Monday, March 07, 2011

An easy language

If I was given a penny for all the times I heard that "English is easy", I would probably be rich by now.

It seems a lot of people think that English is easy. But what is "easy"? Isn't it just a mere point-of-view? What is easy for me may not be as easy for someone else. And this alone is enough to tear down the assumption that English is easy. But I can go further, and I will.

On my side, I have nothing less than one of Bernard Shaw's masterpieces: The Pygmalion. That's what we can find in the preface to the book:

"The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen."

Now, if English is difficult for the Englishmen, then how can it be easy for ESL learners?

Of course, at the basis of this "misconception" is the idea that English Grammar is not as complex as Italian or Spanish Grammar. It is important to point out that by "grammar", in this case, learners usually mean "morphology".

But isn't it just too superficial to judge the degree of difficulty of a language based only on its morphology? Then why is it that we take 10-15 years to learn English to an advanced level if it is so easy? Isn't the huge vocabulary hard to learn? And what about the collocations? And prepositions? Not to mention pronunciation and intonation...

I guess the difference is the mere objective: if you want to learn a basic English, then it's not that difficult. Probably, it wouldn't be so hard to learn basic Spanish, German, Italian or even Chinese, for that matter. Now, if you REALLY want to know the language, then you have to try VERY HARD because it's nothing less than a life-long endeavor.