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Ten things you might not have known about the English language

Ten things you might not have known about the English language

Here are ten things that you may not have known about this wonderful language of ours:

1. It is the only major language without an academy to guide it

L’Académie française, based in Paris, is in charge of overseeing the French language. Part of its job is suggesting alternatives for the English words that are pouring into French. That’s how email became courriel, for example (although you will still hear it called e-mail in French).

For Spanish there is the Real Academia Española. German has the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung. There is no equivalent to L’Académie for English. Of the 10 most-widely spoken languages in the world, only English has no academy guiding it.

There are political reasons for this. The closest Britain ever came to having a language academy was at the start of the eighteenth century, when Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift was lobbying hard for an academy because “our Language is extremely imperfect… its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions (and) in many Instances it offends against every Part of Grammar.” Queen Anne supported the idea but died before a decision could be made, and the issue was largely forgotten.

In the USA, a bill for the incorporation of a national academy was unsuccessfully introduced into congress in 1806. Fourteen years later, an American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres was launched with John Quincy Adams as president, but broke up after two years after receiving little political or public support.

Nowadays, the only English-speaking country to have a language academy is South Africa. Because the English language has become so ubiquitous without any guidance, there is little prospect of anyone starting an academy any time soon. Where would it be? In Britain, the home of the language? Or the USA, where the largest English-speaking population lives?

2. More than 1 billion people are learning English as you read this

According to the British Council, around 1 billion people around the world were learning English in 2000. This figure is now likely to be significantly higher.

3. 96 of the 100 most common English words are Germanic

Of the hundred most frequently used words in English, 96 have Germanic roots. Together, those 100 words make up more than 50% of the Oxford English Corpus, which currently contains over 2 billion words found in writing around the world.

Surprised? The most frequently used words are the meat and bones of the language, the essentials that make communication work, including Iyougoeat, and so on. Old English developed from various Germanic languages that came to the British Isles in the second half of the first millennium AD.

Whereas the language has changed almost unrecognisably since then, including the grammar, the basic words have remained.

4. …but most words that have entered the language since 1066 have Latin origins

If English is your first language but you find French or Spanish easier to understand than German, you are not alone. This may seem strange when English and German are on the same branch of the Indo-European language tree.

The Renaissance, which started in Italy and reached England via France, was a massive source of new vocabulary. New ideas, or old ideas rediscovered, started flooding out of the southern cities but there were no words to describe them in English. So the language adopted or adapted the Latin words. During the Renaissance, the English lexicon roughly doubled in size.

The shift away from the Germanic languages, however, had started much earlier, because…

5. For more than a century, the English aristocracy couldn’t speak English

William the Conqueror tried to learn English at the age of 43 but gave up. He didn’t seem especially fond of the land he had conquered in 1066, spending half of his reign in France and not visiting England at all for five years when in power. Naturally, French-speaking barons were appointed to rule the land.

Within 20 years of the Normans taking power in England, almost all of the local religious institutions were French-speaking. The aristocrats brought with them large retinues and were followed by French tradesmen, who almost certainly mixed bilingually with the English tradesmen. In turn, ambitious Englishmen would have learned French to get ahead in life and mix with the new rulers. Around 10,000 French words entered English in the century after the Norman invasion.

There is little to suggest that aristocrats themselves spoke English. It isn’t until the end of the 12th Century that we have evidence of the children of the English aristocracy with English as a first language. In 1204, the English nobility lost their estates in France and adopted English partly as a matter of national pride!

6. …which is why Latin words sound more prestigious than Germanic ones

Think about the difference between a house (Germanic) and a mansion (French), or between startingsomething and commencing, between calling something kingly or regal. English has a huge number of close synonyms, where the major difference is the level of formality or prestige. The prestigious form is almost always the Latin one.

The names of animals and meats also reflect this phenomenon. The old story goes that, in English, the animals have Germanic names but the cooked meats have French ones. For example, swine is Germanic but pork is French, sheep is Germanic but mutton is French. Was this because the English speakers worked on the farms whereas the French speakers ate the produce? It’s certainly possible.

