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English has been my pain for 15 years (2013) (antirez.com)
261 points by jacquesm on Nov 28, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 238 comments

Ever noticed how people from small countries in Europe often tend to speak English well, while people from big European countries dont? Think Sweden vs Italy.

Its mostly just a happy accident. You see, in small countries they usually dont dub movies or tv shows, simply because the market isn't big enough. They simply put subtitles on.

Subtitles fly past way too quick for young kids to read though. So young kids dont read but just listen, and automatically learn to understand English at home in front of the TV. By the time they get to study English at school, they already know how to speak it. English spelling is another thing though. Im still struggling with that.

Yeah, what you noticed is correct, but the reason is completely wrong. edit: see the map on wiki[0]

The reason it might be true that people from smaller countries speak better English is emphasis - in a small country, people are fully aware that knowing foreign language (English, German, French in Europe) is super important. People in big countries (Spain, Italy, France) don't think it's that necessary, because they have a big country of their own, their own language should be the important one (and it partially is, although English has seemed to win as the international communication platform).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubbing_%28filmmaking%29

Nope, I think the reason that user "petke" has mentioned is correct. I know this is only anecdotal evidence, but here it is: I live in a small town near the serbian-hungarian border and we can watch both Hungarian and Serbian TV stations. In Serbia movies are subtitled (so you can hear English language all the time) while in Hungary movies are dubbed (so you can't hear anything other than hungarian language on TV). Serbian families who live here watch mostly serbian TV and hungarian families watch mostly hungarian TV stations. Ask any English teacher here and they will all tell you that there is very clear distinction between level of knowledge in serbian vs hungarian kids. They all live in the same town, go to the same school, the only difference is that those kids who watched serbian TV stations had much bigger exposure to english language as opposed to those who watched hungarian TV stations.

Your reasoning that the size of the country matters doesn't hold water because both countries are small.

In Romania, my country, we are also not dubbing movies, although there is a trend for that when it comes to cartoons for little kids. In Bulgaria on the other hand, our neighbors, they've been dubbing movies at least since I was little. Not sure what the deal is there, but Romania has almost 3 times the population of Bulgaria, so I don't buy that it's about size.

Anyway, in Romania we are speaking far better English than any of our neighbors, which includes Hungary and Ukraine. I used to think that happens because Romanian is a romance language, but that doesn't fully explain it. Oh, and people here learn Italian and Spanish as well, almost effortlessly, just by watching soap opera :-) And many of us have learned French in school, though I was not lucky to have good teachers.

BTW, English has some nice features for learners. For example it doesn't assign gender to objects, like all romance languages are doing. Those of us that speak in such languages forgot how hard it was to learn those genders when we were kids.

Wow, that's an awesome natural experiment. Can you share the name of the town? Or would any town near the border do?

The name of the town is Senta, although I guess that any nearby town which has bilingual population would do.

That is probably Subotica.

I think you're wrong. Dubbing or subtitles make a big difference. In Flanders (Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) we have 8 years of French in school and only 5 years of English. Even though France is our neighbor and 40 % of Belgium's speaks French, most young people their English is still much better than their French. It's because we grew up surrounded by English; English songs, English tv shows and movies with subtitles. Older generations speak better French because the media used to be more focussed on France.

Young Flemish or Walloon people even speak English to each other..

Its the same in my case. Me and my class mates where taught Finnish from 1st grade, and English from 5th. (We where taught Finnish because we are Swedish speakers living in Finland).

Even after all those years of lessons. Few of us spoke even half decent Finnish by the time we where adults, but most of us spoke good English by that time. So I think school had little to do with it.

Me and my class mates watched hours of English cartoons or movies on TV, every day on our free time. Its not surprising it made a bigger difference.

English is a lot closer to Dutch though. We learn Dutch, French, English, German and even Latin in school, so we are culturally habituated to the importance of languages. I coincidentally also speak Finnish and Swedish (which feels almost like a Dutch-Limburg dialect), and like the other poster said, it's not a surprise to me the Swedish speaking population in Finland thinks English is easier to learn.

As to Antirez: if only my C would be as good as yours...

> English is a lot closer to Dutch though

I suspect this doesn't as much role in Europe. Sure, there are difficulties unique to learning any language, but English has a lot of shared ancestry with any germanic or romance language. It's not like, say, Mandarin or Punjabi.

You don't supply an argument why that's because of dubbing/subtitling. I think the real reason for the change is that English has become more important as a cultural language, at the expense of French, in this case.

