English is the most difficult language EVER!

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by FreeThinkers, Apr 19, 2007.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I suspect what he means is that when you start out as a baby with an empty speech center, it takes just about the same amount of effort to fill it up with language, regardless of which particular language is involved. This discussion is about the difficulty of learning a second language once your speech center has been shaped with the paradigms of your first. As we've been told here by our colleagues, some pairs of languages make for an excruciatingly difficult transition while others are easier. Moreover, all speakers of one particular language do not agree on which of the others are easier or harder. Clearly we each learn our native language a little differently and develop unique synaptic circuits.
    The French, especially the Germanic Franks in the north, are tres chauvinistique about their beloved language. You might have better luck with the Celtic Gauls in the south. A friend who speaks French but not well rang up a Parisian hotel to make a reservation and started the conversation with, Parlez-vous anglais? The innkeeper replied Non and hung up on her.
    I doubt that the Germans will be any more pleased with a foreigner's attempts to streamline their language than the French. I think we Americans put up with that about as graciously as any people. We actually find foreign accents and blunders to be kind of charming, or at the very least entertaining.
    An illustration of my own point.

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    As a native speaker of English I found Mandarin to be the absolute easiest of the many languages I have encountered. Its grammar is even simpler than ours, with really only two parts of speech, no inflections, and a word-building engine that is even more fabulous than that of German.

    While Spanish is not the most difficult language I've studied, its vast array of verb conjugations, with tenses we can't even imagine a use for, is bewildering. And having to remember to put gender and number even on a bloody adjective seems like nothing more than a cruel trick played on foreigners.

    Japanese is not difficult for us to learn in pidgin so we can make ourselves understood. But the Japanese are the last people on earth you want to insult by speaking a pidgin version of their language--more so even than the French. In Japanese your verb forms change depending on your social status relative to the person you're addressing. A friend who lived in Japan and speaks the language fluently was hired to translate a novel from English to Japanese. He had to subcontract out all the women's dialog to a Japanese lady. He realized that he understood it when he heard it, but since he had never actually spoken it he couldn't get it right.
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  3. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    I don't agree. Some languages are more complex then others and it would depend on where one lives. An Asian language would be easier to learn for an Asian then a European. I'm proficient in many languages (compared to most) and I would say that English is one of the least complex languages, gramatics wise.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Don't make the mistake of lumping Asian languages together. They are not all in one family. Sino-Tibetan is one, Mon-Khmer is another (Thailand and Cambodia). Japanese, Korean and Manchurian appear to be distant relatives of the vast Mongolian family that also includes Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish.

    Chinese is very much like English in grammar, syntax and spirit, only even simpler; Westerners are put off by it solely because of the phonetics and the writing system. Japanese could not be more different from Chinese, full of formalities and inflections.

    We're used to thinking of Europe, where all but a handful of languages (the four noted above plus Saami and Basque) are all members of one family. Many other regions in the world are more linguistically diverse.
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  7. oreodont I am God Registered Senior Member

    My first language is French (French Canadian) but my mother is British. I prefer movies, music, etc. in French but much prefer to write in English as it's much more flexible and diverse. I went to high school in Germany and found that language somewhat easy to pick up. In contrast my wife's first language is Dutch and Dutch is English's closest language... I just can't get my ear tuned to it.

    In university I studied Russian and was surprised how logical it was. Very straight forward.

    Back to English. Some say it is one of the easiest languages to learn to communicate in but one of the most difficult to communicate in well. French, is the reverse....the grammar is consistent and easy to shoebox but rarely does anyone not of French language origin understand it even after a few years of study. One has to stop and speak very slowly in French and repeat everything to someone learning French. It's always easier just to switch to English.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    French has one of the same advantages as English: a lot of one-syllable words. Like English, it generally takes fewer syllables to express a thought in French than in many other languages.

    This allows these languages to be spoken more slowly than, say, Italian or Spanish, where every word seems to have at least three syllables and you have to rush to finish your sentence before lunch. This should be an advantage to the listener, making it easier to parse sentences in real time.

    Parsing: deciding where one word leaves off and the next one begins. That's fairly easy in English. But it's incredibly difficult in French, because they deliberately make it so. Sometimes you pronounce the letter at the end of a word, sometimes you don't, and the deciding factor is how does the next word begin? You have to digest half the sentence before you can figure out what the words are!

