I had an embarrassing experience in France when I was 16-years-old.
No, it wasn’t my French that was the problem (although I’m sure I made lots of pronunciation mistakes). It was my knowledge of English!
Sat around in a communal circle of newly-found friends, I was at Taizé: a Christian retreat in Burgundy. At many points during the week-long pilgrimage, I found myself conversing with people from all over the world. It was my first truly ‘intensive’ exposure to so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“You must have felt humble” states a friend during a conversation of which I cannot remember the theme.
“What does ‘humble’ mean?” I asked.
Then the laughter came. “Are you sure you’re British?” asked one of the group.
I was sure I was, and I was the only native-English speaking person in the group. It was rather a bashful moment, to be honest, and it spurred me on to read more and more books and get better at articulating myself.
My friends brushed-it-off and were very light-hearted and amused by the matter.
I wasn’t amused though.
English is a massive language
Here are some facts about the English language that I recently discovered:
- A new word is added to the English dictionary every 2 hours! This means that, in one complete year, 4380 words will have been added to the dictionary!
- About 360-million people speak English as a native language. This ranks English third in the world: behind Spanish (400 million native speakers) and Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers).
- Despite the common belief that English has more words than any other language in the world, this is actually impossible to prove. However, English is definitely larger than continental European languages, due to the absorption of German and Latin throughout its history.
- The difficulty of English language learning depends upon the native language of the student. The closer the native language to English in terms of letter shapes, sentence structure, grammar, syntax and logic, the easier it will be to learn. Additionally, in a study conducted by Philip Seymour of Dundee University and his team, it was found that English was the toughest European language to master. Children learning other European languages as a mother-tongue typically master the basic elements within one year. British kids, however, typically take 2.5 years to reach the same level.
Conclusion: English is a pretty difficult language to learn!
Helping our kids to master the language
I’m a high school science teacher. I also have a duty to teach English through my subject.
I have an additional responsibility too: as an international school teacher in Thailand, I must model the very best elements of English pronunciation so that my students pick up the language quickly and efficiently. The local colloquialisms, dialect and accent I picked up from North Wales has to go out of the window (at least to a certain degree).
Here are my top ten tips for teaching English through your subject:
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