Because we don't use dubbing, English is way more prevalent. Most kids have a somewhat basic grasp of English before being taught in school. Years of hearing English also made it easier to learn in school. You already know how to pronounce many words, it's also less foreign because you grew up with it. With French, you learn it in school and when you go home.. That's it, no more French influences. With English, you turn on the tv or radio and you're passively learning.

Personally, French was always a chore, something solely associated with school. English was fun, something you actively used.

So I agree with all your points, except that the subtitling/dubbing issue is the cause of all this. The subtitling/dubbing is an effect, not a cause. Mere exposure does not make you learn/enjoy a language. The status/prestige/coolness is a cultural thing, and this is what explains the difference in motivation to learn languages.

> Mere exposure does not make you learn/enjoy a language.

It totally does. Especially when you're young. I think you thinking about a lower amount of exposure though. It needs to be quite a lot, not like hanging out at a French-speaking family once a week, but more like watching 30-45 minutes of subtitled cartoons/shows daily.

(maybe it was more, not sure how much TV I watched when I was little, and how much of it was subtitled. I do remember my parents didn't let me watch The A-Team because it was just about guns and violence ... :P :P)

Also, you can keep your position, but so far there are several people from all over Europe and elsewhere, confirming personal anecdotes about the difference subtitled TV shows make.

I want to emphasize the difference it makes whether you are young or not. The effortlessness by which young kids pick up languages, seemingly through osmosis, is just insane. I work with kids a lot, some of them come from crazy places, the younger they are, often after just a year in NL, hardly even an accent (translating for their parents at 8). On the other hand, adults that move here, even in their early twenties, if they don't make an explicit effort, forget it, after 3-5 years they still speak three Dutch sentences (I admit that it doesn't help that any Dutch person will immediately switch to English as soon as they hear you're having a tiny bit of trouble with the language. Not the case for small children, of course. Unless they already speak English).

> Mere exposure does not make you learn/enjoy a language

Then how do babies ever learn to speak? The most fluent speakers of foreign languages are almost always immigrants, because exposure is the key to learning to speak.

Anecdotally: my kid that grew up in the US in a spanish speaking home speaks fluent english. The other one that moved to the US at 4 speaks english with an accent.

No one speaks english at home, same people at home - only difference is the language on the TV. It works.

He probably has peers that speak English with him, that has a larger effect than the language spoken at home, or on TV.

> Then how do babies ever learn to speak?

How exactly that works is still a hotly debated topic, but there is a clear difference between mere exposure to TV versus interacting linguistically in an environment.

> The most fluent speakers of foreign languages are almost always immigrants, because exposure is the key to learning to speak.

In my experience it's hit and miss. Some people simply have a knack for it (or interest), others not so much. So you can just as well have a very fluent second language learner who hasn't spend significant time immersed in the language, as well as the opposite of an immigrant who still has a thick accent after 20 years.

> there is a clear difference between mere exposure to TV versus interacting linguistically in an environment.

Right. It wasn't clear to me that you meant that by "mere exposure", I was assuming both of those things as "exposure" versus actively being taught a language in school, and spending effort to practice.

Still, I think I learned more English from subtitles than I did in school.

I remember when I was about 10, I had learned a tiny bit of English in school, really nothing to speak of (it can't have been more than half a year). And a lot more from TV and subtitles. At some point my parents had some English-speaking friends over, whose kids were exactly my age. I could (partially) understand what they were saying, but I was a bit scared to talk back in English, because while I knew some English, I had never spoken it "for real" :)

So yes, interacting linguistically is important. But it felt to me more like "unlocking" the ability to converse in that language, after already knowing most of it by being exposed to it, daily, for most of my life.

I don't actually remember learning anything really new about English in school until years later in high school (some words I hadn't seen before, or used in a particular manner). Everything I already had seen on TV, it was more like remembering.

It is correct. First and foremost, in Italy we dub our movies so well, the dubbing itself could be considered a mastered art. We really like our dub actors. George Clooney, in Italy, has a very specific voice, for example, and that's the voice of Francesco Pannofino. That's so bad that when you hear the same actor dubbed by someone else, you feel like something's out of place in the movie. Italy has a very strong history of good Cinema, we're still quite proud of that. On top of it all, English in school is definitively not taught enough. My English, for example, comes from American songs and videogames.

> First and foremost, in Italy we dub our movies so well, the dubbing itself could be considered a mastered art.

