Teach English in Debaisi Zhen - Xing'an Meng — Hinggan

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English has been the international language of communication, business, commerce, science, technology and many other areas for hundreds of years. It is, therefore, the most commonly studied foreign language in the world. Approximately 2 billion people, of whom about 400 million are natives, speak English. This indicates that the rest 1,6 billion inhabitants are speakers of English as either a second or a foreign language, which identifies English as the most commonly studied foreign language worldwide. Apart from the general belief that learning English is relatively easy, there are several linguistic difficulties that learners of English from different nationalities face. First of all, there are learners whose mother languages belong to a different type of writing script. We can take Chinese as an example. Chinese language uses a logographic system in which logograms are used to represent a word or a phrase, unlike phonological languages that use alphabets in which individual written characters called phonograms represents sounds only, rather than entire concepts. There is a significant difference in processing of logographic and phonological languages in the brain. Language is primarily localized in the left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere is used for visual-spatial skills. However, Chinese logographic system requires the use of more visual-spatial skills, dissimilar to the English alphabetical system, as far as it demands to learn and remember lots of complex characters that differ in visual appearance. Therefore, reading in Chinese involves bi-hemispheric lateralization than reading in English. This neural difference leads to a major change in language processing of Chinese people who learn English as a foreign language. They first have to adapt to the phonetic system and get used to understanding individual characters and sounds. This applies to all English students whose mother tongues belong to a writing system that does not use alphabets. Another significant issue is pronunciation. We can assert that the pronunciation of some specific English sounds are found difficult by learners of almost all nationalities. Some students speak English with a very strong accent of their native language because mother tongue influence the ability to pronounce particular sounds in foreign languages. The sounds that do not exist in a mother tongue are usually the biggest problems for students of English. There are several sounds in English that are exceptionally difficult to learn. Some of these sounds are; the “th” sound which does not exist in many Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages; the “r” sound which comes in many varieties and has a different position of the tongue in relation to the roof of the mouth without any contact unlike many languages such as Spanish, Russian and Arabic where the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth; the “h” sound which has a peculiar manner of articulation that is found extremely difficult especially by French speakers as it does not exist in some Romance languages; and the “schwa” sound which appears in many English words and is typical in unstressed syllables. In addition, there are some other typical problems such as; confusing the “l” and “r” sounds made by speakers of many Asian languages; confusing the “v” and “w” sounds which is a typical problem in some European nations; pronouncing silent consonants such as “d” and “g” in some words which is a general problem with Spanish speakers. Further difficulties in terms of pronunciation are the word stress, the elision of weak syllables and the insertion of consonants which is called liaison. Due to the fact that English is a stress timed language, its intonation patterns are different from those of syllable timed languages like French, Spanish and Hindi. As a result, the native speakers of many languages retain a heavy accent even after years of speaking English. Grammar is also an important aspect that should be taken into consideration. Even though English grammar is considered as being easy compared to the grammar of many other languages, learners still tend to have some difficulties as a result of certain grammatical differences between their mother tongues and English. The most important problem to mention is the choice of the correct tense. Despite the similar verb grammar that the Germanic languages share, such as Dutch, German and Swedish, all frequently use the perfect form where English requires the past simple and the continuous tense is missing in all three which leads to using simple present instead. The native speakers of Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian face similar problems in using the correct tenses. Additional complications occur for the speakers of languages of different families like Turkish and Chinese. Both languages have a different word order than English. Turkish follows a “Subject-Object-Verb” patterns and in Turkish prepositions follow the noun, modal verbs follow main verbs and relative clauses precede the noun they modify. Chinese speakers also struggle with many similar word order difficulties. In Chinese the subject and verb are not inverted in questions as in English, questions are conveyed by intonation. Nouns cannot be post-modified and adverbials usually precede verbs. Other two common difficulties that the speakers of all above mentioned languages face are the use of auxiliary verbs and the articles, especially the definite article, as far as they are absent in these languages. Such differences in English grammar often result in students having difficulty with the placement of elements, exclusively in more complex English sentences. A final feature of English that is problematic for learners is its vocabulary. English has the largest vocabulary of any language. It has more than a million words, including the different forms of the same word, of which around 170,000 words are in current use. A recent study shows that an adult native speaker has a vocabulary of 20,000-35,000 words. This is a huge number and it is intimidating for beginners. A significant feature of the English vocabulary that can cause difficulties for learners are the phrasal verbs. They are extremely common especially in daily speech and therefore getting used to them is for the benefit of the students in the long term. The final adversity is the correspondence between word sound and word spelling. Compared to phonetic languages such as Turkish, it is often impossible for learners to predict the spelling of a word encountered in speech or the pronunciation of a word encountered in writing. Learning a new language is a long process and has challenges. In spite of many contrasts between English and other languages, students can overcome these barriers in time and improve their skills in mastering English with dedicated work.