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English Is a Funny Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5426 words Published: 31st Aug 2017

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During the mid-400s the country that we now call England was part of the Roman Empire. It was a land full of temporary settlers and immigrants. Among those residing in England were a group of Germanic settlers, made up of Jutes, Angles and Saxons. These settlers immigrated to England from various parts of mainland North Western Europe and with them they brought a language that provided the building blocks of English.

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The mixing of the Germanic settlers’ dialects with the languages of other immigrants led to the creation of Old English (the earliest form of English). This form of English was very different than any form of English that is spoken today and although it did consist of parts of speech that have some similarities to modern English. The language would be considered incomprehensible to the modern English speaker.

Over the next 600 years the language of English was grew by taking words and expressions from the languages of the surrounding cultures. This was mostly due to more groups of people immigrating to England or in some cases, some groups invading the country.

For example Roman missionaries who immigrated to England introduced many religious words such as minster and alter and the Vikings who invaded England introduced words such knife, take and root.

During the Middle Ages (c. 1000-1300) English started to significantly evolve. The Normans, who were the people of Normandy (a region in northern France) invaded England in 1066. This event led to the Latin and French languages heavily influencing the English speaking people and their language. Thousands and thousands of new words became incorporated into the English language. The language of English was constantly evolving, creating what we call today Middle English, a form of language that closer resembles what we speak today.

This period was also quite significant because during this time London become the legal and trade center of Britain. The language of London (Middle English) became the standard language. At the time there were other languages and dialects and people began to realize that in order to gain political or economic power a person had to be able to communicate in English. Many traders began to use this standard form of English. These same traders began to spread English all over the world.

In the mid-1500s, the United Kingdom became a colonial powerhouse and the British Empire began to set up colonies all over the world. As the British empire continued to significantly grown and colonize the English language would spread further and further away from its birthplace.

The growth of the British Empire, lead to English becoming a part of Europe, North America, India, Africa, Australia and many other parts of the world. As the empire branched out, new words were taken from the local languages and incorporated into English.

English served as the lingua franca for these colonies. The term ‘lingua franca’ refers to the language that is used as the means of communication among speakers of other languages.

Keep in mind that these places each had their own distinct indigenous languages, and in some cases multiple languages. However the different cultures within these colonies would communicate in English.

As this was happening, English continued to evolve into a closer version of Modern English. Also, around this time (1600’s) some significant pieces of English literature were written. An author known as William Shakespeare was creating works that were gaining a lot of attention, these works were in English. Also, in 1611 the King James Bible was written in English. Unlike many other religious based books (not all) that were published in Latin and French, this bible was produced in English. This bible became the standard for the Church of England. English was becoming the language of religion.

From the 17th century on, English continued to spread through British colonization. As new areas were becoming British settlement, new pockets of the planet would begin to communicate in English.

The industrial revolution occurred throughout the 18th and 19th century. This was a time where major technological advancements occurred in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transportation. Machines were making life easier and producing goods at much faster rate. The industrial revolution began in the United Kingdom and then spread throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the rest of the world. All of this newly developed technology was having an affect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of the time. A significant majority of the inventors during this period were English speakers.

Why English?

English is a global language.

  • English as a global language didn’t happen overnight, it was a long process. Thinking about the history of the language of English, what are the major factors that lead to

English becoming the lingua franca?

  • It has nothing to do with how English looks or its structure. If you think about it, it is actually a very confusing language compared some of the other languages in the world.

Here are a few things to think about

  • 82% of the entire world uses some form of English as means to communicate. There are only 35 countries where English is not the first foreign language.
  • Over two billion people partake in some form of English acquisition education.

Here’s a question to ponder, which country currently has the largest amount of English langue leaners?

The answer is China.

The answer to ‘Why English’ has a lot to do with the same reasons why English was able to spread internationally in the first place.

English represents opportunity.

  • While peoples’ native language helps them navigate through their daily lives within their geographic area (city, town or country). The language of English represents an opportunity to become part of a global conversation.

The four pillars to English’s growth into a global language:

Politics, Economics, Technology and Social

  • Politics:

Looking back at history, one can point to the political factors as first reason why English was able to spread from a small island to all over the world. In modern history the people who held the majority of the world’s power were English speakers.

