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The English Language Is Messed Up

As a student of Japanese (and prior languages), it is inevitable that you are forced to look at your own language in order to learn a new one. After going through this process several times, I only have one conclusion: English is messed up!! Many of you would agree with me on this. It isn’t so much learning the fundamentals since the worldwide exposure to English is vast; it is the nuance, the cultural influence on how English is relayed that becomes a problem. A classic is American English versus British English. They may as well be different languages sometimes!

This has also come to the forefront because of the 10juku crew on Twitter. (This is a series of daily English lessons held for Japanese natives on Twitter. Search for hash #10juku. Shoutout to @y_hareyama who runs the sessions!) They learn not only American phrases, but ones from other English speaking cultures, which is good. A recent lesson featured a phrase is never heard of: “Spend in youth, spare in age” I think it was… something like that. I’d never heard of this phrase before! It is a British phrase, and while it makes sense, it’s curious to have no knowledge of it. I often wonder if my American is showing (what do you think that means, English students? Ask me if you don’t understand).

When I have to translate something in my head, my brain thinks in shortcuts, so full English doesn’t really happen and that’s a problem when trying to explain to someone why you say one word or phrase over another. We Americans are so deeply entrenched in our slang that it has become standardized language. As you know, language changes from place to place in the United States. “Soda” in the East is “Pop” in the South and Midwest. The same word can have different meanings between English speaking countries too. For instance, “biscuit” means cracker (the hard crunchy one like Ritz) AND the raised quick bread that you bake. These minor differences can distinguish you as being from a particular area even more than an accent can. Words like “metro” vs “subway” give you away.

The same holds true for students who learn “book” English and have no practical experience of the language. The combination of the two is essential. But look, it isn’t something you get overnight unless you’re some sort of savant. You have to speak with people and try things out. It may sound ridiculous at first, but it’s the only way to gain confidence. (I should take my own advice with Japanese!)

I’m gonna try to remember some of the phrases I say all the time and take for granted. It’s THAT troublesome a language. 😉 Keep studying!

English natives, what are some crazy phrases that are hard to explain? Speak on it… and follow me on Twitter for more language blurbs and slang thoughts – @chmijo