid or weird for natives.

34 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-27 23:14 ID:Heaven

>>33 It's better that way. When immature people spot your origin they often tend to want to mock it.

35 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-28 01:21 ID:A/eY8kHr

I spell colour colour but gray gray and I'm a stupid Merikkan.

36 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-03-28 17:19 ID:Heaven

>What's a garden-path sentence?

What's a "google"? o_O

37 Name: Albright!LC/IWhc3yc : 2006-04-02 19:36 ID:Ba4Km0RZ

>There is no language where intonation doesn't convey meaning. If you find that surprising, it's hard to see how you've even been able to speak before.

Note again that I never said that that was the case. I just don't see how that makes my example faulty. I'd also like an example, if you can provide one, of another case where the expected answer from a question is changed merely by changing the question's intonation.

(Sorry for the slow reply; I forgot about this board. It's not on the iichan menu yet.)

38 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-04-04 07:50 ID:Heaven

>It's not on the iichan menu yet.

Good lord, hopefully it stays that way

39 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-06-30 14:12 ID:z9k9cKTZ

A question to everybody: how do you create English learning environment?

40 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-07-11 11:44 ID:Heaven


I'm very late in replying here, but my point was that it was utterly useless to point this out, because it is also true in most every other language. It's like pointing out that when speaking English, you use your mouth to form sounds!

41 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-07-13 09:23 ID:YsWAu/zI

I learned English as a second language.


  • It's simplicity. No complex conjugation, no mile-long words, simple syntax
  • Easily learnable pronounciation. You only need to know a few rules and you can pronounce almost everything.
  • Same with writing.


  • Way too much tenses. In my native language we have only 3: past, present and future. In English, sometimes it's hard to determine which tense to use

Other than that, I thing English is an easily learnable and practical language and you can use it everywhere.
I tried to learn German too, but I hate those long words where you put 3 or more words together. They're just unpronounceable.

42 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-07-14 00:37 ID:1omTp4HC

The problem with English is that the spelling doesn't really correspond to the pronunciation as compared to many other languages in the world. Probably that is the reason why I often see many spelling mistakes on the net, mostly done by the native speakers themselves. The tenses and the singular and plural forms are confusing too, given that my native language doesn't have that kind of rules to begin with.

The good things are that it doesn't use complicated writing system (like Japanese Kanji) and there is no such thing like different tonal levels of almost similarly pronounced words give different meanings (Thai, Chinese).

43 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-10-04 21:05 ID:IaqUfH8B

French speaker here... prepositions cause the most trouble for me. I have trouble with knowing when to space certain expressions too.

About the best parts of the language, English has less homophones, no genders for objects and no accents so that's a plus compared to French. I also like some English swear words/expressions... "What the shit?!" always, always makes me laugh.

44 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-20 23:22 ID:6JiSypf2

I have found the English grammar to be very simplistic when compared to Romanian. The only issue I am having is, of course, the same issue anyone learning a second language has: latent memories of my first language come in if I do not pay attention when I talk, and therefore I may sometimes mispronounce words, or even put some strong Rs in the sentences. Other than that, English seems pretty easy.

I'd say, even though French an Romanian are related, it was easier for me to learn English. On the other hand, I managed to learn Italian just by watching Italian TV :)

45 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-22 01:02 ID:/tQtKt+V

To create an ideal environment for learning english? I propose that you visit the US, Canada, UK, or Australia, and simply walk around, talk to people. You'll make friends easily.

46 Name: VFantice : 2007-02-25 10:36 ID:08FBQimL

Did you know that the majority of native english speakers cannot even spell the word "grammar"? Although english is my main language, it bugs me...I do not know why actually, but it does. Possibly because its so demanding...For example, if someone makes one small grammar error, people make it into such a big deal, as if they cant tell "wat is tat?" was meant to be "what is that?" Its common sense, and i see people make typos like that online and people harrass them for it, as if they cant understand what the general idea is that the person was trying to make...It makes it hard on those trying to learn it as a secondary language as well, wouldnt you think so?

47 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-04-07 09:40 ID:NzBPtlm3

What is difficult about English, of course, depends on what your first language is. For instance, I tutor a Chinese woman. She has trouble with he/she/him/her distinction in casual speech since in Mandarin, they both have the same pronunciation (ta1). Also, explaining the pronunciation of words (and how the origin of a word and the history of change in its language effects its pronunciation) is very difficult. I found it helps if you know they know another language and can liken the troublesome segments to that language. For example, the onsets of the final syllables of 'conclusion' and 'retention' correspond to Mandarin 人(ren4) and 車(che1). Last, and probably most importantly, it is extremely difficult (and can really appear to be fairly arbitrary) to explain the how which and why of plurality and mass nouns and the use (or non-use) of articles (a, an, and the). To summarize, native-level English: hard. But with formal linguistic training, its alot better for both you and your students.

48 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-04-08 02:29 ID:7sUh5rUi


There are only 3 actual verb forms though, e.g. walk, walked, and walking. The 'other' tenses are just modifying words appended to the verb.

49 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-04-09 09:09 ID:u61vRhe7




50 Post deleted by moderator.

51 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-04-14 19:19 ID:uBCWLUsx

>>46 "wat is tat?"

This reflects poorly on one's level of intellectual development, even more so with the modern blessing of spellcheckers. If English is one's first language, and they find making a coherent sentence demanding, then I would expect them to be mocked for this.

People who speak English as a second language don't type words like that, and the poor communication would make it difficult for a learner understand the message.

When someone who is a non-native speaker makes grammatical errors and it is known that they are learning, others tend to forgive them knowing that learning a new language can be difficult. I know I do, and it's seems to always be the case that native speakers tolerate more mistakes when they learn the person is not fluent.

52 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-04-16 02:50 ID:Heaven

> the poor communication would make it difficult for a learner understand the message.

if you're going to write a rant about grammar, you should probably make sure it's grammatically correct...

53 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-07-12 22:57 ID:vmbI/4Sx

I haven't seen any mention of the Scottish English dialects yet: surely the most beautiful group of dialects?

54 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-07-15 19:46 ID:Heaven

Your nitpick might be valid if it weren't for the fact that the 'rant' is an on topic reply. You also neglected to capitalize your sentence, and that ellipsis should have been a full stop.

Here's a topic that might interest you.

55 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2007-08-14 02:26 ID:Heaven

Best part: It's everywhere. Turn on the TV, and there it is, on half of all channels. It's a lot harder learning a language you only hear in class, once a week. I myself learned a lot from trying to understand computer manuals back in 5th grade. (Yes, really.)

Worst part(s): Spelling. Seriously, "knight"? Although this can also make it fun for the language nerd, when you know what the sound changes have been, and that the spelling actually once corresponded well to how people were speaking.

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