I think that's just what we tell ourselves to feel better and for national pride. I started watching movies in English many years ago and, even when my English was not yet very good and I had to use subtitles, I preferred watching the original version, the real actor is just much better. Now, after living in the US for a few years, when I hear dubbed movies they sound just ridiculous: everyone speaks with the same flat intonation, there is no emotion in the words, it all sounds fake and, funny detail, I'm now much more aware that the voice is out of sync with the lips. It's both hilarious and painful to endure.

I'm fairly certain Spain dubs almost everything, at least when I lived there for 2 years, everything seemed to dubbed.

On TV everything is dubbed (although you can watch the original audio tracks). Worth noting too that usually the dubbers are incredibly good, in following the flow of the movie/show and the way they talk. I've watched other's countries dubbing and it's cringeworthy. But I'd have loved original versions as the default since I was a kid: my English is decent, but that would have helped a lot and probably make it much better.

A bit of anecdotal evidence that hopefully can be confirmed with more certainty

The number of subtitled movies in France (or at least in Paris), what they call VO/VOST, in the last 10 years in cinemas has increased considerably

That's pretty specific to Paris. In the smaller cities there's been a small increase of VO/VOST movies but it's still not that popular outside of the arthouse kind of cinemas. For example in Rennes, only one of the two main cinemas in the city ever offers VOST movies...

Pretty sure I knew (a little) English even before learning it in school. My theory for that has always been subtitles as well. When we learned German in school (which is much more similar to my mother tongue Dutch), I found it very hard. German shows were also subtitled, but there were a lot fewer of them on TV.

Side-note: A few years ago, I read about a project for "same language subtitling" (of soap TV series, nonetheless) to improve literacy in India. Don't have a link for that, unfortunately.

Your reasoning makes sense, and probably plays a role, but I believe subtitling of English TV plays at least as much of a role. A lot of German TV is dubbed, and the effect of this also carries over to smaller German-speaking countries, like Austria. Now one could argue that this is, according to your reasoning, because they are part of the larger German-speaking community. But that really isn't the case, ask any Austrian, most of them will tell you their mother tongue is Austrian (which is not a written language, but also quite a bit more unique than merely German-with-a-dialect), and "high German" is definitely something they had to learn separately.

> but the reason is completely wrong

Or not. I know people who learned spanish just by watching TV (in Romania). Here in France people have no idea how english sounds because everything is dubbed, from the news on TV to series and movies...

It's not just emphasis, it's necessity. Smaller countries have to deal with other countries more, and so too do their citizens.

From Italy here, can confirm. It is more than accent tho: has something to do by not being exposed to the full spectrum of sound the humans can produce.

We Italians can't say the th right, because we cannot even _listen_ it right. We can't just process the sound, yet alone reproduce it.

Then we get on internet and we learn written English, but since the rules are inconsistent we mostly are left to make wild guesses as their sounds and English pronunciation is extremely irregular. Most of the complexity comes from having to know if a word radix is or isn't saxon and apply a different set of pronunciation rules, so for example think -ice- which has very different sounds in different words in two groups or this about "A/I/E" https://i.imgur.com/zncINPy.gif

but what gets me is you have people that speak like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nj5MMURCm8 and tell foreigners they are not understandable

> but what gets me is you have people that speak like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nj5MMURCm8 and tell foreigners they are not understandable

hah, IMO that's because they mixed the music way too loud in that clip :)

I can make out most of it, but definitely not the very first bit. I guess if it had been Dutch, I'd also have trouble understanding everything--though perhaps a bit less because like you imply, I'm better trained at separating "Dutch sounds" from background noise.

This is the reason why I really prefer to watch English TV or movies with (English) subtitles. It's one thing to understand what they say, it's another thing to be able to make it out in the first place.

Not sure it's down to the size of the country. More likely, it's the size of the community speaking the language, and the closeness of the language to English, together with some other factors.

During my time in Belgium, I found that few Liégeois spoke English, and one simply couldn't get by in Liège without being able to speak French. However, during visits to Antwerp, I could speak in English and people there were happy to reply in English.

So why the difference?

Dutch is a lot closer to English than French. Both are Germanic languages. I know English and French share a large common vocabulary, but grammar and basic vocabulary are quite different.

Dutch isn't spoken much outside of the Netherlands and Flanders, so there's more incentive for the Dutch and Flemish to learn a second language, and the obvious one is English.

Many people in Liège actively dislike speaking languages other than French.

Not many tourists go to Liège.

Brussels, though mostly French speaking, is more international, and gets more tourists, so English is spoken there, though French is preferred.

Coming from Belgium, petke is also right about the influence of small language community. In example, in the flamish part (where belgian speak dutch), a lot of tv program and cinema is dub from english and even some cartoon. Where in the Walloons part (where belgian speak only french), we have access to the big tv network from France so we never watch anything in English.

