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English is full of silly things too

It is easy to get frustrated with language-learning, especially when much of the language translates fairly directly into English but occasionally something just doesn't.

There's a good chance English is your native language if you're on this forum, but I know that is not the case for everyone here, and I am curious to hear from those of you who learned English as a second language on what parts of English you find/found difficult. And for those like me who have always spoken English, it is good to remind ourselves that sometimes the reason things don't translate well between one language and the other is because the English version is the one that's stupid. ;)

I was thinking about the phrase "a lot" recently. We use it a lot (ha!) without a second thought, but it's a completely weird construction. It's a noun with an indefinite article that is frequently used as an adverb: "thanks a lot", "that helped a lot", etc. I see people in the French exercises complaining about things like "tout à fait" that need to be remembered as a unit (essentially thought of as a single word), and I don't think "a lot" is any different.

We also have a ridiculously inconsistent set of rules when it comes to pronouncing written words. I imagine this is due in part to the mish-mash of languages English has borrowed from.

Awhile back in a discussion thread, I was asking about difficulties with English, and Sitesurf pointed out an interesting one, which is prepositions added onto basic verbs: for instance, "lay about", "lay off", "lay aside", "get along", "get used to". I had never really thought about it before, but I think that would frustrate the heck out of me if I was learning English from another language.

Anyway, that's just a couple of things. I am curious to know what people who have learned English (or maybe have just thought about it too much) found to be the hard or seemingly illogical parts of the language.

4 years ago

17 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/BellaLibellula

During high school we had some exchange students. One from Italy, Ecuador, and China. I became close friends with them and we had a few of these conversations. Basically, English is a ridiculous language. Ha! I feel sorry for those who want to learn it. We have a very loose rule structure, we're lazy (meaning informal with our language), and we make up nearly everything we pronounce. I say that with only love my fellow English speaking Americans specifically - our language is ridiculous.

A quick, funny story. The Italian and I were talking about the China girl and how we wanted to get her out of the house when her host family did not want her out that night. My Italian friend said, "Well, I don't want to screw her." Being American, and also 16, this had us all laughing and he was left confused. While he was trying to say that he didn't want to get her in trouble, we explained to him that screw had an alternative, much more sexual meaning. His response, "Damn you Americans! You have too many words for having sex!!".

Needless to say, I'm sorry for those learning English. :P

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/olimo
olimo
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This is indeed a problem with English: for many words there are too many meanings. One can get used to guessing them by context, but it takes much more practice to learn using them.

When I learned English, dictionary entries for words like "get", "set", "put", "make" scared me. How on Earth can a simple short word have so many meanings and how am I going to learn all those additional meanings with prepositions?

I've never had to learn dictionary entries by heart, though, so this was more of a bewilderment than of an actual problem. Overall, I didn't have much pain with English at school, and later I read a lot, so by now I know many things I've never learned consciously - they just seem natural to me.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/smearedink

"Sex slang" would probably be a legitimately useful unit in every language on Duolingo. I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to be implemented, though!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/queendeeny

I remember years ago when I first showed my new baby daughter to my brother-in-law who is Swiss and was just learning English, he took one look at my bundle of joy and said, "She is worthless!" I was so dismayed until I realized he meant "priceless." It was hard to explain the difference between the two words when price and worth mean pretty much the same.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Samsta
Samsta
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I totally agree with everything you said. I've been thinking about strange parts of English for a long time now, all thanks to Duolingo. Also, I never before realized how often people say "There's" when they should say "There are," and now it annoys me more than you could imagine.

I absolutely love that the pronunciation in Spanish so simple. There are rules that, if you follow, will enable you to pronounce any word without ever having heard it before. In English, there are so many exceptions that I don't even know why we say that we have pronunciation rules; they're more like suggestions :P

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BellaLibellula

Haha, 'They're more like suggestions." This sums up English perfectly. :D

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/smearedink

"There's" in place of "there are" is the sort of thing that bugs me a lot if I see it written (except in informal scenarios like internet chat) but I'll forgive it in spoken language.

