English has become a "bridge language" in international conversations mainly because of two reasons: one, because modern globalization and the Web began in English-speaking countries; and, two, because English is simple to read, write, speak and learn.
Those who do not speak English miss a lot of information that is readily available out there, and they are forced to live with the disadvantage of having to wait until someone translates it for them to get it.
You do not need to be one of them. Any English course will help you learn the language, but understanding what makes English different from others will help you learn it faster and, more importantly, better. Here you have the most important ones:
1. English Has Two Origins: Latin and Germanic Languages
If you read about the history of Britain, you will learn that it was Celtic in the beginning, that then it was part of the Roman Empire, and that then it received invasions from Germanic tribes after the Roman Empire fell. This means that, in English, some words are similar to Latin words (like "animal") and others are similar to German (like "school"). This is what makes English spelling somewhat confusing when you are learning it!
2. English Spelling Has Some Guidelines You Can Follow
Despite that, spelling becomes easier to learn when you pay attention to the details:
a. English is a consonantal language. Words can be very similar to one another, and it is consonants that make the difference. Think about words like bell, bend, bed, bet, and best. The difference is one or two consonantal sounds! Learn to dominate consonants when you speak and when you listen, and you will soon see you speak and understand English a lot better.
b. In English, words with similar spelling also have similar pronunciations. Think about words like balloon, spoon, and doom; or like peer, steel, and wheel, and soon you will notice that words with similar letter structures (oo or ee in my examples) also share similar pronunciations. What about door or blood? Well, now you know that similar letter structures do not necessarily mean only one pronunciation pattern. There can be more than one per combination. Learn the combinations, and you will learn how to pronounce them better too.
c. Mute letters matter, and syllables too. You sure have noticed that many words in English end in a mute "e". You have also noticed that vowels have two possible sounds in this language: a "long one" (the vowel's name) and a short one. Often (and let me remark that because often does not mean always), the last "e" is there to signal to you the previous vowel sounds with the "long vowel sound"—for example, cake.
Something similar happens in syllables: syllables that end in a consonant often bear a short vowel sound; syllables that end in a vowel often carry a long vowel sound (as long as they are not fixed letter structures with specific pronunciations, of course).
Take a look at the syllabification rules in English. They are five, and they can help you a lot.
3. The Core of the English Language is Noun Phrases
So dominate them. A noun closes the phrase, and all modifiers come before it in this order: determiner, adjectives, nouns as modifiers (hyphenated if they are multi-word modifiers), and noun.
4. English Has Fewer Words Compared to Other Languages
This means that word meanings depend on the circumstance! If you are in a classroom and a teacher asks you to draw a flower, then you would have to grab a pencil and start making lines.
If you were an archer, however, to draw means to pull the string and prepare to fire an arrow. It is the same word, but with a completely different meaning!
You may have probably heard more than once that it is bad to learn English by translating words into your native language.
Now you know why.
When you learn English, you need to learn the correct set of words for each circumstance, even if those words have other meanings in other situations.
5. English Has Set Word Combinations You Must Respect
In English, either someone is responsible or responsible for something. Responsible for is a word combination you must respect because not doing it means speaking or writing incorrect English.
There are many other word combinations in the English language, and you may have already met many in your books.
Start noticing them, writing them down, and reviewing them until you learn them.
6. Learning English Means Understanding Their Communication Psychology Too
English is a simple and straightforward language. This means that most of the time, the easiest way to communicate is to just speak or write plainly.
Now, do not get me wrong.
English can be complex too, as and when needed.
Just do not force it when plain English is enough.
7. Lastly, Mix All the Previous Tips So You Can "Think in English"
When I was an English teacher, the phrase "we need to help students to think in English" was common among colleagues.
But what does it mean? Well, it means all of the above at the same time —this:
a. to preferably write or speak in plain and straightforward language
b. with the correct set of words for the situation you are talking about or writing about
c. respecting the correct use of word combinations and noun phrases; and,
d. with correct pronunciation or spelling.
The rest is basically practicing and broadening your vocabulary until you achieve proficiency in the language.
I will close by giving you just one more tip you can use to learn English properly:
8. When in Doubt, Ask! Why?
Because it is easier to learn when you do not need to unlearn what you learned wrong.
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Thank you and take care!
Jorge Enrique Aguayo (also known as Tedel online) is a former English teacher based in Peru. He is currently working on relaunching his cultural website, Heptagrama. He is also a contributing writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.