English is crazy

English is a ridiculous language. Either there are no hard and fast rules or lots of exceptions to the rules.

It’s no wonder I do not aspire to be an English teacher. I am no grammar expert. Either a sentence sounds right or it doesn’t. Don’t ask me to deconstruct a sentence into its component parts like a forensic scientist. I have no interest in that at all.

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I have, therefore, nothing but admiration for English teachers. They are, in the main, a dedicated bunch who do give a shit about their pupils’ attainment of the English language.

But it must, on occasion, be like pushing an elephant (con voi) up a hill with your nose. How, for instance, do you explain why “fat chance” and “slim chance” essentially mean the same thing?

Why do we have cats, dogs and birds but mice, geese and sheep?

If you ask me, part of the problem is because the UK has invaded so many other countries over the centuries. We are like magpies: “That’s a shiny new word we like the sound of, we’re having that.”

Hence, for example, why we have the word admiral. This actually comes from the Arabic ‘amir-al-bahr” which is literally translated as commander of the sea. Then you can throw into this mongrel of a mix Latin, Greek, French and bunch of other assorted languages for good measure.

English teachers will undoubtedly have tonnes more better examples of the craziness of English, so let’s hear them.

And that’s without even going into the differences of UK English and American English where you begin to wonder sometimes if it really is the same language. (Oh dear, I feel a rant coming on.)

All of this, of course, is bad news for the English learner. By comparison, from the little I have picked up, Vietnamese is far more sensible and logical. Forget January, February etc. and say ‘xin chao’ to month one, month two…

The same goes too for days of the week: Sunday is chủ nhật ( which, I believe, means something approximating the day of rest); Monday is thứ hai (day two) and so on. My personal favourite is Wednesday, Thứ tư which always makes me think ‘tutu’.

Going back to the elephant, isn’t it rather neat that Vietnamese for elephant is con voi? Pronounced the same as ‘convoy’, the archetypal image of the elephant is as a beast of burden travelling close together in single file. Rather, in fact, like a bunch of trucks driving down a highway in an elephant, sorry, convoy.

  • Having railed against becoming an English teacher, I recently decided to give Scottish lessons a try instead. See video
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