English as a global language
Dan Dascalescu, July 2017
I am a native Romanian speaker, and English is my second language. Since 2008, I have been advocating for a very simple cause. It has been helping us communicate better, work and play together better, and become a more united mankind:
The world would be a better place if everyone spoke a common language.
What should that language be? English? Chinese? Esperanto? Should people stop learning the language of their country?
Why a global language?
I've been studying the topic of a global language since 1998, when I started the complicated process of immigrating into the US. My background includes a professional translator accreditation, two translated books, and six years in the localization/globalization industry, of which four at Yahoo!.
Here are some major advantages of the world using a global language for communication that goes beyond one's immediate surroundings.
Languages have killed millions of people and cost billions of dollars
Many armed conflicts and international crises have been started by slight mis-translations. Have a look at this compilation - Has a poor translation ever caused a war or other serious crisis?. And remember, these are only the documented cases.
Translation errors have also caused serious financial loss, embarrassment in the media, and much human suffering.
And of course, translation, editing and proofreading have staggering monetary costs - almost $100B/year. In other words, we pay an annual tax of $100B/year because we haven't been able to unify our languages. That is a lot of money. $100B can feed a billion school-aged children for an entire year. Only $36B/year would have halved global hunger by 2015.
Unfortunately, we seem to be completely oblivious to this choice we're actively making.
Languages make knowledge inaccessible
Just consider the huge amount of online and offline knowledge that's simply unavailable to you for the silly reason that it's written in a language you don't understand. Should we encourage this status quo by promoting the learning of more languages so that people can generate more knowledge in more languages? Should we keep translating from the most common languages into a myriad of other languages?
How about instead we focus on one language, and better knowledge, for instance by making it as easy as possible to learn that language, and by translating knowledge into it?
Standards are good. Languages scoff at that.
Did straying away from standards ever help in the long run? Aren't you glad all power outlets are the same in your country and hate it when you can't plug your device in an incompatible outlet because you need an adapter? Language is pretty much the same: a vehicle for communicating ideas among humans. I claim that ideas are more important than language itself.
Italian plugs and Chinese outlet. Notice that even the Italian plugs have different prong sizes and distances between them.
Learning other languages but English is an economic and time waste
Economic studies have shown that for US English speakers, learning Spanish, French or German has a very low return on investment - between 1.5% and 4% annually. Keep in mind that learning a language is a very intensive process - high school students spend about 1/6 of their time learning foreign languages, yet only 1% of Americans claim they speak another language fluently (which suggests the number who actually do, is even smaller). So overall, learning foreign languages is an economic waste.
Learning English on the other hand, has an annual ROI of 10-20%, according to studies in Russia, Israel and Turkey.
Where we are today
Today, it appears that the language with the best chances of becoming the global language is English:
Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca, is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language in communications, science, information technology, business, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy. [...] A working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of fields, occupations and professions such as medicine and computing; as a consequence over a billion people speak English to at least a basic level. It is one of the six offici languages of the United Nations.
-- Wikipedia: English language, Significance
In the software realm, all programming languages and libraries use English keywords. Any significant software project with globally distributed developers has its comments and documentation written in English. We live in a world more and more driven by software, and the prevalence of English in software development cannot be neglected. An excellent post on this topic was written by Jeff Atwood, one of the founders of famouse programming Q&A site StackOverflow (mirror)
Generally speaking, English is the universal language on the Internet [...] The position of English can only be altered by major world-scale political and economical changes, such as increasing importance of the European Union or a coalition between Japan and China.
-- English - the universal language on the Internet?
English is without a doubt the actual universal language. It is the world's second largest native language, the official language in 70 countries, and English-speaking countries are responsible for about 40% of world's total GNP.English can be at least understood almost everywhere among scholars and educated people, as it is the world media language, and the language of cinema, TV, pop music and the computer world. All over the planet people know many English words, their pronunciation and meaning.
-- English as a Universal Language
I am talking in English because it is the modern Latin.
-- Pope John Paul II reported in the Sunday Telegraph, 1 December, 1985.
About nine-in-ten second-generation Hispanic and Asian-American immigrants are proficient English speakers, substantially more than the immigrant generations of these groups.
-- Pew, 2013
I have presented this argument in numerous public forum entries and collected the feedback. There seems to be a consensus among my opponents that everyone speaking a common language would be beneficial for humanity, but however, that language should not necessarily be English! Therefore, I'll skip expanding on why a common global language would be beneficial. I'll instead challenge my opponents to explain exactly what language should become universal, and how they'd go about teaching it to the whole world.
I'll address below several common criticisms my proposal has received; feedback is welcome. Before replying, please read my argument in its entirety, and click hyperlinks when not familiar with the hyperlinked item.
Advocating English as a universal language is ethnocentric
I am not advocating the propagation of English culture (particularly not pop culture). I advocate teaching English purely as a vehicle for worldwide human communication. I don't advocate my native language for this position, and I'm curious which non-English speakers would seriously advocate their own language. So far, the second best candidate would be Mandarin Chinese as a spoken language and Classical Chinese as the written form, but that's thanks to China's huge population. I don't think any Chinese speaker in their right mind would advocate learning tens of thousands of characters. China's own government realized the problem and has issued a number of simplification reforms.
We already have significantly different cultures using English, which shows that culture can be decoupled from language: India (which had to choose English over several mutually unintelligible dialects), the United States (many subcultures), the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand.
The point is that for a universal language you have to either invent one, or make a pick among languages. I'll demonstrate below why I think the best pick would be English.
English is a bad choice for a universal language
English is full of irregularities, its spelling is counter-phonetic (which explains why even native speakers have such a terrible time spelling it), there are all sorts of dialects from Aussie to Ebonics, and it's full of slang. If people prefer to learn Esperanto, I'm very fine with that. Interlingua would be even easier to learn. Work has also been done on simplified and normalized versions of English.
However, English is still a very simple and easy language to learn, compared to Asian languages (with the notable exception of Bahasa Indonesia). Even when compared to major Romance languages, such as French, Spanish and Portuguese, English has simpler grammar, in particular much simpler verb conjugations. English has no gender or number inflection for adjectives, articles and adverbs. More details about how much simpler English grammar really is can be found in this article by Carlos Carrion Torres.