Also, looking back at the last century, world power has shifted from the hands of the British into the hands of the Americans, another English speaking country.

  • Economics:

The economic influence on the English language is closely tied to the political factors. The 19th saw the growth of English speakers occur at much more rapid rate than the previous centuries. Much of this has to do with the fact that the most financially powerful countries in the world during the 19th and 20th century were English speaking countries, the United States and Britain. If money does talk, during this time period it was speaking in (or learning) English.

These days, practically every trade centre in the world uses English this includes countries that have a language other than English as the official language.

  • Technology:

As mentioned before, the industrial revolution had an enormous impact on the English language. British inventors came up with ways to mass produce textiles metals and glass. As well they innovated mining and they created the steam engine. If you did a web search on the products that were born out of the industrial revolution, you will be amazed how many came from English speaking countries.

Here are some questions to think about:

  1. What web search tool did you just use to find out more information?
  2. What are the ‘must have’ technologies of this generation? Where did many of them originate?
  3. How often do you see a product designed by Microsoft or Apple?
  • Social:

If you take a look at how media is delivered you can see English is absolutely everywhere. Through social media, the world is rapidly becoming more and more interconnected. People are now viewing themselves as global citizens. World issues are discussed in English and by having a working knowledge of the English language, people feel that they too can share their thoughts on common issues that are shared throughout the world. This includes such issues as poverty, the economy, climate change, political struggles and human rights.

  • Social and Technology Coming Together

English is widely used on the internet for the same reasons why English became so widespread during the industrial revolution. The internet began in English speaking countries. To add to it, think about the rapidly increasing interest in social networking through the internet. Think about the fact that Facebook was founded in the US in 2004 and since then has become one of the most visited websites in the world. Also, Google is the most widely used search engine in the world, also created by Americans.

Standard English (S.E.) is the form of English that is generally accepted as the linguistic norm of an Anglophone country. But is speaking English that easy of a concept to grasp?

We have learnt that English was created through a mixture of numerous different dialects. As it grew throughout the world it continued to expand encompassing more and more words from other languages. Countries such as Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all are English speaking countries and yet their form of English isn’t identical. In fact with in these countries there are various forms of English.

Think about (and do a web search) on these terms:

  1. Hinglish
  2. Gullah
  3. Anglo-Manx

These are just three of a huge number of dialects of the English language and within some of the dialects there are sub-dialects.

English goes well beyond ‘standard English’.

Part 2

How language works

(and how confusing the English language really is)

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana

Think about this question:

How would you define the word language?

Language can be defined as any form of communication. Language can be verbal and physical, it can be learned through direct instruction and it can also be biologically innate.

The study of language is a very vast topic. Language is made up of numerous interconnected components and within each of those components there are many subcomponents (some of which have many subcomponents of their own).

When people chat on the phone or talk over dinner they do not generally think about how they are communicating (language, volume, speed, intonation, gestures, etc), they think about what they are communicating (what you are trying to explain to the person you are speaking to).


Phonology is the study of sounds in a language. The study of phonology offers us a better understanding of how speech sounds relate to pronunciation.

Languages are unique and each one has different a phonological system.

Think about this:

What is the English equivalent to this Hungarian phrase?

Sok szerencsét kivánok

The answer : good luck.

Languages have their own attributes in regards to word stress, rhythm, stresses and what sounds are used to produce specific meanings.

This is one of the reasons why learning a second language can be so difficult, what can be expressed in one syllable in one language may take many syllables in another.


Linguistic semantics is the study of the meaning of language. This involves how meaning is created by combining single words into larger forms of text. If you break down a passage and actually think about each word on its own, it can get quite confusing. When learning a new language an English language learner faces many linguistic semantic challenges that English speaks may not even take into consideration.

Think about these sentences:

The winds blew the door open. / The road winds quite a bit.

Or think about these sentences:

The answers on the exam were invalid. / The terrible injury left the man an invalid.

These are only some of the challenges an English language learner faces, think about these words and their meanings:


Words that have the same meanings

Example: happy and glad


Words that have opposites meanings

Example: hot and cold.


A word which has two or more related meanings

For example, wood could refer to a piece of a tree or a geographical area that is consists of many trees.


