Let’s face it: Learning any language takes an enormous amount of motivation and dedicated time. But each language also has its own specific difficulties. Since most of our clients at Fluency Corp call us for help with improving their employees’ English communication, today we’re going to look at the challenges and difficulties of learning English as a second language.
English Is Not a Phonetic Language
A phonetic language is one in which you can look at a word in writing and know how to pronounce it. For example, Japanese is a phonetic language. It has 45 basic syllables that are always pronounced the same way. You know when you see the letter e that it’s going to be pronounced as it is in the English word “pet.”
If you’re a Japanese speaker who’s learning English and you see the word “might” in print, your instinct will probably be to try to pronounce the letters g and h — which, of course, won’t even get you close to the correct pronunciation of the word.
Like Japanese, Spanish is also a phonetic language. The inconsistencies of how English is pronounced can really trip up Spanish speakers learning English. When I was teaching a beginner English class in Mexico, one of my students pronounced the English word “nose” as “no say.” I understand why the student arrived at that pronunciation: Every syllable has a specific sound in Spanish, so why would the letter e be silent at the end of “nose” and why would the letter S sound like the letter Z? And, of course, the Spanish phrase “no sé” (meaning “I don’t know”) is pronounced “no say.”
This is why it’s important to learn English by listening, not just by reading. At Fluency Corp, we have many clients who come to us after a decade or more of book-learning English. But they cannot be understood in English, nor can they understand when someone else speaks English. This is because they’ve been trying to apply the rules of their native language’s phonetics to English.
Learning English through reading and writing can often be the reason your accent when speaking English is hard to understand. That’s because you don’t know what words actually sound like. So, if you’re learning English, we highly suggest watching movies or TV shows or learning with a native speaker at first. This helps you hear the language and feel its rhythm before diving into books and grammar.
Very few language training companies or schools start off with listening and speaking, because it’s challenging to convince adults that they shouldn’t see the language from class 1. Although after over a decade of being in this business, I can instantly tell who first listened before learning to read and write. Their pronunciation and their syntax is on point! It pays off in the long run to listen first.
It also helps to learn like a kindergartner. In U.S. kindergartens, we learn phonetic pairs. In Fluency Corp accent reduction classes, we show you what words rhyme in English, even if they have completely different spellings, and also what letter groups go together and what they sound like. For example, “word,” “bird” and “heard” all rhyme. But most people learning English try to pronounce each one differently because they are all spelled differently.
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Phrasal Verbs Are Tricky
Another big challenge when tackling communication in English is that the language has a lot of phrasal verbs.
Phrasal verbs are verbs with two or more words. They can be extremely confusing to people learning English as a second language. For example, “take over,” “take on,” “take up,” “take off” and “take care of” all have completely different meanings. One tiny preposition can be the difference between taking over a country and taking on a new challenge.
Most other languages have a specific verb for each meaning, not one verb (take) used with different prepositions that determine its meaning. Since most English learners learn from textbooks, which do not dig into phrasal verbs very deeply, they are not prepared when they take a new job in the U.S. and suddenly everyone is using phrasal verbs instead of the more formal, or possibly less descriptive, synonyms: conquer, accept, start, leave, etc.
This is another reason it helps to learn English by listening. When you watch movies or TV shows in English and talk to native speakers, you hear natural conversations with phrasal verbs, and you learn in real life what context to use them in – another big obstacle – context!
English definitely has its share of quirks that can frustrate language learners. But Fluency Corp achieves rapid results with our clients who are learning English as a second language. Whether in-person or online, our English classes are taught by native speakers. Students receive plenty of conversational practice and utilize materials such as books, movies and TV shows in English to understand how the language is really spoken.
For a free consultation with us about your company’s English-language training needs, contact us at [email protected] or (800) 401-3159.