Finally, English is (sadly for some), the most popular candidate, as I indicated in the very beginning of this article. Also,
As a non-native speaker you are always an outsider. [...] If you want to get noticed in your field, you absolutely have to publish in English.
-- from a University of Michigan article.
Dismissing this argument as ad numerum won't help with the reality of how widespread English is.
It would be too boring/homogeneous if everyone spoke English
The more you travel, the more you realize this argument doesn't hold much water. Have you experienced the grit and intensity of New York City, vs. the laid back atmosphere in Hawaii? How about the technology and startup obsession in Silicon Valley, vs. the relaxed music-filled evenings in Nashville or Austin? All these cities not only speak English, but they're in the same country. Yet they are so, so different.
Language is only one dimension of what makes the world an amazingly diverse place. I'd argue that if we all understood each other, we could travel the world much more freely, wouldn't feel as isolated in a "foreign" place as we do now if we don't speak the local language, and the world would actually become even more diverse, with people flowing without the language barrier and bringing their culture along to share.
There are far more interesting regional aspects than language: culture, geography, society, cuisine, customs etc. Culture is translatable to a very high degree - most people have read some of the Bible even though its language isn't anyone's native tongue any more. What I'm advocating for is skipping this translation phase and sharing a common language to unite us.
Culture would be lost
Indeed, some cultural aspect are hard to translate. One of them is humor. Some jokes (notably puns) just don't make sense in another language. However, most do. Here's a Romanian joke for your enjoyment:
The husband and the wife are driving in their car, mad at each other.
At one point, the pass by a bunch of pigs.
The husband points his head at the pigs: "Relatives of yours?"
The wife replies: "Yes, in-laws".
On a more serious note, let's look at how culture wouldn't be that lost, taking as an example the Chinese culture. Now, Chinese culture that's not translated in English is only accessible to Chinese speakers. For all others, it's as good as lost. If future Chinese speakers keep writing in Chinese, more culture will be lost. If, as I propose, everyone learns English as well, those Chinese writers will realize they can expose their culture to a much larger audience if they write in English.
To clarify my point: I propose mandatory education in a universal language (English, nowadays) starting with every child's general education. After 4 generations, assuming that everyone spoke the same language (be it English or Esperanto):
- existing works in some language X are lost anyway to those who don't speak language X, regardless of whether everyone speaks (also) English or not
- which is easier, and propagates culture more: translating from language X into tons of languages A, B, C etc., or translating into just English? Yes, that presupposes that the audience can read English, which is in the interest of the audience anyway, in today's hyper-competitive world.
Learning another language is "fun", a good challenge and helps expand your thinking.
This is something I agree with. However, not all languages are equal. If you're keen on learning a spoken language, it has been demonstrated that Esperanto is about 6 times as beneficial to learn as English:
What Helmar Frank's research at Paderborn and for the San Marino International Academy of Sciences shows is that one year of Esperanto in school, which produces a communication ability equivalent to what the average pupil reaches in other European languages after six to seven years of study, accelerates and improves the learning of other languages after Esperanto.
-- from Propaedeutic value of Esperanto.
But, if you actually want to develop your thinking, then learning a programming language is much more beneficial to one's intellect and rigorous thinking, than learning another human language.
Machine translation will solve the language problem anyway
With the advent of deep learning and AI, machine translation has become spooky good.
That is, in fact, and argument to not learn any other languages for reason other than sheer fun.
Painful examples of how not using English results in #FAIL
Below are examples I've personally encountered of how not using English is simply foolish.
Asking in some local language for help with software
This wiki is powered by a piece of software called MojoMojo, that I work on, along with other people spread all over the world. We use English in the code and documentation, and to communicate among ourselves.
Recently, a user encountered trouble, and posted his question on his blog, in Russian. How short-sighted is that?
- he limited the pool of people who could answer the question to those who understood Russian (perhaps one or two people in our team), or who bothered to machine-translate the page
- assuming he gets an answer, other users who search the web for the same issue, but using English or any other language than Russian, will never find it
As of a week since the user posted the question, he has not received any answers.
Marketing to thousands of computer pros? Consider using English
HAR2009 was an international security and technology conference held in the Netherlands, reuniting thousands of information technology professionals. Yet this particular restaurant advertised their pizza special deal in Dutch:
Life-saving information... in German only
Germany's and Europe's largest automobile club, ADAC, has conducted hundreds of crash tests on hundreds of vehicles. For the informed car buyer, the car crash test results are life-saving information... in German! Since this information can be accessed for free anyway, why did ADAC not just publish it in English?
The following are not strong counter-arguments:
- You can use Google Translate to translate the page anyway. On the same token, you could use Google Translate and have everyone publish in their obscure language, but Google Translate is machine translation, still far from a human translation ("The front crumple zone of the A4 digested the shock [...]"). Also, by keeping the text in German, users websearching for crash tests will never come across this resource.
- It's ADAC's information and they can do whatever they want with it. Sure, ADAC has no duty to translate their findings, but we're talking about crucial safety information here. They could be considerate to the rest of the world who doesn't speak the superior German language.
- You can read through the information in German anyway, it's mostly car model names and star-ratings. True, at the first superficial look. But there's interesting information about each crash test, which savvy (German-speaking only!) customers can use.
- Translation has its costs. But so does crashing luxury cars in order to determine safety ratings. By publishing information in English, other testing agencies worldwide may not need to repeat the same crash tests. Even if safety standards vary from country to country, relative rankings will be the same (e.g. model X is safer at test Y than model Z).
Ask yourself what the economy would look like if every time companies from different countries tried to work together, they had to go through translation. Would any of the Internet giants exist, if their employees could basically not communicate with one another? Heck, I'm not sure the Internet would have spread outside of the US. Does anyone remember Minitel? It was "one of the world's most successful pre-World Wide Web online services" ... in France, and in French.
Let's stop this post-tower-of-Babel language mess. I myself have quit my job as a translator and stopped producing any public content in Romanian. What can you do?
Point out that learning a language takes YEARS. To those who want to learn a foreign language other than English: is your life so in order, and have you accomplished all your other goals, that this is the best thing left to do?
