Why English is so hard to learn

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Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:01 am

I think most native English speakers have seen lists like this before, but perhaps non-native English speakers have not. What I am wondering is if other languages don't run into the same sorts of problems or is English unique in that it runs into them so much more often.

Sorry I can't name the source - the list was sent to me by a friend.
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Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to
present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum. (That face was an eight)
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor
pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French
fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't
sweet, are meat. Quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a
guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers
write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth?

One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend. If you have
a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you
call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian
eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that
smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and
a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your
house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it
out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by
people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human
race,which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars
are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick"?????
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Ken Greenwald - December 4, 2017
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Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Dec 05, 2017 12:24 pm

I can think of a few instances in Danish where the meaning of a word changes according to the placement of the stress, but overall that language doesn't have anywhere near as many identically spelled but differently pronounced words as English does.

The problem that learners of English encounter with such pairs is that their level of English competence needs to be quite high for them to be aware that alternative pronunciations even exist, let alone for them to be sure which one to select in a given context. (Not to mention the fact that sometimes even native speakers are not in agreement as to how certain words should be stressed, and/or may be inconsistent in their own linguistic practice.)

Indeed, Ken, the posting you reproduce embodies a fallacious assumption that a language ought to have regular verb forms, have prepositions in phrasal verbs that modify the meaning of the verb in a consistently predictable way, etc. But natural languages just aren't like that -- so in that sense the 'lunacy' of English is far from unique.

Nothing can properly substitute for repetition, exposure and practice, supplemented by some reflection by the person learning the language. That applies just as much to native speakers wishing to improve their understanding and effectiveness in English as it does to speakers of English as a foreign language.
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Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by tony h » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:35 pm

One of the puzzles, for me, in this list is that it is quite possible to get all the pronunciations are correct. That is context provides sufficient information to get pronunciation correct.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:53 am

Tony,

Context certainly does the trick. But in other languages are there such an abundance of words that rely on context? For a purist of some sort they would probably like to have a word's meaning stand on its own and not be dependent on helpers.
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Ken Greenwald - December 7, 2017
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Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by tony h » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:38 am

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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:23 pm

My Welsh is appalling, but I will ask some of my friends if there are any instances in that language.
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Bob in Wales

Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Phil White » Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:49 pm

As a gross generalization, English tends to have more of these inconsistencies than many other languages. There are several reasons, including:
  • English is a hybrid language, taking much of its grammatical structure and many everyday words from Germanic sources, but most of its vocabulary from Romance languages via French (Norman).
  • English vocabulary has also drawn heavily on Latin, Greek, Italian, Scandinavian through the Viking invasions, and even the languages of its former colonies, foremost of all, those of the Indian subcontinent.
  • English has an extremely long written tradition, and variant spellings arose before the homogenizing effects of the printing press.
  • Unlike some other nations, there has never been a single, generally recognized source of standardization of written language that has either been formally tasked with shaping the language (Académie française in France) or has fallen into a normative role (Duden in Germany)
German spelling in particular is very straightforward, and there is rarely any doubt as to how a word is pronounced. There are extremely few homophones in German. Indeed, the only one that springs to my mind at present is "Lerche" (lark) vs. "Lärche" (larch), and some would contend that these are not strict homophones, with the A-Umlaut being slightly longer and more open than the "e".

There are also far less homonyms in German than in English, although they do exist. Most differ in grammatical gender, so there is little chance of confusion and still less chance of punning, which is a rare form of humor in Germany (no comments, please).

My knowledge of French, Italian and Spanish are far more sketchy, but my intuition tells me that the problems are nowhere near as widespread as they are in English, but that there are rather more sources of confusion than in German.
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Non sum felix lepus

Re: Why English is so hard to learn

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Dec 12, 2017 7:46 pm

Phil White wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:49 pm
There are also far less homonyms in German than in English, although they do exist. Most differ in grammatical gender, so there is little chance of confusion and still less chance of punning, which is a rare form of humor in Germany (no comments, please).
Ha. Near the house I live in is a neighbour couple who persuaded me (just over a year ago) to join the mountaineering club they belong to. The woman is German (from Berlin), but has lived in Britain for decades. Her partner is from the north of England.

Regarding those occasions in which her partner and I start swapping puns and humorous remarks, she has commented (I paraphrase):

"You men — and its usually men — just like to come up with those puns to show how clever you are. I have colleagues like you. I can tell when you're trying to think of some smart remark to show off to each other. Your faces take on these twisted expressions. It's like some kind of game where you all try to outdo each other. Whenever you start doing it I stop listening. I just can't be bothered to hear it".

Apart from that, she's really nice.
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