A word which has two or more meanings

For example, a plant could be a factory in which products are made or a living organism such as a tree


Different words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently

For example two, too and to


Different words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently

For example minute and minute


Pragmatics is the study of the use of language. Pragmatics analyses the context of words and how they contribute to the overall meaning of the text. A sentence on its own can be quite misleading. Think about this:

The fish are ready to eat.

Does this mean the fish are hungry or they have been cooked long enough that they are now edible?


Syntax is the study of the structure of language with a focus on how grammatically correct statements are formed.

There are many syntactic categories including nouns, verbs, adjectives , prepositions and adverbs


Orthography is the study of letters and how they are used to express sounds and form words. Orthography takes a close look at the writing systems of a language. For English language instructors, English in written form can be area in which many learners struggle with. Many of the things that we write without even thinking about can cause great confusion to an English language learner.

Take for example:

The words boot, book, blood and brooch.

All of these words use “oo” however each of them have different pronunciations for this vowel combination.

Now look at these three words:

check, machine, character

In each one the ‘ch’ is pronounced differently

Another thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that not every language follows the same pattern of pronunciations.



“same same but different”

-Tinglish saying

English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching refers to teaching English in a country where English is already an official language. For example, Canada, The United States, and Britain are countries that offer English language learners ESL programs.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL) refers to teaching English in a country where English is not the most predominant language that is spoken. Due to English’s place in the global scheme, EFL schools are quickly becoming popular all over non-English speaking nations.

The biggest consideration an instructor must take into account is that EFL and ESL instruction does at times require different approaches to lesson planning. This is mostly due to the fact that English language learners living in an English speaking country are taking lessons as a means of linguistic survival. Although grammar is obviously an important part of English language learning, these students may feel pressed to first learn how to communicate in a way that the people within their community understand them – even if they are using ‘broken English’. These students are taking English lessons to open up more opportunities both financially and socially to themselves and possibly members of their families. ESL students will also have the opportunity to continuously practice their English outside of the classroom setting. As a result the instructor should consider which topics are the most necessary.

EFL students may not feel the urgency to learn survival English right away. An EFL student may be partaking in English lessons for a future trip, to open up future social, academic and economic opportunities or for solely for enjoyment. There are a number of EFL academic institutions around the world that cater to students who are taking English simply because it is their hobby.

The distinction between second and foreign language learning is what is actually being learned, where it is being learned and how it is learned.

This course will dive deeper into what considerations should be taken into account when creating and delivering ESL and EFL lessons.


“brb, ttyl ok? wow, I saved a ‘ton’ of time with those acronyms.”

― Stephen Colbert

There is a lot of terminology associated with English language instruction. English Speakers can fall under many different categories and there are many acronyms to describe the types of English speakers. The following section is a review of some of the most commonly used terms and acronyms.

The language in which a person is learning is commonly referred to as the student’s target language while Native language is the term associated with a person’s first language or sometimes referred to as their mother tongue.

L1 is the abbreviation for first language spoken by an individual, also referred to as a person’s mother tongue


L1 English – refers to a person who uses English as their first language. L1 is a term that can be used for any language for example a person who uses French as their first language would be considered an L1 French speaker.

L2 is an abbreviation for a person’s second language, or a language that is not their L1. Someone who is referred as L1 Japanese and L2 English is considered a Japanese speaker who has a working knowledge of English.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is a form of ESL/EFL instruction that focuses on academia. This would include subject areas such as writing formal reports, presentations for school related purposes and reading academic works.

Some areas of the world may refer to EFL lessons as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL)( refers to the study of English for a particular (usually job related) purpose. For example a course that focuses solely on English for the tourism industry.

TOEFL is an official Test of English as a Foreign Language. This test focuses on English proficiency for international students who are interested in studying at an English speaking institution.

TOEIC is the Test of English for International Communication. Originally used in Japan but now a worldwide tool, TOEIC is a standardized test (multiple choice) that is used to assess one’s proficiency in English.

Both TOEFL and TOEIC has become a recognized standard throughout the world.


Principles of Second Language Acquisition

Learn a new language and get a new soul.  – Czech Proverb

Over the last century, many linguists have researched and theorized on how people acquire a second language. As a result, a number of theoretical frameworks have been developed. There isn’t ‘one accepted theory’ of language acquisition but rather a variety of theories each with a different focus and different limitations. This section will briefly explore different theories of second language acquisition.