7. The concept of “correct” spelling is fairly recent

There are many reasons why English spelling is so erratic including the lack of an academy, the contributions of Noah Webster (see below) and the introduction of William Caxton’s printing press just before major changes in pronunciation. But the idea of correct or incorrect spelling wasn’t really considered important until the 17th Century when the first dictionaries were published. Even then, it was largely a debate for academics and writers.

Shakespeare, for example, was liberal in his spellings of words, often using multiple variants within a single text; his name itself has been spelt in many different ways over the centuries.

8. One man is largely responsible for the differences between American and British spelling

Noah Webster, whose name you still find on the front of many American dictionaries, was a patriotic man. Born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758, he believed that a great emerging nation such as the USA needed a language of its own: American English.

Webster found the English in the textbooks of the time to be corrupted by the British aristocracy, with too much French and Classical influence. He was to write American books for American learners, representing a young, proud and forward-thinking nation.

Between 1783 and 1785, he produced three books on the English language for American schoolchildren. During his lifetime, 385 editions of his Speller were published. The modern US spelling of color was initially spelt in the British way, colour, but this changed in later editions. Other differences include the US spelling of center as opposed to the British centre, and traveler instead of traveller. Webster wanted to make spelling more logical, as befitting a nation that was founded on progressive principles. This is a rare example of a dictionary writer trying to lead the English language instead of describe it.

In Britain, the use of “Americanisms” is almost guaranteed to upset people. But not all Americanisms are what they seem. For example…

9. -ize is not an American suffix

There is a popular belief that words such as popularise/izemaximise/ize and digitise/ize have different spellings in British and American English.

Look at that z – isn’t it snazzy? It’s got to be American, hasn’t it?

Not according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which rejects the French s for a good old British z:

…there is no reason why in English the special French spelling should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and phonetic. In this Dictionary the termination is uniformly written -ize. (In the Gr. -ιζ-, the i was short, so originally in L., but the double consonant z (= dz, ts) made the syllable long; when the z became a simple consonant, (-idz) became īz, whence Eng. (-aɪz).)

10. The English language will change a lot during your lifetime, like it or not!

The only thing that is consistent in language is change. When a language stops changing, it becomes purely academic, like Latin or Ancient Greek.

New words are being coined all the time. If you asked someone twenty years ago whether they had googled the person they had just friended on facebook, they would stare at you blankly (spell-check still gives them wiggly red lines of disapproval).

Vocabulary changes more rapidly than grammar, but even English grammar is evolving. For example, the dative whom is increasingly being replaced by whoWho can you blame? Decades ago, this would have jumped off the page as a grammatical error, but doesn’t it look ok now?

Similarly, in the first part of this post, “Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift” is an example of grammar that would have sounded very strange even fifty years ago. Did it seem strange to you?

One thing is certain: with well over a billion people speaking English around the world and, for the first time, most of them speaking it as a second language, there are plenty of changes to come!

 

Source: oxforddictionaries.com

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The importance of correct pronunciation

The importance of correct pronunciation

Pronunciation is the most important and difficult problem that non-native English speakers have to face when studying English. Improper pronunciation can lead to negative impression, misunderstanding and ineffective communication. This page is designed to indicate some negative impacts of poor pronunciation and to provide you with some tips for the improvement.

Negative impression

When you talk to people in the real life, your pronunciation is the first thing they notice during a conversation. In everyday communication, you usually do not have to use many complicated words, so your limited vocabulary is not a big issue since you can use more simple words to express the word that you do not know. In fact, they will notice right away if your pronunciation is good or bad only the first few simple words. If you have a poor pronunciation with very strong foreign accent, they will think of you as a bad English speaker and your good vocabulary and grammar cannot help you.