    Chinese is best of all. By my not-terribly-scientific count, its sentences typically have seven syllables to ten in English. As a result it's generally spoken considerably slower, making it easier for a student or a foreigner to pick out the words he knows.
  9. oreodont I am God Registered Senior Member

    True to an extent. I can't say, however, i deliberately make French difficult when speaking to an anglophone trying to learn it. Quite the reverse and everything is slowed to a snail's pace. Anglophones can learn to write French as well as a native speaker but those who learn speak it with any proficiency are rare unless learned fron a child.

    Language is burned at an early year on to our psyche. When alone my father always spoke French to me and my mother always English . It seems unbelievable but I never noticed that fact until I was an older teenager and my sister mentioned it one day.How could one not notice such an obvious thing? My father spoke fluent English but only if there were English speakers present.

    We used to watch Jeopardy and if I was with my mother I could get the answers out quickly but if with my father, I might know the answer but couldn't think of the English word quickly. I would not just speak but think in English if my mother was around but the reverse if my father was there.

    It's almost embarassing but I must admit not knowing a single word (well, maybe one or two) of Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Japanese, etc It shows how insulated Western culture is from much of the fundamental daily life of much of the world's population. I think I'll scan the web and pick up a couple of fundamentals
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Sorry, I was being facetious. The speakers don't make it difficult, it's the "people who invented the language."

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    Despite my (and other anglophones') impression that the northern French are exceptionally brusque with foreigners who think they can get along by speaking French poorly (as opposed to, say, Latin Americans who are merely stoic about it), they are quite gracious with people who are at least trying. Whereas Latin Americans are good-natured enough about it but don't seem to be able to deconstruct their language. Perhaps the extreme non-phonetic writing system forces francophones to think more analytically about it.
    Children don't necessarily understand that they are learning two different languages. After all, Japanese children have to learn to speak differently to family and outsiders, yet it's all Japanese. You have to reach a certain level of cognitive skill and a certain level of sheer interest before you begin to wonder consciously about the differences between the way you speak to people. I was raised in a household where religion was never discussed. I was about seven before I noticed that other people used words and talked about strange things that my family did not, and I was about eleven before I became the least bit curious about it.
    I don't know where you live but you would make a perfect American.

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    I've studied Mandarin and speak it a little (around 6.0 on my own scale, a vocabulary in the neighborhood of 1,000 words), so I can tell you something about it from the perspective of a foreigner with an interest in linguistics who can contrast it with a few other languages. What would you like to know? We should probably start a new thread for that.

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  11. Fugu-dono Scholar Of Shen Zhou Registered Senior Member

    I must agree that English is relatively hard for people from non-english speaking backgrounds to learn. I should know I have taught some before before (though only as part/time tutor). Looking at the roots of the English language it's hardly surprising. Not to mention it combines words and pronunciation of many other languages as well.

    Thai is another that comes to mind which many learners often just can't do all the range of high and low pronounciation of what sounds to some like similar words. Another one is Chinese language and Japanese kanji which some can easily grasp while other just struggle to learn.
  12. I disagree with your statements on 4 points:
    1) familiarity= point of reference
    2) centers of gravity=source languages
    3) engines of change=different ways to change the language
    4) exception to the rules=i before e, except after c

    1) people who speak a similiarly based language (germanic, romance, thai), will find learning a sister language easier
    2) english has 8 centers of gravity;
    a. germanic>anglo-saxon>dane>
    b. germanic>viking>norman french,
    c. latin>french>norman french,
    d. celt>britanic>scots
    e. latin, (for science)
    f. greek, (for science)
    g. age of discovery (Native American, African, Asian, etc...words)
    h. age of technology (examples; google, lol, phish)
    most others have less (example, spanish; Latin, visigothic, arabic)
    3) english allows various acceptable ways to change the language; jargon, slang, foreign words, science, technology, contractions, new ideas
    4) if you wrote a book on all the exceptions that english has, it would be as big as a dictionary, I got dibs
    while true, try learning a tonal language when all your life you used tones to distinguish accents, not other languages
  13. I think english drives out other languages, since its so hard to learn, it pushes out native languages if not practiced regularly,

    in developmental psychology, they said that the biggest diff, was that at about the age of 7, all the neurons, muscles & kinetic memory of speaking your mother tongue (or others learned prior) would make you speak in an accent all other languages you learn, thus
    Indians, Chinese, French, that learn english, speak it with a noticeably similar accent

    a good way to become bilingual, I think

    that's because english is your mother tongue, sounds like you think in english first? so with your father, you translate from english to french to english?

    if you know English, you may already know words from those languages, but they've been anglozied

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