English is a funny language

Despite the fact our children did all their homeland schooling in English, they are battling to get language right.  Today I looked at this decidedly English style cottage in the gardens my co-worker and I walk around at lunch time.  I got me thinking about how differently English can be used, even in countries where English is the official language.

English Cottage in Australia

English Cottage in Australia

Our youngest is struggling to use his/hers, she/he and him/her correctly. We are constantly working on it with her. She KNOWS them and I know she knows them because if I sit and ask her to tell me is “his” for a boy or a girl, she gets such questions correct 100%. It is when she speaks or writes she gets confused.

Singular and plural is a problem for all.  The “s” to denote more than one just doesn’t seem to exist in their vocabulary.  Miss O 2 and I had a discussion last night, as she was writing a little essay about herself for school.

“I have two brother”.  She asked me if this was correct.

“No”, I replied, “It should be I have two brothers.  You need to use the plural, for more than one”.

“If I use the ‘s’, why do I need to say ‘two’ “, she asked.

“So the reader knows how many more than one,” I replied.

“Oh, I see”.

There is the problem of verb tenses.  It seems they have not learnt to conjugate verbs at all.  When to use “is”  and when to use “are” is a constant problem.  The use of “am” seems to be fine!

I am
You are
He/she/it is

We are
You are
They are

I remember reciting them at school endlessly!

The question of the perfect and imperfect past is something we are tackling slowly.  Even the concept of adding “ed” to a word to denote the past is something they had no idea about.

It is interesting, because Mr O, who was also educated in his homeland, is much better on the rules of grammar.  He is adamant it is because the education system there has deteriorated since he was at school.  I cannot judge this at all, of course – I wasn’t there.  I do know his knowledge of the structure of the English language is far better than the children’s knowledge.  Yes, he has a strong accent, as do they, but he knows what is correct in almost all cases.  Vocabulary and sound is a different matter altogether.  Also, when you speak a reasonable amount of English and THINK you understand a word, that can be more confusing than not knowing at all!  I remember in early 2010 Mr O asking me what was the difference between “avoid” and “afford”.  If he reads the word, he knows, because he knows what the words mean.  He cannot tell the difference when he hears the words spoken.  Conversely, when he was giving evidence during his asylum seeker days, he said he had been in India and Australia’s officials documented he had been to England.  Consequently, I am often asking them to repeat what they said, simply because I am not at all sure what they said!  We repeat a lot of conversation in our house! :lol:  I have written before of the problems my husband experienced with language in the past, mostly always verbal.  Long written paragraphs can be confusing, but it is the sounds that are the biggest problem.

Use of words is different.  If I say I am going somewhere, a child will ask, “Can I follow you”.  It took me a couple of times to work out they meant could they come WITH me.  I have explained the difference many times, yet I still get the same question! :)

It has, after all, only been five months!

They “shut off” the lights and “close the tap”.  The bathroom is the toilet, no matter how often we correct them.  I’m not sure what the toilet is called! :lol:

The washing gets “spread” rather than “hung out”.  Tonight we had a discussion about “mercy” and “misery”.  We spell a lot, to ensure we are talking about the same word!

Words in English that sound the same but are spelt differently, (two, to, too, son, sun) or are spelt the same but pronounced differently cause problems.  “I will record that song” versus “He ran the race in record time” or “I will read that book tomorrow versus “I read the paper yesterday” are classic examples and topics of recent conversation.

I think about how hard it must be for those arriving in a new country who do not have a resident local language encyclopaedia to help!

Punctuation such as using capital letters after a full-stop or for proper nouns is problematic.  When to break thoughts into sentences has been another learning curve.

We are getting there, but sometimes I feel I need two of me – sharing me around five people as an English tutor is not easy!  I always feel I am not helping someone enough.

We will get there! :D

About Team Oyeniyi

We fought to be together as a team, we are now together as a team. Team Oyeniyi

20 comments on “English is a funny language

  1. […] earlier articles I have written about the struggle to use English correctly and the “h” sound before. I’ve also written about the battle to […]


  2. […] English is a funny language Spread the word:FacebookTweet ThisShare on TumblrMoreEmailPrintDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Read more from Mrs O, Our New Life Education, English, immigration, language, marriage ← Claiming Compensation from the government […]


  3. […] that just do not exist in Yoruba.  These are “th” and “h”.  When I wrote English is a Funny Language, I concentrated on words.  Today we look at […]


  4. Reading this post made me think of the days when I taught ESL. English is one of the hardest languages to learn because there are so many words that sound alike with different meanings and yes pronoun use can be problematic. Syntax problems also arise because as English is Sub-Verb-Ob some language structures are different and the learner often still thinks in their language syntax even though they know the words.