Misunderstanding

Knowing a lot of vocabularies is meaningless if you cannot pronounce those words correctly and no one can understand the words that you are trying to use. Even worse, pronunciation mistakes can lead to some serious misunderstanding. For example, let’s think of the misunderstanding about the signal “sinking” in a video clip on Youtube called “I am sinking.” Many people believe that they can communicate in English because they can communicate with their teachers and other students. However, it is not true. The teachers have been listening to bad English for years so they can understand your poor pronunciation, and your friends are from the same country with you and speak English with the same accent so that they can understand your words easier. The best way is to talk to native English speakers, and if they can understand what you are saying, you have a good pronunciation.

Ineffective communication

You are making it difficult for people who listen to you with your strong foreign accent. It is irritated for other people if they have to keep asking you to repeat, but they still cannot figure out what you are saying. Consequently, if it takes a lot of efforts to understand your English, people will avoid communicating with you as much as they can. In contrast, they will enjoy talking to you when you have a pleasant accent that is easy for them hear and understand you.

Tips for proper pronunciation

Here are some tips for you to improve your pronunciation.

  • With every new word, you should look it up in the dictionary to find the correct pronunciation.
  • Listen to native speakers to get used to their accent. Instead of boring listening lessons, you can listen to English songs, watch movies or listen to your native English speaking friends and relatives.
  • Practice in front of a mirror and make sure you move your mouth in the correct way.
  • Do a lot of practices. Remember that practices make perfect.
  • Be patient and determined. The journey may be tough, but the result will be worth.

Source: hopespeak.com

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10 Amazing benefits of being biligual

10 Amazing benefits of being biligual

1. Being bilingual has positive effects on the brain

Studies show that being bilingual has many cognitive benefits. According to research, speaking a second language can mean that you have a better attention span and can multi-task better than monolinguals. This is because being bilingual means you are constantly switching from one language to the other. Numerous other studies suggest that bilingualism can also reduce the risk of having a stroke.

Cognitive benefits effect both bilingual kids and bilingual adults. Children as young as seven months who are exposed to more than one language tend to adjust better to changes in the environment. For older bilinguals, there tends to be less cognitive decline.

2. Bilingualism gives you the educational advantage

Many of the cognitive benefits mentioned above can also mean that bilinguals have an advantage at school or further education. Many studies show that those who speak a second language are more likely to be less distracted and more focused on tasks.

Even bilingual children who are educated in their second language, have actually been seen to outperform monolingual students in their native language.

The recent Millennum Cohort Study found many educational benefits for bilingual children. Their research showed that even though children who are educated in their second language may initially lag behind around three, four and five years old, they soon catch up and outperform their peers by age seven.

3. Languages are highly valued in the workplace

Speaking a second language has numerous employment benefits. Being bilingual means that there are more job opportunities depending on which languages you speak. Communication in the workplace is important, and more companies, especially those with international offices, are considering bilingualism a high priority.

Fast growing fields such as tourism, journalism and translation put great value on bilingual employees. Additional languages on the resume could have your application moved to the top of the pile and give you a better chance at getting the job, even if you aren’t as qualified as another monolingual applicant.

4. Being Bilingual has been linked to health benefits

There have been many studies proving that being bilingual can benefit ones health. Researches recently found that there is growing evidence to suggest that bilingualism can delay the onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for example. Other benefits of being bilingual include things such as a faster stroke recoverylower stress levels, and delay many effects of old to name a few.

5. Speaking more than one language makes you more open minded

Have you ever heard the bilingual quote “To have another language is to possess a second soul” by Charlemagne? One of the benefits of being bilingual can mean that you see the world in different ways. Some even say that speaking two different languages can sometimes feel like having two different personalities.

Bilinguals are used to constant change. This means that they are usually less effected by changes in the environment, and more open minded to new things and new experiences, because they have more than one view of the world already.

6. Speaking a foreign language can be highly beneficial when you travel

Of course you can get around many countries without speaking the language. However, think of how much more you can experience if you speak the local language of the place you are visiting. No need for a phrase book or a translation app on the phone. Being able to communicate with the locals and immerse yourself in the language and culture can make your travel experience so much more enjoyable.