But I remember reading that different languages use different sounds spectrum and hearing/understanding languages outside your spectrum is harder. Some languages have overlapping sounds spectrum which make learning different language easier. Now you have also the languages sharing the same roots and as you said somebody who know a germanic language then will have easier to guess/learn new vocabulary.

Actually, French is the second language learned in Flanders. English is the third.

Flanders uses subtitles, Wallonia dubs. Instead of learning Dutch as their second language most Walloons learn English. This is anecdotal, but I've noticed their English is worse than most people in Flanders. I think this is where the whole dubbing/subtitles also plays a part.

If you look at the countries in Europe that are good at speaking English it's actually two big factors you see:

- The consumption of English media you mentioned

- Other Germanic languages. Even though English has moved away quite far from the other Germanic languages, there's still quite some Germanic heritage in for instance in how to generally express yourself. The problems arise when things are actually different. Swedes for instance often have a problem pronouncing the /tʃ/ sound and pronounce chip like ship. But for speakers of Germanic languages the problems are fewer.

Finnish is not a Germanic language.

Neither is Polish or Estonian. What is your point?

Probably that Finland, Poland and Estonia are right behind the small Germanic language countries on the English Proficiency Index[1], and above Germany and Austria.

1. http://www.ef.edu/epi/

For some reason, I thought every country subtitles movies/tv-shows that are not produced in their own language.

When I moved abroad, to Spain, I found it amusing to play clips to movie fans in English and ask who is this? Based on the sound. Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio etc. - they didn't know any because the famous ones have even their personal voice doublants.

If you could be Harry Callahan, Darth Wader, Captain Kirk, Terminator, 007, Blad Runner's Roy Batty and The king lion's Mufasa, all in one lifetime, you might look like this:


Talking about interesting lives...

(I wrote "blad" runner?, ouch)

You also wrote Darth 'Wader' (clothes for walking in rivers, or this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdSJFrhb-HM).

Damned ánaquin escaigüalquer XDDD

One good example of the troubles with english. Is a tiresome encode, decode, encode... all the time. And this is only popular culture. A much worst problem has been created when english weird rules overpower universal languages, like taxonomy.

Lets take the maple genus for example: "Acer", named by a swedois from the latin "aciale". Should be pronounced as Linné intended /'azer/ but is changed to /ˈeɪsər/ instead, because english. This mean that a language created to be universal, is not universal anymore. Is tainted. For most people in the world there is not a clear rule to link "azer" with "eisa". Is broken unless you hear it and memorize it. Linné would not understand currently most of is own named genera.

Germany is well known for dubbing their TV shows, many other countries do this too.

The funny thing is that too can help you learn a language if you already know the program in your own language, but it doesn't really help expose 'the natives' to more languages.

> Germany is well known for dubbing their TV shows, many other countries do this too.

All of the large western european countries, basically all of western europe except for the nordics (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, possibly the Netherlands).

Germany dubs everything. Unless you invest in Sky, the German television broadcasters don't even bother broadcasting the original language as an alternative tone, which I assume over cable isn't a massive extra expense. Only Arté bothers to do so in both German and French.

German home made programmes are also particularly dire. Their long running police drama series Tartort is their single saving grace.

Tatort (German for "the scene of the crime") is particularly interesting in that each one of ARD's regional broadcasters contributes some number of episodes to the pool. Considering that Germany is a very regional country, it's a good way to get a survey of accents and local word usage.

In the past only some kids shows were dubbed but even the cartoons for the most part had subtitles. Today it's a bit different.

Not here in Portugal - only shows for children are dubbed.

But only recently.

I learned a lot of English just watching Cartoon Network (undubbed and unsubbed)!

Yeah, TV shows are a specific area I guess

Not so sure about Cinemas (in Berlin there is an English only movie theatre though)

> English spelling is another thing though. Im still struggling with that.

You're in good company since many native speakers can't spell either. English's greatest virtue is a high degree of fault tolerance.

I was travelling through Vietnam and thought it funny just how many diacritic marks Vietnamese text makes, and thought that English was better because it doesn't need them. Then I realised that - holy shit! - English needs them big time. Look at wind (air movement) and wind (wrap around), or wound (injury) and wound (past tense wrap). Or even read (view text present tense) and read (view text past tense).

Admittedly I'm only a monoglot, but Engish seems pretty brutal in expecting you to figure out the correct sounds from the context. A few diacritics sprinkled in could likely really help newcomers with appropriate sounds.