Point out that the huge amounts spent by multi-billion dollar companies on translation would be better spent on educating children in poor countries (if you haven't clicked any link so far, click this one - it's a superb inspirational YouTube music video clip).
If you are a bilingual speaker, write all globally-relevant public content in English (even blogs about your city in Japan - there may be international tourists looking for information about it). This will also help yourself and your readership pick up more English.
When asked to translate something from English, consider imparting some English knowledge to the asker.
If you are learning a language other than English, double-check your reasons. Learning some basic expressions is always useful, and will earn you the appreciation of the locals, but is it worth embarking on learning the whole language?
If you have the resources, or just want to experience a radically different culture (Peace Corps anyone?) consider teaching English to children:
Spread this idea!
See you in 50 years. I hope you will have made a difference. I trust that natural selection, applied to languages, will.
Showing changes from previous revision. |
by Dan Dascalescu, 2017-09-26
"ESL" redirects here. For other uses, see ESL (disambiguation).
English as a second or foreign language is the use of English by speakers with different native languages. Instruction for English-language learners may be known as English as a second language (ESL), English as a foreign language (EFL), English as an additional language (EAL), or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL). English as a foreign language (EFL) is used for non-native English speakers learning English in a country where English is not commonly spoken.
The term ESL has been seen by some to indicate that English would be of secondary importance. For example, where English is used as a Lingua Franca in a multilingual country. The term ESL can be a misnomer for some students who have learned several languages before learning English. The terms English Language Learners (ELL), and more recently English Learners (EL), have been used instead, and the students’ home language and cultures are considered important.
The way English learners are instructed depends on their level of English proficiency and the program contents provided in their school or district. In some programs, instructions are taught in both, English and their home language. In other programs, instructions are given in English, but contextualized in a manner that is comprehensible to the students (Wright, 2010). Adapting comprehension, insight oriented repetitions and recasts are some of the methods used in training. However, without proper cultural immersion (social learning grounds) the associated language habits and reference points (internal mechanisms) of the host country isn't completely transferred through these programs (Wright, 2010). To further complicate the syntax of the language is based on Latin grammar hence it suffers inconsistencies. The major engine that influences the language are the United States and the United Kingdom and they both have assimilated the language differently so they differ in expressions and usage. This is found in a great extent primarily in pronunciation and vocabulary. Variants of English language also exist in both of these countries (e.g. African American Vernacular English).
English as a language has great reach and influence; it is taught all over the world. In countries English as a second language training has evolved into two broad directions: instruction for people who intend to live in countries where English dominates and instruction for those who do not. These divisions have grown firmer as the instructors of these two "industries" have used different terminology, followed distinct training qualifications, formed separate professional associations, and so on. Crucially, these two arms have very different funding structures, public in the former and private in the latter, and to some extent this influences the way schools are established and classes are held.
Although English is the principal language in both the US and the United Kingdom, it differs between the two countries from their parent anglo-saxon roots. For example, some words and phrases that are inoffensive in the US are offensive in the UK and vice versa. Even if this language share Caucasian homogeneity there exists stark differences in the literary world. Some examples that showcases this differences are: "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language" (Oscar Wilde, in The Canterville Ghost). Similarly, Bertrand Russell said: "It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have a common language." Another similar variation attributed to George Bernard Shaw, is that England and America" are two countries [or nations] divided [or separated] by a common language [or tongue]."
Terminology and types
The many acronyms and abbreviations used in the field of English teaching and learning may be confusing and the following technical definitions may have their currency contested upon various grounds. The precise usage, including the different use of the terms ESL and ESOL in different countries, is described below. These terms are most commonly used in relation to teaching and learning English as a second language, but they may also be used in relation to demographic information.
English language teaching (ELT) is a widely used teacher-centered term, as in the English language teaching divisions of large publishing houses, ELT training, etc. Teaching English as a second language (TESL), teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) are also used.
Other terms used in this field include English as an international language (EIL), English as a lingua franca (ELF), English for special purposes and English for specific purposes (ESP), and English for academic purposes (EAP). Those who are learning English are often referred to as English language learners (ELL).
EFL, English as a foreign language, indicates the teaching of English in a non–English-speaking region. Study can occur either in the student's home country, as part of the normal school curriculum or otherwise, or, for the more privileged minority, in an anglophone country that they visit as a sort of educational tourist, particularly immediately before or after graduating from university. TEFL is the teaching of English as a foreign language; note that this sort of instruction can take place in any country, English-speaking or not. Typically, EFL is learned either to pass exams as a necessary part of one's education, or for career progression while one works for an organization or business with an international focus. EFL may be part of the state school curriculum in countries where English has no special status (what linguistic theorist Braj Kachru calls the "expanding circle countries"); it may also be supplemented by lessons paid for privately. Teachers of EFL generally assume that students are literate in their mother tongue. The Chinese EFL Journal and Iranian EFL Journal are examples of international journals dedicated to specifics of English language learning within countries where English is used as a foreign language.
English within English-speaking countries
The other broad grouping is the use of English within the English-speaking world. In what Braj Kachru calls "the inner circle", i.e., countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, this use of English is generally by refugees, immigrants, and their children. It also includes the use of English in "outer circle" countries, often former British colonies and the Philippines, where English is an official language even if it is not spoken as a mother tongue by a majority of the population.
In the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand this use of English is called ESL (English as a second language). This term has been criticized on the grounds that many learners already speak more than one language. A counter-argument says that the word "a" in the phrase "a second language" means there is no presumption that English is the second acquired language (see also Second language). TESL is the teaching of English as a second language. There are also other terms that it may be referred to in the US including: ELL (English Language Learner) and CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse).
In the UK and Ireland, the term ESL has been replaced by ESOL (English for speakers of other languages). In these countries TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) is normally used to refer to teaching English only to this group. In the UK and Ireland, the term EAL (English as an additional language) is used, rather than ESOL, when talking about primary and secondary schools, in order to clarify that English is not the students' first language, but their second or third. The term ESOL is used to describe English language learners who are above statutory school age.