I'll also forgive mixing up "there", "their", and "they're" in spoken language. ;)

That's another fun thing when learning a language, though--figuring out what is and isn't acceptable in spoken language compared to written language. That's also interesting to think about--written language is an invention based on spoken language, with the rules coming from what "sounded right" at some point to some group of people, presumably in the wealthier (and therefore educated) classes. Some obscure dialect of English that may be nearly incomprehensible to most of us isn't "incorrect English", in that it is a natural language that people learn and use to communicate, it's just somewhat different from the version of English used by the people who make the written rules.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wazzie
wazzie
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One of my favorite 'englishisms' is the way we use and pronounce read.
"Please read this book" "I have already read it!".

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/smearedink

Yes, and yet we have different spellings for "lead" and "led"... and to make matters worse, the metal lead is spelled like one and pronounced like the other.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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I remember in one of my linguistic courses discussing the massive linguistic conundrum provided by "up", with numerous meanings that don't actually have anything to do with position. "Hold up", "break up", "put up with", "shut up", "give up" are just a few examples, as well as "make up", "mix up", "sum up" (as used by other users within this thread).

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dessamator
Dessamator
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I recall when I was learning English, it had some weird rules. Some of the words I originally struggled with was "isle", answer, facsimile, and the worse was "sharpener" (as in the thing used to sharpen pencils). My colleagues used to say it so quickly that I could not even hear what they said. Then there is chewing gum, they pronounced it something like "shuingam". That actually reminded my of another odd word, "shenanigans".

I was very young and I initially hated English when I learnt it. Eventually, due to the age and being in a school where every subject was English (except for the second language), I got used to it. The strange thing is that I became more interested in learning English rather than my own language, and eventually I started liking English more simply because conjugating words was waaay simpler. Also there were no silly accents and no need to remember where the heck they needed to be placed.

But if you want a good tale of accents, ask any arabic speaker to tell you about his/her language, some accents force you to pull your voice as if you're singing.

The day I really realised how bad my vocabulary was when I was offered a children's book, "Bevis" by Richard Jefferies, I tried reading a couple of pages and after every few words I found a word I couldn't understand. This made me so annoyed that from that day up to today I still have the book, but have never finished reading it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LingPenguin
LingPenguin
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Something that's really fun to do is to go through the tree of the language you're learning to English. The Spanish speakers learning English are often struggling with the difference between doing and making, since they only have the one word "hacer" for both. Then you go to the English to Spanish course and watch the English speakers struggle with the two different words for the verb "to be", and the two different words for "for".

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Comradesev

You can blame that on the French invasion, English was much more closer to other Germanic languages in the past.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/arethusa

True. Have you ever looked at Beowulf (c. 10th century?) in the original written language? It looks a lot like German, only almost unintelligible. But if you use the pronunciation guides it starts to sound enough like English that you can just get a feel for what it's talking about. I think it's about what the Saxons would have spoken then, and remember they came from (among other places) Saxony.

One thing I've always found interesting is that when the Normans invaded, Norman French became the language of the the King and the nobles who ran the country. But Saxons, who were the dominant inhabitants, would to a large part have kept their own language, but had to learn French to understand their rulers (occupiers?). That's why today English is a lot like German, but also has a lot of French in it.

Anyway, Robert of Locksley, (Robin Hood of the legend) was supposed to have been a dispossessed Saxon noble so would have spoken something similar to Beowulf. But the Sheriff of Nottingham, as the ruling class, would have spoken Norman French. Having fought with Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusades, Locksley probably also spoke French, but it's probable that Little John, Will Scarlett et all as commoners only spoke Saxon and might not have understood the Sheriff.

I've often wondered why language differences didn't become part of the legend, because they must have existed. English as a language of its own didn't exist at the time.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/smearedink

Old English and even Middle English are very much like different languages (though, as you say, you can sometimes hear the English a little if its pronounced correctly). A lot of people think "Shakespeare" when you say Old English, but in fact Shakespeare's English is considered modern.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MystyrNile
MystyrNile
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I think the best way to think about the verb-preposition thing is to think of them as new verbs. "throw", "throw out", "throw up", "throw down", "throw away", etc are all different words, practically.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Paul592108

I now how it feels to get mixed up with different languages when your trying to learn this one but you don't want to for get this one, so I now how it feels like. I was born in Germany and moved to Calgary and everyone in my school spoke a totally different language. I was so caught up in my English I forgot about my German and I soon lost it. (Meaning by not speaking it again)

1 year ago