Chomsky’s Innate Cognitive Process Theory

Do you think an adult learns a second language the same way a child learns a first language? Why or why not?

Professor Noam Chomsky is one of the most well-known professors of linguistic studies. Chomsky ‘s works support a nativists theory that acquiring is actually in our genetic makeup and we are born with innate abilities known as an LAD (Language Acquisition Device). Language acquisition does not rely on formal instruction.

In its simplest form, Chomsky’s theory is that we are born with the innate ability to learn basic language which include the rules of grammar. We develop our language skills by listening to the people who raise us. Infants and toddlers do not necessarily require someone to teach them language, as long as there is linguistic input around they will inevitably acquire language. The process of selecting the correct pattern of words is done unconsciously.

Chomsky refers to this as our universal grammar and supports this theory by pointing out that all human languages share similar patterns (for example present and past tense).

There is a difference between the acquisition of a first language and a second language. Those who have had experience teaching both adults and children may have noticed that children learn their first language in a more fluid fashion while adults’ rate of acquisition varies from person to person.

Now, keep in mind Chomsky’s theory. Children do not need to be taught their first language whereas adults require formal instruction.

With children it is a natural progression due to needs and environment.

With adults second language acquisition is dependent upon motivation, attitude, and ability

Even though Chomsky’s theory appears to put adults at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring language, adults do possess skills that enable them to learn another language.

Adults possess competency in a first language which could be used to further understand and retain a second language. For example, associating L2 words with L1 words, creating visual and audio clues.

Adults are able to problem solve and simplify complex concepts.

Adults understand inflection and tone.

Adult have the cognitive ability to review and reflect

Adults can draw on mnemonics devices – these are memory tools such as creating acronyms or simple rhymes

*try a web search on common mnemonic devices

Chomsky’s concepts have been both highly accepted and criticized by his peers.

Krashen’s Five Hypotheses

One of the most noted modern linguist and educational researcher is psychologist Dr. Stephen Krashen. Dr, Krashen is well known for his theories of language acquisition and development most of which were published in a series of books throughout the 1980s. Along with Tracey Terrell, Dr. Krashen also researched and authored works on the natural approach to language teaching.

Dr. Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition explores how we learn language through five main hypotheses:

  • the natural order hypothesis
  • the acquisition-learning hypothesis
  • the monitor hypothesis
  • the input hypothesis
  • the affective filter hypothesis

The Natural Order Hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that language acquisition follows a natural pattern of progress. Just like in movement, one first learns to crawl, stand, walk and then run, language acquisition in every language develops through a series of sequential steps that a person progresses through naturally.

By studying this natural progressing of language acquisition, researchers have uncovered a predictable pattern in language acquisition. By following this pattern teachers can develop a series of instructions that best suit the needs of older language learners.

This hypothesis coincides Noam Chomsky’s theory that humans naturally have a built-in Language Acquisition Device (LAD), that enables humans to understand and acquire language from infancy.

Teachers need to take the natural order hypothesis when introducing language concepts. This can be done by ensuring first introducing models that are moderately easy for learners to acquire. As instructors should *scaffold difficult concepts.

Perform a web search and find a definition educational scaffolding:

Educational scaffolding refers to the idea that in order for students to properly achieve academic success, the instructor needs to ensure that instructional supports have been when students are first introduced to a new topic.

The Acquisition – Learning Hypothesis.

The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis is considered by many linguists as the most fundamental of all Krashen’s hypothesizes .

The Acquisition – Learning hypothesis suggests that second language performance is a product of two separate systems that happen consciously and subconsciously in a person’s brain.

The first system is the acquired system. Language acquisition occurs subconsciously through natural communication. In other words people acquire a second language when they are exposed to meaningful verbal interactions with speakers of the target language.

The second system focuses on formal instruction. Krashen believes that this system holds less importance than the acquired system however it is still a component of language acquisition. The ‘learning’ system occurs when people consciously focus on learning a language.

In its simplest form you can think of it this way, a person learns a language by studying it they acquire a language by immersing themselves in it.

Instructors need to create opportunities for students to use the target language in an authentic manor within their classrooms. This is especially important in the EFL classroom because students will not have the opportunity to use the target language outside of the classroom. How could and EFL instructor incorporate the acquisition-learning hypothesis into their teachings?