Other acronyms were created to describe the person rather than the language to be learned. The term Limited English proficiency (LEP) was first used in 1975 by the Lau Remedies following a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. ELL (English Language Learner), used by United States governments and school systems, was created by James Crawford of the Institute for Language and Education Policy in an effort to label learners positively, rather than ascribing a deficiency to them. Recently, some educators have shortened this to EL – English Learner.
Typically, a student learns this sort of English to function in the new host country, e.g., within the school system (if a child), to find and hold down a job (if an adult), or to perform the necessities of daily life (cooking, taking a cab/public transportation, or eating in a restaurant, etc.). The teaching of it does not presuppose literacy in the mother tongue. It is usually paid for by the host government to help newcomers settle into their adopted country, sometimes as part of an explicit citizenship program. It is technically possible for ESL to be taught not in the host country, but in, for example, a refugee camp, as part of a pre-departure program sponsored by the government soon to receive new potential citizens. In practice, however, this is extremely rare. Particularly in Canada and Australia, the term ESD (English as a second dialect) is used alongside ESL, usually in reference to programs for Aboriginal peoples in Canadian or Australians. The term refers to the use of standard English by speakers of a creole or non-standard variety. It is often grouped with ESL as ESL/ESD.
All these ways of denoting the teaching of English can be bundled together into an umbrella term. Unfortunately, not all of the English teachers in the world would agree on just only a simply single term(s). The term TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) is used in American English to include both TEFL and TESL. This is also the case in Canada as well as in Australia and New Zealand. British English uses ELT (English language teaching), because TESOL has a different, more specific meaning; see above.
Systems of simplified English
Several models of "simplified English" have been suggested or developed for international communication, among them:
- Basic English, developed by Charles Kay Ogden (and later also I. A. Richards) in the 1930s; a recent revival has been initiated by Bill Templer
- Threshold Level English, developed by van Ek and Alexander
- Globish, developed by Jean-Paul Nerrière
- Basic Global English, developed by Joachim Grzega
- Nuclear English, proposed by Randolph Quirk and Gabriele Stein but never fully developed
Difficulties for learners
Language teaching practice often assumes that most of the difficulties that learners face in the study of English are a consequence of the degree to which their native language differs from English (a contrastive analysis approach). A native speaker of Chinese, for example, may face many more difficulties than a native speaker of German, because German is more closely related to English than Chinese. This may be true for anyone of any mother tongue (also called first language, normally abbreviated L1) setting out to learn any other language (called a target language, second language or L2). See also second language acquisition (SLA) for mixed evidence from linguistic research.
Language learners often produce errors of syntax, vocabulary, and pronunciation thought to result from the influence of their L1, such as mapping its grammatical patterns inappropriately onto the L2, pronouncing certain sounds incorrectly or with difficulty, and confusing items of vocabulary known as false friends. This is known as L1 transfer or "language interference". However, these transfer effects are typically stronger for beginners' language production, and SLA research has highlighted many errors which cannot be attributed to the L1, as they are attested in learners of many language backgrounds (for example, failure to apply 3rd person present singular -s to verbs, as in 'he make' not 'he makes').
Some students may have problems due to the incoherence in rules like were, a noun is a noun and a verb is a verb because grammarians say they are. For e.g. In "I am suffering terribly" suffering is the verb, but in "My suffering is terrible", it is a noun. But both sentences expresses the same idea using the same words. Other students might have problems due to the prescribing and proscribing nature of rules in the language formulated by amateur grammarians rather than ascribing to the functional and descriptive nature of languages evidenced from distribution. For example a cleric, Robert Lowth introduced the rule to never end a sentence with a preposition, inspired from Latin grammar through his book "A Short Introduction to English Grammar". Due to the inconsistencies brought from Latin language standardization of English language lead to classifying and sub-classyfing an otherwise simple language structure. Like many alphabetic writing systems English also have incorporated the principle that graphemic units should correspond to the phonemic units, however, the fidelity to the principle is compromised, compared to an exemplar like Finnish language. This is evident in the Oxford English Dictionary, for many years they experimented with many spellings of SIGN to attain a fidelity with the said principle, among them are SINE, SEGN, and SYNE, and through the diachronic mutations they settled on SIGN. Cultural differences in communication styles and preferences are also significant. For example, a study among Chinese ESL students revealed that preference of not using tense marking on verb present in the morphology of their mother tongue made it difficult for them to express time related sentences in English. Another study looked at Chinese ESL students and British teachers and found that the Chinese learners did not see classroom 'discussion and interaction' type of communication for learning as important but placed a heavy emphasis on teacher-directed lectures.
Main articles: Non-native pronunciations of English and Accent reduction
English contains a number of sounds and sound distinctions not present in some other languages. Speakers of languages without these sounds may have problems both with hearing and with pronouncing them. For example:
- The interdentals, /θ/ and /ð/ (both written as th) are relatively rare in other languages.
- Phonemic contrast of /i/ with /ɪ/ (beat vs bit vowels), of /u/ with /ʊ/ (fool vs full vowels), and of /ɛ/ with /æ/ (bet vs bat vowels) is rare outside northwestern Europe, so unusual mergers or exotic pronunciations such as [bet] for bit may arise. Note that [bɪt] is a pronunciation often used in England and Wales for bet, and also in some dialects of American English. See Northern cities vowel shift, and Pin-pen merger.
- Native speakers of Japanese, Korean, and most Chinese dialects have difficulty distinguishing/r/ and /l/, also present for speakers of some Caribbean Spanish dialects (only at the end of syllables), what is known as lallation.
- Native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish or Galician, and Ukrainian may pronounce [h]-like sounds where a /r/, /s/, or /ɡ/, respectively, would be expected, as those sounds often or almost always follow this process in their native languages, what is known as debuccalization.
- Native speakers of Arabic, Tagalog, Japanese, Korean, and important dialects of all current Iberian Romance languages (including most of Spanish) have difficulty distinguishing [b] and [v], what is known as betacism.
