Anyone who is at all familiar with me or my blog knows that I love English. As a language, it’s just awesome. It’s also difficult to learn as a foreign speaker (or a native speaker for that matter), however, and I have a few theories on specifically why that is.
1. English has a ton of single-syllable words.
When you’re trying to understand what someone is saying, every syllable is a new opportunity to do so. Each one is a puzzle piece. Some get discarded, others get mushed together until something recognizable starts to show up. I think this might be one reason why the romance languages are so pleasing to listen to: they use so many syllables to get to where they need to go. Then again, so does German, and that language sounds like a train being dropped onto a crowded freeway.
Back me up, Wikipedia! “English words of more than two syllables are likely to come from French, often with modified terminations.” English gives the audience so few chances to hear and understand each word, pattern recognition (understanding groups of sounds [phrases] rather than words, and anticipating meaning) and years of experience become necessary to become an accomplished speaker.
2. English has no single point of origin
English seems to be the mutt of languages. Heavily drawn from French and German, English must be a bitch to learn if you weren’t a native speaker. English vocabulary and rules of grammar don’t always have the same source. That’s crazy! That’s like speaking Spanish with Japanese rules of grammar (verb at the end, etc.). Or using your fashion sense to solve a math problem. Irrationally fabulous!
3. English class is never over
English has the largest vocabulary in the world, which is one reason why I love it so much. We have a word for just about everything! But as a direct result, even native speakers occasionally encounter words whose definitions escape them. If you didn’t go to college, you will not understand at least four words in an hour-long conversation with an intelligent college graduate (unless the topic is Jersey Shore or some such nonsense). And this doesn’t include the subtle differences between words like clock and watch (a watch is worn, a clock is mounted), shade and shadow (a shadow creates shade). Compare to Spanish sombrero. Sombra is shade, so sombrero literally means “shader.” SO SIMPLE.
4. English is a fucking quagmire
The rules only apply some of the time. Spelling is really really important, because three different words pronounced the same way can mean three different things when spelled differently (there, their, they’re). Use the phrase “in so far as much” in a sentence. Properly. Yikes.
I wonder sometimes if I love English because it’s my native tongue, or because it’s such a challenging language and it gives me pride to know that I have, by and large, mastered it. Even native speakers acknowledge that English is a bitch to learn and consistently speak without butchering repeatedly. One of my favorite games, Kingdom of Loathing, won’t allow its players to chat without passing a basic English test… proctored by the ghost of the English language. When you pass, he tells you to “avenge his death.” Classic!