“English is such an easy language to learn, you will manage it in a short time!” – goes a common advice of those who have learned English.
Nothing doing! It may seem easy but only for beginners. English attracts with a seeming lack of complexity and simple forms: only 2 cases, two articles, simple sentences…
What a great delusion! Being one of the richest languages with about 1 Million words English has a complex structure when it comes to an advanced level.
The mastery of speaking English lays in saying 20 words in a sentence of 10. It does not mean you should say 3 words in a sentence. You should be able to say a lot saying little – actually the highest art of communication!
For the native speakers of Russian, German, French or others it is almost an impossible task. The secret lays in a syntactic structure of English.
That resembles a pyramid: the shorter the sentence the better! Linguists call English analytic language. Analytic languages have stricter and more elaborate syntactic rules.
Languages like German, Russian, Italian, French having quite a similar grammatical structure are called synthetic. Synthetic languages are longing for wide, solemn sentences with playful arrangements. Even a glance at any translation will give you an immediate idea of it: any Russian translation of an English text has got the double size! It resembles a pyramid upside down.
I remember the tough classes on Russian-English translation when we had to make a short sentence out of a long one. And it was possible!
One has to know some tricks and have a certain language sensitivity. I have not mastered it yet though…
There is obviously much more behind the mystery of the English language, but when you get this crucial point of its analytical structure you will enjoy the true beauty of English!
I had no idea English was so complicated.
Maybe if I spoke a second language, I’d appreciate English more.
I have heard that english is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. There are so many contradictions and exceptionns in the language that it makes the learner confused. The more I get older the less I begin to appriciate English. If one speaks a second, or third language (I speak three other languages aside from English), they start to realize that English is a bland language. I don’t find it to be beautiful at all. Its colourless. The best way to judge a language is by its poetry. I don’t find the poetry in English to be all that expressive. Even though there may be a million words (as claimed above), there is only so much you can say in English. Its not a liberating language, rather it is a confining one. I thank God that I speak other languages (ones that are poetic by nature). Otherwise I would be stuck in a black and white room for the rest of my life.
Mastmalang, I agree with on many points!
But this is exactly the thing: English seem to be convenient for communication, and not by chance it is winning all other the world.
But you right it lack poetical feeling. Absolutely!!! Although there is brilliant poetry as of Shakespear and William Blacke, English can not show so many color shades…
The reason may be that the Anglo-Saxon culture does not suggest much expression, emotions, all these things…
And exactly because you speak some other – most probably synthetic – languages you do not like to go into analytic forms.
Therefore I also try to learn more languages to discover the variety!
About 1 Million words: it is only recently that English is being enriched so much, and the reason IS THE INFLUENCE of other languages! So there is a good hope that we can bring new words in 🙂
Dont be a passive user, enrich YOUR English and share it with us!
We can no longer speak of one English language – there is now a whole family of what the academics call World Englishes, each of which add additional elements into the mix…
I will definitely show this post to my students with whom we are studying English (to encourage them 🙂 ). Many of them started to study English because they need it for business and traveling. And actually they made themselves start because they thought it would not be a great deal to learn English (What is English comparing to our native language, Russian! exclaimed they). That was a delusion. It is easy to take all the rules – English is like mathematic formulae – but then time comes to put the rules together for the idea to be expressed correctly. And the mastering of this skill takes time.
[…] post “The Confusing Easiness of the English Language” inspired me to write some words on languages as well. She has raised the idea that some […]
I was so much inspired by the ideas you have raised in your post that I decided to develop it a little bit
[…] beauty of German is different from the melody of Italian or heart-penetrating English. To discover the beauty of German one should read Herman Hesse (even better is to listen to his […]
[…] beauty of German is different from the melody of Italian or heart-penetrating English. To discover the beauty of?German?one should read Herman Hesse (even better is to listen to his […]
If you think English is hard try Chinese or something…now that’s hard!
I’ve read before somewhere that English is a synthetic language(at least that was the impression). Upon reading your claim, I searched the web again and found the opposite result of my previous finding!
Nevertheless, English is definitely more analytic than most European languages, I think the best way to describe English is “fairly analytic”. Of course no language is completely analytic, but English is still not as analytic as let’s say, Chinese. =)
Just some thoughts to share, hope they are of some interests:
The difficulty of Chinese is only a delusion. There is no grammar in Chinese. And I myself never had the slightest difficulties in learning it. Chinese has to be the easiest language (among major lagnguages), at least regarding basic Chinese. I heard that Harvard university used to have a programm that could train people to speak Chinese in half a year.
