Perhaps one of the biggest sources of difficulty for English speakers when learning a foreign language is the fact that modern spoken English is rich with slang expressions — especially in the US, where our language is so heavily influenced by pop culture. Thinking in slang and hyperbole can be a steep impediment to overcome.
Just how bad is the English language?
What does the phrase like some mean? Those two words, mean one thing when I have a box of candy and ask if you would like some, but they mean a completely different thing when I tell you to stop acting like some kind of wise guy!
Daily communication in English is a product of a lot of understatements, slang expressions and references to pop culture, and often very little direct speech. We say things like head over heels, without ever considering the fact that our head being over our heels is the proper state of things!
If you were telling your friends a story about how quickly a driver turned a corner, you would risk losing their attention. But if you explain that he put the pedal to the metal and took the corner like a madman, you would probably have their interest. Tell someone that you're hungry, or thirsty, and they will likely ignore you — you won't get any attention until you say that you're starving, or that you're dying of thirst.
If you are chilling out, or just chilling it's not the same as telling someone else to chill out... and it's not even in the same universe as feeling a bit chilly. We get butterflies in our stomachs, a frog in our throat, and ants in our pants, unless the cat's got our tongue.
In the corporate world, people think outside the box. They shoot from the hip and grab the low hanging fruit. Those who are not team players will throw you under the bus. We say things like in the ballpark, out of your league, and on deck more at the office than we do at the baseball game.
Well, that's my two cents, anyway.
Learning a foreign language makes you a better English speaker
I find myself saying this a lot. To me, it's one of the most fascinating aspects of learning a foreign language. Learning to speak a foreign language — fluently — really will make you a better English-speaker.
It will make you reconsider all of those lazy things you've let yourself get away with. You see, it's only when you get stuck trying to translate a phrase like "let you get away with" into another language that you realize how horrible that phrase really is! Eventually, you settle on a more appropriate phrase like "allow yourself to", and as you use it in the new language you will begin to change the way you think.
English is the only language I have learned so far in which an active verb is used to like something. In almost all other languages I know, you use a reflexive verb to show that the thing you like is pleasing to you. And if it's doing something that you like, most other languages expect you to say enjoy, rather than something as generic as to like doing it.
Grammar is also more important in other languages, which are less lazy than ours. A phrase as simple as, "How much Italian can you learn in one month?" would sound wrong when translated, because it's more proper to ask, "How much of the Italian language can you learn?", or, "How much can you learn of the Italian language in just one month?" And again, this is really how it should be said in English, too; we're just too lazy and forgiving about grammar.
The Russian language has had an incredible influence on how I think and speak in English. The omission of the verb to be makes sentence structure incredibly important, because the act of being can be correctly inferred only if the words are in the right places. A sentence like, "You are right about that!" in Russian would have to be stated as, "About that, you are right!" because a direct, word-for-word translation is unclear.
This also helps to remind us about the rule of dangling participles. Where we might overlook a sentence like, "He is the one I gave the bicycle to," such a though will paralyze you as you try to form it in Russian! A grammatically correct form, such as, "He is the one to whom I gave the bicycle," flows out much easier. It will come as no surprise, though, that most Russian speakers will instinctively choose a much simpler way of saying "I gave the bicycle to him."
Where many of us are accustomed to asking "is there any salt", or saying "yes, there is salt on the table", in the German language you must ask "Does it give any salt?", and answer, "Yes, it gives the salt on the table."
Thinking about the difference between adjectives and adverbs (often the same in English), the placement of verbs, or nouns, or determining the role of a noun in a sentence all have a profound effect on the way you think. And likewise, learning to change the way you think will have an equally profound effect on your ability to learn a new language!
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.