- Native speakers of almost all of Brazilian Portuguese, of some African Portuguese registers, of Portuguese-derived creole languages, some dialects of Swiss German, and several pontual processes in several Slavic languages, such as Bulgarian and Ukrainian, and many dialects of other languages, have instances of /l/ or /ɫ/ always becoming [w] at the end of a syllable in a given context, so that milk may be variously pronounced as [mɪu̯k], [mɪʊ̯k], or [mɪo̯k]. This is present in some English registers—known as l-vocalization—but may be shunned as substandard or bring confusion in others.
- Native speakers of many widely spoken languages (including Dutch and all the Romance ones) distinguish voiceless stop pairs /p/, /t/, /k/ from their voiced counterparts /b/, /d/, /ɡ/ merely by their sound (and in Iberian Romance languages, the latter trio does not even need to be stopped, so its native speakers unconsciously pronounce them as [β], [ð], and [ɣ ~ ɰ] – voiced fricatives or approximants in the very same mouth positions – instead much or most of the time, that native English speakers may erroneously interpret as the /v/ or /w/, /ð/ and /h/, /w/, or /r/ of their language). In English, German, Danish, and some other languages, though, the main distinguishing feature in the case of initial or stressed stopped voiceless consonants from their voiced counterparts is that they are aspirated [pʰ tʰ kʰ] (unless if immediately preceded or followed by /s/), while the voiced ones are not. As a result, much of the non-English /p/, /t/ and /k/ will sound to native English ears as /b/, /d/ and /ɡ/ instead (i.e. parking may sound more like barking).
- Ukrainian, Turkish and Azeri speakers may have trouble distinguishing between /v/ and /w/ as both pronunciations are used interchangeably for the letter v in those languages.
Languages may also differ in syllable structure; English allows for a cluster of up to three consonants before the vowel and five after it (e.g. strengths, straw, desks, glimpsed, sixths). Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese, for example, broadly alternate consonant and vowel sounds so learners from Japan and Brazil often force vowels between the consonants (e.g. desks becomes [desukusu] or [dɛskis], and milk shake becomes [miɽukuɕeːku] or [miwki ɕejki], respectively). Similarly, in most Iberian dialects, a word can begin with [s], and [s] can be followed by a consonant, but a word can never begin with [s] immediately followed by a consonant, so learners whose mother tongue is in this language family often have a vowel in front of the word (e.g. school becomes [eskul], [iskuɫ ~ iskuw], [ɯskuɫ] or [əskuɫ] for native speakers of Spanish, Brazilian and European Portuguese, and Catalan, respectively).
- Tense, aspect, and mood – English has a relatively large number of tense–aspect–mood forms with some quite subtle differences, such as the difference between the simple past "I ate" and the present perfect "I have eaten". Progressive and perfect progressive forms add complexity. (See English verbs.)
- Functions of auxiliaries – Learners of English tend to find it difficult to manipulate the various ways in which English uses auxiliary verbs. These include negation (e.g. He hasn't been drinking.), inversion with the subject to form a question (e.g. Has he been drinking?), short answers (e.g. Yes, he has.) and tag questions (has he?). A further complication is that the dummy auxiliary verb do/does/did is added to fulfil these functions in the simple present and simple past, but not to replace the verb to be (He drinks too much./Does he? but He is an addict/Is he?).
- Modal verbs – English has several modal auxiliary verbs, which each has a number of uses. These verbs convey a special sense or mood such as obligation, necessity, ability, probability, permission, possibility, prohibition, intention etc. These include "must", "can", "have to", "need to", "will", "shall", "ought to", "will have to", "may", and "might".
- For example, the opposite of "You must be here at 8" (obligation) is usually "You don't have to be here at 8" (lack of obligation, choice). "Must" in "You must not drink the water" (prohibition) has a different meaning from "must" in "You must have eaten the chocolate" (deduction). This complexity takes considerable work for most English language learners to master.
- All these modal verbs or "modals" take the first form of the verb after them. These modals (most of them) do not have past or future inflection, i.e. they do not have past or future tense (exceptions being have to and need to).
- Idiomatic usage – English is reputed to have a relatively high degree of idiomatic usage. For example, the use of different main verb forms in such apparently parallel constructions as "try to learn", "help learn", and "avoid learning" pose difficulty for learners. Another example is the idiomatic distinction between "make" and "do": "make a mistake", not "do a mistake"; and "do a favor", not "make a favor".
- Articles – English has two forms of article: the (the definite article) and a and an (the indefinite article). In addition, at times English nouns can or indeed must be used without an article; this is called the zero article. Some of the differences between definite, indefinite and zero article are fairly easy to learn, but others are not, particularly since a learner's native language may lack articles, have only one form, or use them differently from English. Although the information conveyed by articles is rarely essential for communication, English uses them frequently (several times in the average sentence) so that they require some effort from the learner.
- Phrasal verbs – Phrasal verbs (also known as multiple-word verbs) in English can cause difficulties for many learners because of their syntactic pattern and because they often have several meanings. There are also a number of phrasal verb differences between American and British English.
- Prepositions – As with many other languages, the correct use of prepositions in the English language is difficult to learn, and it can turn out to be quite a frustrating learning experience for ESL/EFL learners. For example, the prepositions "on" (rely on, fall on), "of" (think of, because of, in the vicinity of), and "at" (turn at, meet at, start at) are used in so many different ways and contexts, it is very difficult to remember the exact meaning for each one. Furthermore, the same words are often used as adverbs (come in, press on, listen in, step in) as part of a compound verb (make up, give up, get up, give in, turn in, put on), or in more than one way with different functions and meanings (look up, look on, give in) (He looked up her skirt/He looked up the spelling/Things are looking up/When you're in town, look me up!; He gave in his homework/First he refused but then he gave in; He got up at 6 o'clock/He got up the hill/He got up a nativity play). Also, for some languages, such as Spanish, there is/are one/some prepositions that can mean multiple English prepositions (i.e. en in Spanish can mean on, in, or at). When translating back to the ESL learners' respective L1, a particular preposition's translation may be correct in one instance, but when using the preposition in another sense, the meaning is sometimes quite different. "One of my friends" translates to (transliterated) wahed min isdiqa'i in Arabic. Min is the Arabic word for "from", so it means one "from" my friends. "I am on page 5" translates to ich bin auf Seite 5 in German just fine, but in Arabic it is Ana fee safha raqm 5 (I am "in" page 5).
