Thursday, May 23, 2013

English Facts: Six Fun Facts About The English Language

English: Dictionary of French and English Lang...
Early Dictionary, 1611 (Wikipedia)
by Shelley Ann Vernon

The English Language is delightfully quirky. Here are some fun facts about it.

Fact One: Going, going gone!

Languages evolve and English is no exception. One quarter of the words in the full Oxford dictionary are classed as obsolete.

Strewth! That only leaves about 175,000 for every day conversation.

Fact Two: Did you say you spoke English?

Good luck trying to translate this my dear English students, without a good slang dictionary.

English is enriched by slang, and I say enriched deliberately since it's colourful and fun, although not perhaps every one's cup of tea, and certainly one would endeavour not to use it in the presence of the Queen.

I was down the pub having some nosh, when I noticed this nutter going in and out the loo. I said to my mate: "Bet you a tenner there's something well dodgy going on there." "I should mind your beeswax" he replied, "I'm off to Bedfordshire."

Just as the nutter was going back into the loo, Bob's your uncle, the Fuzz arrived. Gobsmacked, my mate fell off his stool (actually I think he was plastered). "Keep your hair on," I said. "The coppers are here for him not you."

A classroom activity could be to work on different paragraphs like the above in small groups and provide a translation in proper English!

Less radical than slang for the English language classroom are metaphors and similes. The English are champions for quirky metaphors.

While the French say it's raining ropes, the Spanish say it's raining jugs, the Italians say it's raining like a shower, all of which give a good visual on very heavy rain, the English say it's raining cats and dogs. Where did they come from?

Fact Three: It's gets worse ... incomprehensible even to the English!

If slang wasn't enough the English language has further ways to confuse the intrepid learner.

While French has 'Verlan', where words are said backwards, so femme becomes meuf, English has rhyming slang, a language understood by some East Londoners and a few other people in the know!

If you don't want to die stupid use your loaf and take a butcher's at Wikipedia - they explain it in full. In short words that rhyme are used instead of the original word, so wife became trouble and strife.

The longer phrase is then shortened to just the first word, so wife became trouble. The phone became the dog and bone, and that in turn became the dog.

So if you plan to spend longer than planned down the pub, for Pete's sake get your trouble on the dog and let her know!

Fact Four: Much of English is foreign anyway.

The English Language is an eclectic mix of Indo-European, old Norse, Greek, Latin, German, French ... (and other sources).

Many every day words come from afar, such as jodhpurs after the Indian city, chocolate from Aztec, anorak from Eskimo, aficionado from French, embargo from Spanish and so on.

To this day new words are being added from diverse sources and goodness only kwz if txt language will be added, OMG I hope not, TIME, CU Wordsworth.

To think that the rest of the world are also using these acronyms, it's time for a revolution, I mean can't they think up their own?

Fact Five: English spelling and pronunciation can be maddening

With as many exceptions as there are rules good luck to the teacher trying to explain why the same letters 'ough' have three different pronunciations. 'Go through the pigsty and put the feed in the trough under the bough.'

Fact Six: English is only spoken as a native language by 5% of the world.

Should we all be learning Chinese and Spanish before English? Not according to the UN, at least for the moment, where English and French are the working languages, even though only 1% of the world speak French.

For fun language activities in the English language classroom check these books:

ESL Classroom Activities for Teens & Adults

And the PDF version directly from the author:

Amazon Reviews:

I find it a very useful resource and the support from the author was unexpected but very welcome. A practical, simply written book packed with ideas to use on any occasion - Well done.

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