Wednesday, December 12, 2012

English is More Complicated Than I Thought

It's not until you teach English that you realize how complicated it really is!  In addition to my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes, I am tutoring students from ages 2-40 in English.  I know this is said a lot, but I'm honestly learning just as much from them as they are from me!  First of all, my students and I hit mini language barriers on a regular basis, which usually results in us looking up a certain word or phrase in Spanish or English.  The result?  I'm expanding my Spanish vocabulary through our confusion!  In addition to that, I am constantly challenged to recall English grammar rules that I either learned long ago or learned innately through speaking it as my first language.  If you are having trouble understanding what I am trying to explain, here are some of examples of extremely challenging parts English language you may have never though of as difficult.

-The word "get" is a simple word we use on a regular basis, but what does it really mean?  Well, according to, it has 25 different definitions!  In the following phrases, get means something different in every sentence: "Can you get me that glass?" "I've got to go" "Get dressed" "Get up" "I use my bike to get around" "I need to get my hair cut" "Sorry, I didn't get your name" "Get after it."  I could keep going, but you get the idea (no pun intended).

-One of my older students asked me what the verb "scoop" meant the other day, and I was stumped.  The first example that came to my mind was scooping ice cream.  But then I thought, you can also "scoop" someone up into your arms, but how is that any different than just picking someone up?  So the only way I could think to describe it was picking up in a circular motion.

-We all know that the pronunciation of a word can change its meaning, but how confusing is it when where you put the stress on two identical words changes it from a verb to a noun.  For example:  construct vs construct, and direct vs direct just to name a few.

-Riddle me this, why in English if you say, "I'm up for that" or "I'm down for that" does it mean the same thing?  Shouldn't it be opposite

-One of the hardest things I've encountered is when you come across a word or a phrase that literally doesn't exist in English.  I have two examples.  The verb "to lean" doesn't exist in Spanish; if you're leaning against something, they would say that object is supporting you and if you're just leaning in the air they would call that stretching.  The second example is the saying "let alone."  Sometimes we say something like, I haven't even showered, let alone get out of bed; however, there is no equivalent in Spanish.  You can imagine how difficult this makes teaching these words and phrases

Well I would keep listing examples all day but I'd be here all night!  Instead, I will leave you with my favorite "English Pronunciation" poem.  As you read it, think about how similar spellings can be pronounced so many different ways!  You'll be thankful English is your first language

"I take it you already know 
Of tough and bough and cough and dough? 
Others may stumble, but not you 
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through. 
Well don't! And now you wish, perhaps, 
To learn of less familiar traps. 
Beware of heard, a dreadful word 
That looks like beard but sounds like bird. 
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead, 
For goodness sake don't call it deed! 
Watch out for meat and great and threat 
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt). 
A moth is not a moth as in mother 
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother, 
And here is not a match for there, 
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear. 
And then there's dose and rose and lose-- 
Just look them up--and goose and choose 
And cork and work and card and ward 
And font and front and word and sword 
And do and go, then thwart and cart, 
Come, come! I've hardly made a start. 
A dreadful Language? Why man alive! 
I learned to talk it when I was five. 
And yet to write it, the more I tried, 
I hadn't learned it at fifty-five."

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