English is a unique language, unlike any other in the world. Are you frightened about the prospect of learning English? There is no need to be.
Let me explain a few interesting facts about English. There are only 21 consonants (b.c.d.f.g.h.j.k.l.m.n.p.q.r.s.t.v.w.x.y.z) and 5 vowels (a,e,i,o,u,). That is a total of 26 letters, yet there are more than one million words in the English language. 90% of all words contain one or more vowels.
The important thing to remember about learning English is how to structure sentences correctly in your head. Many Asian languages have a different sentence structure to English. It is important that when you translate your native language to English, in your head, that you remember that the sentence structure will be different.
Secondly, even though correct Grammar is important to know, it is not the most important thing about learning English. Equally as important is correct pronunciation, punctuation and sentence structure. For example, when I speak, I don't think to myself-"I have to use a noun, preposition, adjective, infinitive phrase and conjunction". Being a Native English speaker, my brain automatically knows that what comes out of my mouth is correct.
Thirdly, even though there are many rules in learning correct English, the language is flexible so there are basically no rules. Too many people place too much emphasis on learning correct Grammar when it is not really necessary.
An easy way to learn any language is to remember that in EVERY language in the world, there are only seven questions that you can ask-who, what, why, where, when, how and which. Most social interactions with other people consist of questions, answers and statements. The most important and easy way to learn a new language is to learn the seven questions. From them, you can gradually learn other words and build on that question. You can learn the word "shop" and if you know the word for 'where", you can begin to make a question. It is then that you can begin to learn other words that will make your question more complete. Before you know it, you will be able to communicate in another language. Many Asian languages speak without using the more simple connecting words like- in if, to. These are important to learn if you are going to speak English correctly.
The relationship between language and culture is also an important factor in learning English. For example, Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, has at least seven different words to name rice- in its natural state, still growing on the plant in the field, threshed, cooked, burnt rice at the bottom of the pot, rice cooked with lots of weater, sticky rice and fried rice.
Culture can also dictate the way in which a language is used. Traditional Japanese culture, for example, prefers non-verbal communication. The ideal family is one in which the members do not need to talk to each other very much in order to understand each other, or to have meaningful relationships. Reading between the lines of communication is a highly regarded skill.
Chinese culture also tends away from an abundance of verbal communication. One has to earn the right to speak, through demonstration of expertise, years of experience, education, or a position of seniority or power. Children are chastened not to talk, but to listen and, if required, to support their elders' comments. Students are expected to listen to their teachers, and certainly not to challenge them or to express a differing opinion, which would demonstrate a lack of respect. Again, this stands in stark contrast to Australian culture, in which we encourage children, from the moment they can speak, to display knowledge and express feelings and opinions.
Within any cultural setting you will find groups that have their own distinctive patterns of behaviour and beliefs, known as sub-cultures. Compare the way in which walking or bird watching groups, surfers and politicians would recount the same event, and you are certain to note significant differences in the choices of sentence structure, vocabulary, tone of voice, intonation, facial expression, body gestures, interjections and responses. In addition, people from a particular group will express themselves one way when speaking to someone else from within their group and another way when speaking with someone from outside their group. Language use is inseparable from culture. Understanding and using language involves understanding the culture in which it is being used.
Al language use is functional. That is, we use language to achieve social purposes, such as getting information, giving information, establishing and maintaining relationships, negotiating goods and services, and communicating procedures. All language use occurs within the context of culture, and culture shapes the language choices we make.
We have already seen that the relationship between the people who are communicating influences their language choices. Change the mode of communication from spoken to written and the language choices will likely be affected again. Another obvious influence on language choices is the topic or subject matter. Clerical workmates will speak with each other about work practices and policies, in a different manner from their conversation with each other about family matters.
Grammar. Mention the word "grammar" and many people groan, if not outwardly then inwardly. If this whole areas can incite such negative feeling, we must ask the question- do we need to know about participles, prepositions and pronouns? Do we really need all of these terms?
In learning to speak our first or native language, there is rarely any explicit instruction in the first few years. As infants, we learn through listening and mimicking. When we look at the way children learn language/s, we don't have discussions about whether a word is being used as a noun or verb, we don't hear parents say-"Use a present perfect verb there rather than a present simple verb, dear". Children have the innate capacity to sift and sort all of the raw language input they receive, and develop a framework which enables them to begin producing language. That framework continues to develop as they receive more input, and their language production matures correspondingly. Instruction (at school) comes after a functional level of language use is acquired. Why then, the need for all of this analysis and terminology? Can't older people learn in the same way?
The process of learning a second language as an adult is quite different from learning our first language as a child. Most second language learners consciously look for a framework which will enable them to make sense of the pattern or structure of the language. This can be attributed in a large part to changes in the way we process information, and learning style preferences in which, by adulthood, we have developed a clear preference.
