Why Becoming Fluent in English Is Different from Other Languages
If English isn’t your native language, there’s a good reason becoming fluent in English may be a struggle. English has five characteristics that set it apart from your native tongue, and the first three are about having more things to learn.
Becoming fluent English requires being able to understand more words.
English has far more words than any other of the world’s 7,100+ languages. The Oxford English Dictionary has more than 600,000 entries, but that’s not all. Technical and scientific terms, slang, and newly-coined buzzwords from technology and the media add hundreds of thousands more words, pushing the total to as many as two million words by some estimates. By comparison, Russian has about 200,000 words, German 185,000, and French fewer than 100,000, including terms adapted from English, such as le snacque-barre.
English often gives you at least three ways to say the same thing.
That’s because English words evolved from three differed sources–Anglo-Saxon, French, and Latin/Greek words. Check out these examples from Richard Lederer’s The Miracle of Language:
English adopts more words from other languages.
Consider these sources, again from Richard Lederer’s well-researched book:
coyote: Mexican Indian
English may have lots of words, but the grammar is pretty simple.
English lacks all the complex noun and verb forms, word endings and gender markers of many other tongues. So, becoming fluent in English is easier compared to these languages, because English is more direct and concise. For a simple demonstration of this point, just look at the multi-lingual user guide for your smart phone, tv, or kid’s toy. The English copy will always be the shortest. Yes, brevity is the soul of English, and that’s a benefit to non-native English speakers.
The smallest English words can carry the biggest ideas.
College and graduate students fill their papers and theses with big, heavy words they hope will make them sound erudite. But real power in English is often packed into some small words that convey some big things: love and hate, night and day, life and death, war and peace. Short, quick words, of course, are easier to master for people becoming fluent in English, and they’re great for making punchy, memorable statements. Those big words usually just bog down the message.
If you’re a non-native speaker, understanding these five unique characteristics of the language can take much of the mystery and challenge out of becoming fluent in English.
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