Learning a second language can be difficult, especially when that language is English.
Many people starting to learn the language struggle with the differences between written and spoken English, odd pronunciations, the lack of masculine and feminine forms of words, and much more.
Brandt Snook, an English as a second language specialist for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Intensive English Program, said one of the most common problems his students have is understanding the differences between written and spoken English.
“Spoken English is really informal. We use all these contractions and running speech, whereas standard, academic, written English is totally different,” Snook said, “Students are almost having to learn two different versions of English: the English they can use outside with their friends and the English they have to use in their academic classroom.”
Snook said giving students a practical understanding of English grammar rules is a good way to gain a grasp on the language.
“It’s not about having the repetitive, rote memorization of, ‘Make sure you know all your past participles, make sure you know which verbs are irregular or regular.’ I try to help them to think about practical ways to use that grammar,” he said.
While many native English speakers are frustrated by masculine and feminine forms of words when learning another language, many non-native speakers find masculine and feminine forms to be sorely missed in English.
Walt Pires, a native speaker of Portuguese and a first-year electrical engineering major at UL Lafayette, said the only difference between the masculine and feminine forms of a word in his native language is one letter, whereas in English it’s two different words, such as the words “actor” and “actress.”
“Basically you need to learn two different words for one word in our language,” Pires said.
Some sounds that exist in English do not exist in other languages. Many non-native speakers have trouble with the “th” sound in English.
Guillaume Tetereault, a first-year accounting major at UL Lafayette, said that he found the “th” sound to be difficult to pronounce coming from French.
“A word like ‘strength’ is hard to say because we don’t say words like that in French,” Tetereault said.
He also said the “h” sound and the “s” sound at the end of plural words were difficult for him because these sounds are used differently in French.
Monica Wright, Ph.D., a professor of French at UL Lafayette said the pronunciation of a lot of English words don’t make logical sense when compared to the words’ spellings.
“If you take my last name for example, it’s pronounced ‘right’ ... If we spelled it the way it sounds it would be ‘r-i-t’. There’s a ‘w’, ‘g’, and ‘h’ that don’t get pronounced,” Wright said.
She also said words spelled the same way but pronounced differently are very uncommon in other languages.
“Most other languages, French is included in this, if it’s spelled a certain way it’s pronounced that way all the time,” she said.
She said one of the major reasons for the multitude of bizarre word pronunciations in English is due to the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. Before the invasion, English was, for the most part, written like it was pronounced however, after the invasion, the Normans forced the English to speak French. This altered the pronunciation of many words that had previously already been written based on their old pronunciation.
Denise Marceaux, the master instructor for UL Lafayette English for Speakers of Other Languages, said her students sometimes struggle with the way English handles stressed syllables.
“English is a stress-timed language so if non-native speakers put the stress on the wrong syllable of a word, native speakers of English will have difficulty understanding them,” Marceaux said.
An example of this is the word “record.” If you put stress on the first syllable it’s a noun, but if you put stress on the second syllable it’s a verb.
Marceaux said fear of embarrassment often keeps her students from learning the language as effectively as they could.
“Sometimes people are afraid to make mistakes so they don’t speak which makes it harder,” Marceaux said.