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ENGLISH: The Inescapable Language — The American Magazine

August 19, 2011

English: The Inescapable Language

By John Steele Gordon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Native speakers of English have a great advantage. Learning English at our mothers’ knee is almost like being born able to do algebra.

One night years ago when I was visiting Buenos Aires, I had dinner with an acquaintance. We were speaking in English because he spoke my language far better than I did his. I apologized for my inadequacy in Spanish and complimented him on his bilingualism.

He replied, “That’s understandable. After all, English is so easy to learn and Spanish is very difficult.”

I was stunned. In school, Spanish had been regarded as the gut course among foreign languages, far easier than French, German, or Latin. And English, at least among English-speakers, was thought very difficult, with its irregular spelling and pronunciation given as the usual reason. I have never tested this hypothesis, but I bet every culture regards its native tongue as difficult to learn. After all, foreigners always struggle with it, so it must be difficult, right?

Not necessarily. Most people are oblivious to the oddities and weirdnesses of their native tongue—as well as its simplicities—for precisely the same reason that fish are oblivious to water. My Argentinian friend, for instance, had no idea that Spanish spelling and pronunciation are absolutely regular. To hear a Spanish word is to know how to spell it and to see one is to know how to pronounce it. There are no spelling bees in Spanish-speaking schools because there are no bad spellers among native speakers of the language.

So, is English actually hard to learn? Well, yes and no.

via English: The Inescapable Language — The American Magazine.

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One Comment
  1. August 19, 2011 10:40 AM

    When I hear David McCullough telling Fareed Zakaria on his GPS program the importance of president’s speaking to the public in English, it only confirms my belief that everything needs to be done to encourage the use of this language throughout the country. Making English the official national language is the right thing to do. Immigrants are required to pass their naturalization test in English. Printing ballots and other government documents in other languages discourages people from learning America’s native language.

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