Sometime around puberty the language acquisition processes change. Adolescents are able to think more abstractly than children can, and begin analysing, deconstructing and reconstructing, not just concrete items but abstract concepts as well. This is a significant move away from the intuitive style of learning in which children naturally excel. While some individuals retain a propensity for intuitive learning, others become more reliant on explicit instruction and demonstration with accompanying explanation or narrative.
Whereas children simply process the raw data of language ( the spoken language that they hear), adolescents and adults benefit from being able to process information about language in order to build an internal framework or schemata into which new information about language is assimilated or accommodated. In the teaching and learning process then, we need to have a way to talk about language, to explain language use and formation. We need terms for describing language, and that is where "grammar" is important. The terms and descriptions provide us with the vocabulary and concepts necessary for talking about language.
Non- verbal communication is also an important part of learning English. Hand gestures, body language, personal space boundaries and facial expressions are all non- linguistic ( no voice or words) forms of communication. The use of eyebrows to communicate is a clear example of non-verbal communication and its cultural loadedness.. In the Philippines, it is very common that people will raise their eyebrows in greeting or acknowledgement of people they meet or even pass in the street. In many African cultures, raising your eyebrows simply means "yes". In Australia, raising one's eyebrows to another person is a suggestive invitation or an expression of disbelief, and so would not be understood or received as a simple greeting or acknowledgement. Non- linguistic aspects of communication need to be addressed alongside spoken communication.
In terms of written English, features of print such as spacing, font size, colour, bold print and underlining, all contribute to the message. Learning English must also address these culturally loaded aspects of communication, as they vary from culture to culture.
Helpful Hints and Tips To Understanding and using language
Handy hints: Firstly, the learner should be immersed in a language-rich environment, where they are hearing, speaking, reading and writing English. The more a learner uses the new language in new and meaningful ways, the greater the potential for successful language acquisition. Learners need to receive keys for interpreting texts, so the language classroom experience must include demonstrations of how texts are created and used. As well as developing the ability to comprehend language input, learners must have the opportunity to practice creating meaningful texts.
Other conditions that promote language learning include feeling secure enough to risk making mistakes and to appreciate mistakes as a natural part of the learning process. Learners must be able to move beyond using formulaic expressions to begin using language creatively, employing guesswork, texting hypotheses and coming out with approximations.
Learners also need to be involved in planning and monitoring their learning process and progress. Ask learners, therefore, to share the situations in which they are already using English, the situations in which they feel they are unable to communicate effectively and the situations in which the communication may have broken down completely. Each of these situations will each provide stimulus for practically-oriented lessons that are relevant to the learner.
Clearly, language acquisition is a partnership between the teacher and the learner. While the teacher can and should facilitate and structure learning activities in the best way possible for learning to occur, the student must also take a very active role in the learning process. Learning is not a passive exercise of receiving something that is imparted, it is a very active process of acquiring a skill, involving assimilating new information or knowledge, making it our own, remembering it, and using it.
Most people have preferred ways of learning that encompasses the kind of activities they enjoy or benefit from, memorisation techniques and strategies that prove most effective for them, and preferred ways of receiving input. Interestingly, our own learning preferences often become our preferred ways of teaching. So it is important that we become aware of our own learning preferences since this can influence the way we teach, and is there is a wide variety of learning techniques which our students may prefer, and which we should endeavour to include.
It is language, more obviously than anything else, that distinguishes humankind from the rest of the animal world. Humans have also been described as tool-making animals but language itself is the most remarkable tool that they have invented, and is the one that makes most of the others possible. The most primitive tools, admittedly, may have come earlier than language: the higher apes sometimes use sticks as elementary tools, and even break them for this purpose, But the tools of any great sophistication demand the kind of human co-operation and division of labour which is hardly possible without language. Language, in fact, is the greatest machine-tool which makes human culture possible.
A human language is a signalling system. The written language is secondary and derivative.In the history of each individual, speech or signing is learned before writing, and there is good reason for believing that the same was true in the history of the species. There are communities that have speech without writing, but we know of no human community which has a written language without a spoken or signed one.
There is no easy way to learn how to speak and write English well. You need to listen to English speakers, watch how they shape and move their mouths and tongue when they speak. Listen to English radio programs. Watch as much English TV and as many English movies, videos and other sources as you can. You Tube is a great platform to improve your English. Organise with your friends to meet in a group on a regular basis, choose a topic and discuss it in English. Have a dictionary handy in case the meaning of a word is not understood. Don't be worried or ashamed if you make mistakes, it is part of the learning process. The most important thing you can do is to study, practice, study, practice. Eventually you will have enough words and knowledge in your brain, that one day, they will all suddenly fall into place and you will open your mouth and English will come out of it, flowing naturally like a river.