7. Being Bilingual opens up new social opportunities

Bilinguals can make friends in more than one language meaning more opportunities to meet new people, and enjoy different hobbies and activities. Being able to communicate with people from other cultures is a huge social advantage and can open up so many more doors in life.

8. Knowing more than one language helps you to learn additional languages

An amazing benefit of being bilingual is that you can learn additional languages more easily that monolinguals. This is because language skills reinforce each other. So if you have learned a second language already, then learning a third means transferring those skills over.

9. Being bilingual means you can raise bilingual kids

What better advantage, than being able to pass on your languages to your own children so they can reap the benefits of being bilingual too! Give your children the best start in life and raise them bilingual from birth. Your bilingual kids can then have bilingual kids of their own and languages can be passed on through generations.

10. You are not the minority if you are bilingual

One of the biggest misconceptions is that bilingualism is a rare phenomenon. But, in fact being bilingual means you are NOT the minority.  More than half the world speaks more than one language on a daily basis. In many countries around the world, bilingualism is actually considered the norm, and I’m sure it won’t be long until the rest of the world catches on. Everyone should have the chance to learn a second language and reap the benefits of being bilingual.

 

Source: bilingualkidspot.com

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How Students Can Use Technology To Improve Their English

How Students Can Use Technology To Improve Their English

It’s no secret that technology has become more central in our everyday lives than ever before. It helps us in every aspect of our lives, from health and fitness to creativity and social communication. As we discussed, an estimated 22 million students are benefiting from…

It’s no secret that technology has become more central in our everyday lives than ever before. It helps us in every aspect of our lives, from health and fitness to creativity and social communication. As we discussed, an estimated 22 million students are benefiting from the online distance learning industry, which is worth around $70 billion (£45 billion). But how can students benefit from today’s technological advancements in the four skill areas to make their learning as well rounded as possible? Find out below.

Reading

With the rise of iPads, tablets and e-readers like the Kindle, we’ve come accustomed to a more interactive reading experience, which is a wonderful feature for English learners. Functions like click-to-define, vocabulary builders, and downloading whole texts at the touch of a button are all beneficial to a learner looking for a fun and effective way to improve their reading and writing in particular. It can help to expand your vocabulary and expose you to different sentence structures: start by reading our pick of nine great novels to improve your English.

Writing

One of the most well-known technological advancements for writing is the unassuming word processor. Simple tools such as a dictionary and a thesaurus help writers expand their vocabulary, while spelling- and grammar-checkers are helpful to find and correct errors. Moving forward to the internet age and online forums are a widely used channel for learners to communicate and learn from one another using the written word. This is also a great alternative for those who don’t have the opportunity to converse with a native speaker face to face.

Listening

They began as simple audio on a cassette tape and today’s audiobooks have taken over the literary world. As we found in our global survey of 6,000 English language learners, 44% of respondents said speaking was the most difficult aspect of learning English. When it comes to improving both comprehension and speaking skills, extensive listening is highly recommended. Listening to and reading text at the same time is a great way to start and Kindle’s Whispersync for Voice technology is designed for just this purpose. It includes audio with selected books, so you can listen and follow the text as you read. Podcasts are also becoming more popular with English learners, with the ability to listen anytime, anywhere, and English language podcasts are a great way to improve your listening skills. Here are some popular podcasts to try: Listen to English by Peter Carter, Elementary Podcasts by the British Council and Luke’s English Podcast.

Speaking

Giving learners the advantage of communicating in real-time conversations with English speakers, probably the most exciting (and futuristic) technological advancement has come in the form of Skype and FaceTime. Tools such as video-conferencing also offer teachers the opportunity to link to other classes around the world, also gaining support from other teachers and students.

There are many new apps on the market for speaking with other learners, such as CoffeeStrap and HelloTalk – meaning you can converse with native speakers right from your phone. No webcam required anymore! These technological advancements can help you advance in your English learning; you just need to take advantage of them and they’re right at your fingertips.

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