Jay Walker is an American Billionaire and chairman of Walker Digital. He presents an interesting case for the use of English in a global economy.
What is your opinion of the scenes in China?
What is Jay’s argument?
Do you agree with him?
Read the article with your tutor
Learning English is easy, right? It’s effortless, it’s plain-sailing, it’s unchallenging! Compared to romance languages such as Spanish and French, English is a cinch. Do you agree or are you already thinking: English does NOT seem that easy to me! Look at all the exceptions! Just look at all these phrasal verbs! Look at all this vocabulary! Just think about the past… the past tense that is!
In many languages you have to change the past tense for every pronoun, but in English the past tense is basically the same for everyone. Consider the following:
The verb EAT in the past tense:
…and if it’s the past participle then ‘have eaten’. You don’t need to have an amazing memory to remember the past tense of most verbs in English. Sure, there are some tricky irregular verbs, but they don’t change from pronoun to pronoun either.
In both French and German you need to remember the gender of the article and getting the gender of a word wrong can lead to confusion at best and a completely different meaning at worst, since some words have different meanings depending on their gender.
Wow! When you put English grammar next to the grammar of other European languages, the difference is clear. No wonder it’s the global language for business as well as aeronautical and maritime communications. No wonder it’s so popular; it’s easy! English is the lingua franca of the modern era, and is also an official language in over 60 countries. Many people, when they communicate, do so in English as it is the only common language they share.
Of course, you might be thinking: Well, that’s all fine and good, but English does NOT seem that easy to me! Just look at all these phrasal verbs. Look at all this vocabulary! And if you are thinking this, then you have a very good point. English grammar is easy, but vocabulary in English is not a walk in the park. There’s another hard one: ‘walk in the park’. Sayings and idioms like ‘walk in the park’ or ‘take the bull by the horns’ or ‘taking candy from a baby’ are also complex aspects of the language to learn. If you can master phrasal verbs, idioms, a bit of slang, and an ample vocabulary, then you will sound like a native English speaker. Not so easy, but not a lost cause either.
First of all, how many words are there in the English language? The answer is: no one knows. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (OED2) includes over 600,000 definitions, while Webster’s Dictionary lists 475.000. In December 2010 a joint Harvard/Google study found the language to contain 1,022,000 words, expanding at the rate of 8,500 words per year. So does this mean that in order to learn English you need to memorize 500,000 vocabulary words? No, of course not. Most native English speakers do not know 500,000 words and they certainly don’t use 500,000 items of vocabulary in their day to day life. In fact, they say that about 170,000 English words are actually in current use.
So what are native English speakers doing with all those words? English’s rich vocabulary allows speakers to describe objects, feelings, people, and pretty much anything else with very precise detail. It is a language of subtleties, perfect for writers, poets and storytellers. For example, in French they cannot distinguish between a house and a home, a mind and a brain, or a man and a gentleman; but in English there are marked differences between these similar words. A vast vocabulary makes English a fascinating language, but also a tough one.
Another aspect of English that is exasperating for ESL students is the tendency for one word to have MANY meanings. Think about the word FINE. What does FINE mean to you? It could be:
a fine: like a ticket, which you must pay when you break the law, a noun
or it could be an adjective, to say that you are ‘just fine’, as to mean OK
or it could also be an adjective to mean that something is very beautiful, or very expensive
This becomes even more complex when we consider phrasal verbs, or phrasals. Phrasals take one verb, such as GET, which already has many meanings on its own (obtain/take/receive/etc) and makes that verb even more baffling.
Consider the following:
GET A JOB
…and the list goes on and on. English’s many phrasals make the language more expressive, but make learning verbs and all their meanings a real challenge. The bad news is that phrasals are also really important. If you listen carefully to how native English speakers talk to each other, you will note that they often use phrasal verbs. Turn on the radio and listen to any pop song and it will be loaded with phrasal.
In the end, English is an easy language, but speaking and writing English well and artfully takes time and effort.
a cinch (n): something really easy, not difficult
amazing (adj): incredible, astonishing
tricky (adj): complex, problematic
no wonder (expression): to mean that something is not surprising
a walk in the park (expression): to mean that something is really easy, as easy as walking through a park
subtleties (n): delicate and precise
storytellers (n): a person who tells tales or stories, like a fiction writer
tough (adj): difficult, not easy
exasperating (adj): irritating, infuriating
baffling (adj): confusing
What have you learnt this lesson?
What do you need to improve on before the next?
What do you think would be useful to do next lesson for you to progress further?