Role playing (creating simulated scenarios)

The Monitor Hypothesis

The Monitor Hypothesis corresponds directly with the Acquisition- Learning hypothesis. The Monitor Hypothesis focuses on the effects of direct language instruction. Krashen explained in the Acquisition- Learning hypothesis that language acquisition occurs during exposure to natural communication. In essence, the language we acquire through this process is fine-tuned and properly edited through grammar and language instruction. Instruction and traditional language learning activities monitor and correct language.

The Input Hypothesis.

Comprehensible input are the messages that a language learner understands. These messages can come in the form of written text (books, signs, subtitles) or oral language (conversations, radio).

The input hypothesis suggests that in order for language acquisition to occur, the learner must receive comprehensible input that is slightly above their level of language knowledge. This is often documented as Comprehensible Input +1. The +1 represents the next level in language.

EFL instructors need to ensure that they are constantly taking the input hypothesis into consideration when creating and implementing lessons. Instructors need to provide as much comprehensible input as possible, especially in the EFL class because learners are not exposed to the target language outside of the classroom setting.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis.

Affective Filter Hypothesis focuses on the theory that confidence and anxiety have a direct correlation to language learning. In order to properly acquire language, a person needs to be comfortable and feel confident in their surroundings. When a language learner is uncomfortable they tend to mentally build up barriers that prevent acquisition.

Keeping in mind the Affective Filter Hypothesis, list a few barriers in an academic environment that could directly hinder language acquisition.

How can an instructor ensure that a learner feels safe?

-begin lessons with ice breakers

-establish a classroom routine with a set of norms

-consider seating arrangements

-incorporate dual language resources

– use humour

-include teaching methods that allow for student interaction

-address students by name

-use eye contact

-use positive language

(*6) The Reading Hypothesis

It should also be noted that Krashen’s more recent research has concluded that the more a person reads in a second language, the more vocabulary they will acquire.

Involving a variety of texts in a language classroom will increase the learner’s knowledge of the target language and also offer the learner opportunities to view how the target language can be used in real-life contexts.

List some forms of texts that will offer students an opportunity to view language in real-life contexts.


-instructional signs




Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development theory

Having English language learners work in small groups is a recommend strategy. Why do you think students are more successfully when broken up into small groups?

Although he only lived to the age of 38, Lev Vygotsky was considered one of the founders of cultural historical psychology. Vygotsky lived through Russian Revolution of the early 1900s and his works were largely unknown to the West until it was published in 1962, more than 25 years after he died.

As a social constructivist he believed that social interaction was key to the cognitive and language development of children. He observed how higher level mental functions developed within particular cultural groups and individually through social interactions with significant people in most cases a child’s primary caregivers.

Vygotsky developed the Zone of Proximal Development theory, which outlines the notion that a student’s performance of certain tasks improve greatly when they are being guided by an adult or when working in a group of their peers.

Vygotsky referred to these peers as More Knowledgeable Other(s) (MKO). The MKO is anyone who has a better understanding or more knowledge in the area of study than the learner. The MKO could be a teacher, coach, or peers.

Vygotsky theorized that working alone is less constructive because when a student works with others, the gaps between what the student knows and what can be known is bridged.

Working in these groups is working within the Zone of Proximal Development.

Think of it this way:


(1)Student X has some understanding of some of the concepts but needs to learn other concepts for a greater understanding of the materials

(2)Student X is grouped with others who know these concepts but some of the members of the groups may not know some of the concepts Student X knows (they have all entered the zone)

(3) Everyone walks out of the group with new information

Think about this:

Why is the second language classroom a perfect environment to apply the Zone of Proximal Development theory?

Unlike a situation in which a teacher or lecturer delivers information to students, the ZPD theory promotes the notion that students need to play an active role in learning. ZPD theory offers an opportunity for everyone to learn from each other.

In an ESL/EFL classroom, the teacher can set up small groups in which students act as the MKOs and learn off each other.

Think about it:

How does the Zone of Proximal Development theory compliment Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis? Think about students working in groups.

-In essence both theories work on the notion that learning takes place when a learner is exposed to a person who has slightly more advanced knowledge in that subject area. Group work in the ESL/EFL classroom is very successful bec


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