- Word formation – Word formation in English requires a lot of rote learning. For example, an adjective can be negated by using the prefixesun- (e.g. unable), in- (e.g. inappropriate), dis- (e.g. dishonest), non- (non-standard) or a- (e.g. amoral), as well as several rarer prefixes.
- Size of lexicon – The history of English has resulted in a very large vocabulary, including one stream from Old English and one from the Norman infusion of Latin-derived terms. (Schmitt & Marsden claim that English has one of the largest vocabularies of any known language.) One estimate of the lexicon puts English at around 250,000 unique words. This requires more work for a learner to master the language.
- Collocations – Collocation in English refers to the tendency for words to occur together with others. For example, nouns and verbs that go together (ride a bike/drive a car). Native speakers tend to use chunks[clarification needed] of collocations and ESL learners make mistakes with collocations.
- Slang and colloquialisms – In most native English speaking countries, large numbers of slang and colloquial terms are used in everyday speech. Many learners may find that classroom based English is significantly different from how English is usually spoken in practice. This can often be difficult and confusing for learners with little experience of using English in Anglophone countries. Also, slang terms differ greatly between different regions and can change quickly in response to popular culture. Some phrases can become unintentionally rude if misused.
- Silent letters - Within English, almost every letter has the 'opportunity' to be silent in a word, except F, J, Q, R, V, and Y. The most common is e, usually at the end of the word and is used to elongate the previous vowel(s). The common usage of silent letters can throw off how ESL learners interpret the language (especially those who are fluent in a Germanic language), since a common step to learning words in most languages is to pronounce them phonetically. Words such as Queue, Colonel, Knight and Wednesday tend to throw off the learner, since they contain large amounts of silent letters.
Learners who have had less than eight years of formal education in their first language are sometimes called adult ESL literacy learners. Usually these learners have had their first-language education interrupted. Many of these learners require a different level of support, teaching approaches and strategies, and a different curriculum from mainstream adult ESL learners. For example, these learners may lack study skills and transferable language skills, and these learners may avoid reading or writing. Often these learners do not start classroom tasks immediately, do not ask for help, and often assume the novice role when working with peers. Generally these learners may lack self-confidence. For some, prior schooling is equated with status, cultured, civilized, high class, and they may experience shame among peers in their new ESL classes.
Learners who have not had extensive exposure to reading and writing in a second language, despite having acceptable spoken proficiency, may have difficulties with the reading and writing in their L2. Joann Crandall (1993) has pointed out that most teacher training programs for TESOL instructors do not include sufficient, in most cases "no", training for the instruction in literacy. This is a gap that many scholars feel needs to be addressed.
Social and Academic Language Acquisition
Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are language skills needed in social situations. These language skills usually develop within six months to two years. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) refers to the language associated with formal content material and academic learning. These skills usually take from five to seven years to develop.
The importance of reading in ESL instruction
According to some English professionals, reading for pleasure is an important component in the teaching of both native and foreign languages:
"Studies that sought to improve writing by providing reading experiences in place of grammar study or additional writing practice found that these experiences were as beneficial as, or more beneficial than, grammar study or extra writing practice."
Differences between spoken and written English
For further discussion of English spelling patterns and rules, see Phonics.
As with most languages, written language tends to use a more formal register than spoken language.
- Spelling and pronunciation: probably the biggest difficulty for non-native speakers, since the relation between English spelling and pronunciation does not follow the alphabetic principle consistently. Because of the many changes in pronunciation which have occurred since a written standard developed, the retention of many historical idiosyncrasies in spelling, and the large influx of foreign words (mainly from Norman French, Classical Latin and Greek) with different and overlapping spelling patterns, English spelling and pronunciation are difficult even for native speakers to master. This difficulty is shown in such activities as spelling bees. The generalizations that exist are quite complex and there are many exceptions, leading to a considerable amount of rote learning. The spelling and pronunciation system causes problems in both directions: a learner may know a word by sound but be unable to write it correctly (or indeed find it in a dictionary) or they may see a word written but not know how to pronounce it or mislearn the pronunciation. However, despite the variety of spelling patterns in English, there are dozens of rules that are 75% or more reliable.
There is also debate about "meaning-focused" learning and "correction-focused" learning. Supporters for the former think that using speech as the way to explain meaning is more important. However, supporters of the latter do not agree with that and instead think that grammar and correct habit is more important.
Language has a very significant role in our lives. It symbolizes the cultures in our societies where individuals interact and use it to communicate between each other. The development of transportation has influenced global relations to be more practical where people need to interact and share common interests. However, communication is the key power to facilitate interactions among individuals which would provide them with stronger relationships. In places like the United States where immigration plays a role in social, economic and cultural aspects, there is an increase in the number of new immigrants yearly. "The number of non-native English speaking children in U.S. public schools continues to rise dramatically.
Although many non-English speakers tend to practice English classes in their countries before they migrate to any anglophone country to make it easier for them to interact with the people, many of them still struggle when they experience the reality of communicating with a real anglophone. Therefore, society forces them to improve their communication skills as soon as possible. Immigrants cannot afford to waste time learning to speak English especially for those who come with certain financial issues. The most common choice people make to build up their communication skills is to take some ESL classes. There are many steps that need to be followed in order to be successful in this aspect. However, the use of new technology makes the learning process more convenient, reliable and productive.
Computers have made an entry into education in the past decades and have brought significant benefits to teachers and students alike. Computers help learners by making them more responsible for their own learning. Studies have shown that one of the best ways of improving one's learning ability is to use a computer where all the information one might need can be found. In today's developed world, a computer is one of a number of systems which help learners to improve their language. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is a system which aids learners to improve and practice language skills. It provides a stress-free environment for learners and makes them more responsible.
