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.
All 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.
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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.