English shouldn’t be considered difficult either. It took me less than three months to “figure out” its grammar, and wrote passable essays a little later (though recieved a C, but it was a history class.). English seems much structural, and doesn’t have the etherial quality of some other languages like Chinese and, I suppose, Thai. Its “richness” is mostly in its larger volcabuary, yet this is precisely a consequence of its lack of character so that it could absord words from other languages without loosing itself. English literature is intellectual but aesthetical, that is, mindful but beautiful.
A professor of mine who spoke six European languages told me that among the six only Russian was the truely distinctive one, and was difficult. And I heard that Sanscrit is very difficult and it reqires specific talent to master it!
So a Russian book is twice as thick as its English version?! Likely the opposite is true with Chinese! If with traditional Chinese (before 1919 or so), it could be 1/3 as thick! But modern Chinese is more clumsy.
Ulam (a well-know Physicist involved in making the A-bomb) claimed that over the same idea, English is always a understatement, German is an overstatement, French and Polish (Ulam’s native) are just right.
Thanks for this very interesting article, Axinia.
I’m not a linguist and I know only two-and-a-half languages but I agree with you, Axinia. When I was doing English-French and French-English translations in school, I noticed that the English versions were always a bit shorter than the French ones. Even if you look at a product catalogue that carries instructions in many languages, the shortest version is always in English!
One of my English teachers used to say, “English is a funny language” 🙂
I am really surprised to read this: there is no grammar in Chinese. This is the first time I’m hearing that a language does not have grammar, but it could be because of my ignorance. Even a simple language like Bahasa Indonesia has its own grammar.
I will figure it out with Chinese grammer 🙂 There is surely some, but it might be really different…
[…] The confusing easiness of English Language […]
chinese has the simplest and easiest grammar of any language I’ve tried to learn, no doubt. it makes up for it with the difficulty of its writing system.
I enjoyed the discussion very much. However, I would like to elaborate a little about Chinese. I am by no means fluent in the language and it is certainly not my mother tongue. I have been studying it in the past 3 years so I have some familiarity with it. There are few things which I think should be recognized about its seeming “lack of grammar”. While it is true that Chinese does not posses the usual verb conjugation and past-present-future issues as other language, it will be a little misleading to say it does not have grammar. As someone who just begins to speak the language this attribute may seems incredibly appealing. But, after a while, you will realized that grammar-like structure is most certainly present and makes the life of the learner fairly difficult. Being understood, rather than understand, is the really difficult part. What Chinese have is “Sentence Structures”. They particular ways of saying certain things. If you don’t know those “Sentence Structures” you will have very hard time being understood (beyond trivial conversations). If you think the exceptional verbs in english are a nuisance, just wait till you meet those “Sentence Structure” in Chinese. It is not often discussed, but it prevails throughout the language. Very often, upon requesting an explanation, you will be replied by: “this is just the way we say it”. And you just have to memorize it.
Anyways, my point is just that the lack of grammar is somewhat misleading. Really learning the language and being understood is far less trivial than seems at first.
Thanks for the interesting discussion everyone.
[…] because English, lacking the poetical beauty and linguistic ornaments remains so crystal-clear, so absolute, so perfect, as only the Spirit can […]
Just wanted to share some interesting phrases in English which are usually used by Non native people:
– Russians : Very Many 😉 –> They use it a lot.
– Germans : I Don’t know NOTHING about it !!! —>means: ” I don’t know ANYTHING about it ;)”
– Indians : 21 years of age –> Indians are good speakers, I must admit …
– Iranians : He married TO her –> he married her 😉
add if you know some more, just for fun …
cool 🙂 and true!
I disagree when people say English isn’t poetic. English literature is regarded all around the world as having some of the best literature. English people weren’t so blessed in Music and Artwork but we have a talent for writing. Have any of you read Wuthering Heights? the poetry of John Keats? The English language is beautiful in verse! I am fluent in French and Spanish and I think English has the best literature and poetry out of the three. That’s just my opinion though. 🙂
Non native speakers now vastly outnumber native speakers – I think in a ratio of 3 to 1 . So it is believed that non native speakers will eventually change the grammar of what is regarded as correct or standard English. So the good news is that common “errors” such as “He phoned to her” or ” lets discuss about this subject ” or ” could you give me some advices” , may become correct English in the future. We might even do away with the problematic 3rd person singular “s” ! : ) And of course everyone will “take a coffee” to celebrate : ) !
hahha, good, Erwin! this is what is happening everywhere with the impact of English, by the way 🙂 Russian already has changed a lot under this recent influence.
We are all in the melting pot and the languages will melt and transform too. Hopefully their beauty and richness will remain after this “simplification”.
Yes, Axinia , I too hope that our languages won’t lose their beauty and richness.