Computers can provide help to the ESL learners in many different ways such as teaching students to learn a new language. The computer can be used to test students about the language they already learn. It can assist them in practicing certain tasks. The computer permits students to communicate easily with other students in different places. Nowadays the increasing use of mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablet computers, has led to a growing usage applications created to facilitate language learning, such as The Phrasal Verbs Machine from Cambridge. In terms of online materials, there are many forms of online materials such as blogs, wikis, webquest. For instance, blogs can allow English learners to voice their opinions, sharpen their writing skills and build their confidence. However, some who are introverted may not feel comfortable sharing their ideas on the blog. Class wikis can be used to promote collaborative learning through sharing and co-constructing knowledge. Its vitally important to remember that on-line materials are still just materials and thus need to be subject to the same scrutiny of evaluation as any other language material or source.
The learning ability of language learners can be more reliable with the influence of a dictionary. Learners tend to carry or are required to have a dictionary which allows them to learn independently and become more responsible for their own work. In these modern days, education has upgraded its methods of teaching and learning with dictionaries where digital materials are being applied as tools. Electronic dictionaries are increasingly a more common choice for ESL students. Most of them contain native-language equivalents and explanations, as well as definitions and example sentences in English. They can speak the English word to the learner, and they are easy to carry around. However, they are expensive and easy to lose, so students are often instructed to put their names on them.
Varieties of English
- The English language in England (and other parts of the United Kingdom) exhibits significant differences by region and class, noticeable in structure (vocabulary and grammar), accent (pronunciation) and in dialect.
- The numerous communities of English native speakers in countries all over the world also have some noticeable differences like Irish English, Australian English, Canadian English, Newfoundland English, etc. For instance, following are words that only make meaning in originating culture: Toad in the hole, Gulab jamun, Spotted Richard, etc.
- Attempts have been made to regulate English to an inclination of a class or to a specific style of a community by John Dryden and others. Auspiciously, English as a lingua franca is not racialized and has no proscribing organization that controls any prestige dialect for the language – unlike the FrenchAcademie de la langue française, Spain's Real Academia Española, or Esperanto's Akademio.
Teaching English therefore involves not only helping the student to use the form of English most suitable for their purposes, but also exposure to regional forms and cultural styles so that the student will be able to discern meaning even when the words, grammar, or pronunciation are different from the form of English they are being taught to speak. Some professionals in the field have recommended incorporating information about non-standard forms of English in ESL programs. For example, in advocating for classroom-based instruction in African-American English (also known as Ebonics), linguist Richard McDorman has argued, "Simply put, the ESL syllabus must break free of the longstanding intellectual imperiousness of the standard to embrace instruction that encompasses the many "Englishes" that learners will encounter and thereby achieve the culturally responsive pedagogy so often advocated by leaders in the field."
Social challenges and benefits
ESL students often suffer from the effects of tracking and ability grouping. Students are often placed into low ability groups based on scores on standardized tests in English and Math. There is also low mobility among these students from low to high performing groups, which can prevent them from achieving the same academic progress as native speakers. Similar tests are also used to place ESL students in college level courses. Students have voiced frustration that only non-native students have to prove their language skills, when being a native speaker in no way guarantees college level academic literacy. Studies have shown that these tests can cause different passing rates among linguistic groups regardless of high school preparation.
Dropout rates for ESL students in multiple countries are much higher than dropout rates for native speakers. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States reported that the percentage of dropouts in the non-native born Hispanic youth population between the ages of 16 and 24 years old is 43.4%. A study in Canada found that the high school dropout rate for all ESL students was 74%. High dropout rates are thought to be due to difficulties ESL students have in keeping up in mainstream classes, the increasing number of ESL students who enter middle or high school with interrupted prior formal education, and accountability systems.
The accountability system in the US is due to the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that risk losing funding, closing, or having their principals fired if test scores are not high enough begin to view students that do not perform well on standardized tests as liabilities. Because dropouts actually increase a school's performance, critics claim that administrators let poor performing students slip through the cracks. A study of Texas schools operating under No Child Left Behind found that 80% of ESL students did not graduate from high school in five years.
Access to higher education
ESL students face several barriers to higher education. Most colleges and universities require four years of English in high school. In addition, most colleges and universities only accept one year of ESL English. It is difficult for ESL students that arrive in the United States relatively late to finish this requirement because they must spend a longer time in ESL English classes in high school, or they might not arrive early enough to complete four years of English in high school. This results in many ESL students not having the correct credits to apply for college, or enrolling in summer school to finish the required courses.
ESL students can also face additional financial barriers to higher education because of their language skills. Those that don't place high enough on college placement exams often have to enroll in ESL courses at their universities. These courses can cost up to $1,000 extra, and can be offered without credit towards graduation. This adds additional financial stress on ESL students that often come from families of lower socioeconomic status. The latest statistics show that the median household income for school-age ESL students is $36,691 while that of non-ESL students is $60,280.[not in citation given] College tuition has risen sharply in the last decade, while family income has fallen. In addition, while many ESL students receive a Pell Grant, the maximum grant for the year 2011–2012 covered only about a third of the cost of college.
Interaction with native speakers
ESL students often have difficulty interacting with native speakers in school. Some ESL students avoid interactions with native speakers because of their frustration or embarrassment at their poor English. Immigrant students often also lack knowledge of popular culture, which limits their conversations with native speakers to academic topics. In classroom group activities with native speakers, ESL students often do not participate, again because of embarrassment about their English, but also because of cultural differences: their native cultures may value silence and individual work at school in preference to social interaction and talking in class.
These interactions have been found to extend to teacher–student interactions as well. In most mainstream classrooms, teacher-led discussion is the most common form of lesson. In this setting, some ESL students will fail to participate, and often have difficulty understanding teachers because they talk too fast, do not use visual aids, or use native colloquialisms. ESL students also have trouble getting involved with extracurricular activities with native speakers for similar reasons. Students fail to join extra-curricular activities because of the language barrier, cultural emphasis of academics over other activities, or failure to understand traditional pastimes in their new country.
Supporters of ESL programs claim they play an important role in the formation of peer networks and adjustment to school and society in their new homes. Having class among other students learning English as a second language relieves the pressure of making mistakes when speaking in class or to peers. ESL programs also allow students to be among others who appreciate their native language and culture, the expression of which is often not supported or encouraged in mainstream settings. ESL programs also allow students to meet and form friendships with other non-native speakers from different cultures, promoting racial tolerance and multiculturalism.