    I tried an experiment with my students by having them close their eyes as they listened to certain words and phrases. Sometimes we “hear” more closely when other senses aren’t involved. Conversation is the best way to learn a language and having them watch films with subtitles helped. I used to have my students (all adult females) watch episodes of “Sex and the City” with the English captions on. They liked the series; so they paid attention.


    • As much as Sex and The City is a great idea, I’m not sure it is suitable for a nine year-old sadly. We do turn the sub-titles on, on the TV sometimes, but really, the sub-titles are not very good most of the time and give just the idea of what is happening rather than a strict English transcript.

      We are getting there, slowly but surely. Mr O and I had a long conversation about using “have been” and “was/were” the other night. “I came” and “I have come” usage is something an AWFUL lot of native English speaking Australians do not get right – and it makes me cringe! :lol:


  5. Thanks for the link in your article! I’m just seeing it today! Grazie! :)


  6. Phew! It is not easy dealing with accents and language. Kudos to you as you are doing an awesome job with all… :-)


    • Thank you Elizabeth! Hugs to you. Miss O 1 is doing superbly, her written work has come ahead in leaps and bounds in just 5 months. Miss O 2 is starting to recognise words that cause issues more easily, such as “no” and “know” and has cottoned on to the fact we have this thing called a silent ‘t’, “listen” being today’s discussion topic. Each day brings a new opportunity to learn.

      Mr O has always been big on asking a ton of questions, even before he makes a Facebook post. He likes to make sure he is improving his English all the time. Of course, as a teenager, Mr O Jnr 1 seems to have a firm grasp of all the local swear words. THAT learning curve we could have side-stepped. :lol: He knows certain words are NOT to be used in the house! Or elsewhere if I had my way, but I can’t police it outside. It will pass, the novelty will wear off.


  7. […] English is a funny language (teamoyeniyi.com) I think about how hard it must be for those arriving in a new country who do not have a resident local language encyclopaedia to help! […]


  8. I love the different expressions between English English and the Americanized version.

    Communication is so fraught with the potential for misunderstanding, that it’s amazing that we ever “connect” at all. ;)


  9. I am not sure if you have already done that, but there are organizations that offer free tutoring. It might be through school, university students, or community adult education. I am not sure how it works in Australia :-)
    With the sounds,it is important to make sure they recognize them at first. Say a word and ask them to write it,you will clearly see what the problem is. There are a lot of on-line free resources on how to facilitate language learning.
    The good thing is, you will learn so much more about your own version of English!!!


    • The problem is they are too advanced for the free tutoring classes. They already speak English (have spoken it all their lives) and that is why I think it is harder – they have to CHANGE the way they speak, not learn English from scratch. It is the changing that is difficult. The eldest is doing Englsih as a Second Language (ESL) at school and she has improved in leaps and bounds. Their writing is much better than their speaking.

      We will get there! :)


  10. I’ve often thought how difficult it must be for people to learn English as their second (third, etc.) language. It’s a weird language, and so inconsistent. As you pointed out, there are differences even between the way words are used in countries where English is the official language. A British friend and I kid each other about funny spelling and funny usage. A torch here in the U.S. is not the same as a torch in the U.K. We refer to the loo or the toilet here as a restroom, or the lady’s (or men’s) room, or bathroom. I had trouble with some of the driving terms the summer I lived in London.


  11. Really great post. My husband still struggles with the English language, his first language is not Italian but dialect, Gallurese. He spends 99% of his day speaking his dialect, even with me! :) We have a stange communication as we speak all three languages to each other, mostly English where I’m always correcting him. The pronouncation being the most difficult for him.


    • Thanks Jennifer! It is lovely to hear from someone with similar experiences and I thought your article about your struggles with TWO new languages was great! I won’t ask which language you speak when! :wink:


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