Peer Tutoring for ESL students
Peer tutoring refers to an instructional method that pairs up low-achieving English readers, with ESL students that know minimal English and who are also approximately the same age and same grade level. The goal of this dynamic is to help both the tutor, in this case the English speaker, and the tutee, the ESL student. Monolingual tutors are given the class material in order to provide tutoring to their assigned ESL tutee. Once the tutor has had the chance to help the student, classmates get to switch roles in order to give both peers an opportunity to learn from each other. In a study, which conducted a similar research, their results indicated that low-achieving readers that were chosen as tutors, made a lot of progress by using this procedure. In addition, ESL students were also able to improve their grades due to the fact that they increased their approach in reading acquisition skills.
Since there is not enough funding to afford tutors, and teachers find it hard to educate all students who have different learning abilities, it is highly important to implement peer-tutoring programs in schools. Students placed in ESL program learn together along with other non-English speakers, however by using peer tutoring in classroom it will avoid the separation between regular English classes and ESL classes. These programs will promote community between students that will be helping each other grow academically. To further support this statement, a study researched the effectiveness of peer tutoring and explicit teaching in classrooms. It was found that students with learning disabilities and low performing students who are exposed to the explicit teaching and peer tutoring treatment in the classroom, have better academic performance than those students who don’t receive this type of assistance. It was proven that peer tutoring is the most effective and no cost form of teaching
It has been proven that peer-mediated tutoring is an effective tool to help ESL students succeed academically. Peer tutoring has been utilized across many different academic courses and the outcomes for those students that have different learning abilities are outstanding. Classmates who were actively involved with other peers in tutoring had better academic standing than those students who were not part of the tutoring program. Based on their results, researchers found that all English student learners were able to maintain a high percentage of English academic words on weekly tests taught during tutoring session. It was also found that the literature on the efficacy of peer tutoring service combined with regular classroom teaching, is the best methodology practice that is effective, that benefits students, teachers, and parents involved.
Research on peer English immersion tutoring
Similarly, a longitudinal study was conducted to examine the effects of paired bilingual program and an English-only reading program with Spanish speaking English learners in order to increase students’ English reading outcomes. Students whose primary language was Spanish and were part of ESL program were participants of this study. Three different approaches were the focus in which immersing students in English from the very beginning and teaching them reading only in that language; teaching students in Spanish first, followed by English; and teaching students to read in Spanish and English simultaneously. This occurs through a strategic approach such as structured English immersion or sheltered instruction.
Findings showed that the paired bilingual reading approach appeared to work as well as, or better than, the English-only reading approach in terms of reading growth and results. Researchers found differences in results, but they also varied based on several outcomes depending on the student’s learning abilities and academic performance.
ESL teacher's training
Teachers in an ESL class are specifically trained in particular techniques and tools to help students learn English. In fact, research says that the quality of their teaching methods is what matters the most when it comes to educating English learners. It was also mentioned how it is highly important for teachers to have the drive to help these students succeed and "feel personal responsibility." It is important to highlight the idea that the school system needs to focus on school-wide interventions in order to make an impact and be able to help all English learners. There is a high need for comprehensive professional development for teachers in the ESL program.
Effects of peer tutoring on the achievement gap
Although peer tutoring has been proven to be an effective way of learning that engages and promotes academic achievement in students, does it have an effect on the achievement gap? It is an obvious fact that there is a large academic performance disparity between White, Black, and Latino students, and it continues to be an issue that has to be targeted. In an article it was mentioned that no one has been able to identify the true factors that cause this discrepancy. However it was mentioned that by developing effective peer tutoring programs in schools could be a factor that can potentially decrease the achievement gap in the United States.
Exams for learners
See also: Category:English language tests
Learners of English are often eager to get accreditation and a number of exams are known internationally:
- IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the world's most popular English test for higher education and immigration. It is managed by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment and a consortium of Australian institutions, and is offered in general and academic versions. IELTS Academic is the normal test of English proficiency for entry into universities in the UK, Australia, Canada and other British English countries. IELTS General is required for immigration into Australia and New Zealand. Both versions of IELTS are accepted for all classes of UK visa and immigration applications. Also, a new Speaking and Listening test, IELTS Life Skills, was introduced in 2015 specifically to meet the requirements for some classes of UK visa application.
- CaMLA, a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Cambridge English Language Assessment offer a suite of American English tests, including the MET (Michigan English Test), the MTELP Series (Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency), MELAB (Michigan English Language Assessment Battery), CaMLA EPT (English Placement Test), YLTE (Young Learners Test of English), ECCE and ECPE.
- TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), an Educational Testing Service product, developed and used primarily for academic institutions in the USA, and now widely accepted in tertiary institutions in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, South Korea, and Ireland. The current test is an Internet-based test, and is thus known as the TOEFL iBT. Used as a proxy for English for Academic Purposes.
- iTEP (International Test of English Proficiency), developed by former ELS Language Centers President Perry Akins' Boston Educational Services, and used by colleges and universities such as the California State University system. iTEP Business is used by companies, organizations and governments, and iTEP SLATE (Secondary Level Assessment Test of English) is designed for middle and high school-age students.
- PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English Academic), a Pearson product, measures reading, writing, speaking and listening as well as grammar, oral fluency, pronunciation, spelling, vocabular and written discourse. The test is computer-based and is designed to reflect international English for academic admission into any university requiring English proficiency.
- TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), an Educational Testing Service product for Business English used by 10,000 organizations in 120 countries. Includes a listening and reading test as well as a speaking and writing test introduced in selected countries beginning in 2006.
- Trinity College London ESOL offers the Integrated Skills in English (ISE) series of 5 exams which assesses reading, writing, speaking and listening and is accepted by academic institutions in the UK. They also offer Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE), a series of 12 exams, which assesses speaking and listening, and ESOL Skills for Life and ESOL for Work exams in the UK only.
- Cambridge English Language Assessment offers a suite of eighteen globally available examinations including General English: Key English Test (KET), Preliminary English Test (PET), First Certificate in English (FCE), Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) and Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE).
- London Tests of English from Pearson Language Tests, a series of six exams each mapped to a level from the Common European Framework (CEFR) – see below.
- Secondary Level English Proficiency test