On a tangent, one of the things I like about written Spanish is that you know at the beginning of a sentence whether it's a question or an exclamation. It's always a bit weird when reading a long sentence in a novel, to get to the end of it and think "oh, that was actually a question..."

I think the degree of fault tolerance depends on the age of the reader. My first computers used discrete transistors. My high school English teacher was a strict grammarian. I paid close attention because I was dating her daughter, also a strict grammarian. To this day the misuse of "to" for "too" will bring my brain to a full stop. I am moderately adapted to the confusion of "fewer" vs "less". (It's countable vs uncountable.) And I even use "they" as a gender neutral third person singular, but you should never do it in formal writing.

I read an article sometime in the past year that maintained that all the prissy rules were imposed on a perfectly good language by self-imposed arbiters of the language. Sorry, I cant locate it at the moment.

> Its mostly just a happy accident. You see, in small countries they usually dont dub movies or tv shows, simply because the market isn't big enough. They simply put subtitles on.

Counter argument: everything is dubbed in Austria and yet we're pretty good at English. Why? Education and a multi-cultural background in the last 30 years.

As a fellow Austrian I have to strongly disagree. Outside of the frequently-english-using circle (higher management positions, software devs, language students...), English proficiency is terrible. Generation 40+ more likely answers in French or Latin rather understand the difference between beef and pork.

I'd place myself in the 90% percentile of fluency in English here, but as soon as a native speaker forgets I'm participating I understand jack shit. Nada. Instant game over. Grammar, vocab, pronounciation, emotional expression, speed, comprehension, etc. -- everything takes a 50% hit compared to German.

My coworkers are from Austria, US, Slovenia, Serbia etc. -- often the only shared language is English. It makes meetings excrutiatingly slow and painful (non-fluent talking bringing back memories of 1st year elementary school reading).

And that is the experience in an highly educated multinational team in the software industry. Calling it "best-case" would overstretch it (that still goes to EU interpreters meeting at lunch), but compared to large parts of the population...

If that is "pretty good", what is "mediocre"? Or "bad"? The inability to say hello?

Although when you compare the English that Austrians and Germans speak (I'm from Germany) to the English of Scandinavians and Dutch people, the latter are noticeably better than the German-speaking countries. So the argument probably has some merit.

Edit: At the same time, Scandinavians, the Dutch and Germans/Austrians all have a language that is more closely related to English than the Romanic or Slavic languages.

> Although when you compare the English that Austrians and Germans speak (I'm from Germany) to the English of Scandinavians and Dutch people, they are noticeably better than the German-speaking countries.

Historically sure, but if you look at people from my generation I doubt that's the case still. Focused English education in Austria only really started 15 years ago.

When I went to school our first english lesson was with 10, now it's 5 or 6.

So you have the impression that young Austrians nowadays are better with English? In Germany they have started to teach English at a much younger age, too, but I haven't noticed a big improvement. Sure, at age 10 they already know more than the kids 10-20 years ago, because they've learned it for 3-4 years already. But I get the impression that a couple of years after leaving school, the language skills deteriorate again because they stop practicing it. And that seems to be the point where movies in English would help a lot: you stay used to the language (at least hearing it).

On the other hand, that might be selective perception on my part and things might have gotten better. Or maybe Austria has improved more than Germany, which is entirely conceivable.

> So you have the impression that young Austrians nowadays are better with English?

As someone who is married to a native Russian speaker and we both moved to Austria (me from the UK though born in Austria, my wife from Russia), we regularly have conversations with others in English rather than German because everybody seems to actively prefer that.

So at least from general experience you can get the majority of services in English here. The exception seems to be immigrant taxi drivers and local hairdressers.

compared to the germans? sure. compared to swedes? nope.


I'm From Portugal and can confirm this, and I'd say almost everyone especially people between 12-45 know how to speak english fluently.

Most of this is because we grow up watching movies and tv shows with subtitles. Heck, I even remember watching Cartoon Network without any subtitles at all.

Another thing I noticed is how good the english accent is from people from Portugal and Sweden.

I am one of those who "learned" English from watching cartoons as a kid. Mainly, Scooby-doo(the one from the 60s) without any subtitles or dub.

But like you said, it's not 100% perfect, nor is it even 80%, neither orally nor in writing.

Dubbing / subtitling isn't everything, although it certainly helps. According to the theories of language acquisition, it is processing of linguistic input (connecting form to meaning to be able to understand the meaning) that makes the internal, unconscious representation of language to develop.

Subtitling movies and TV shows essentially gives more opportunities to encounter linguistic input. However, as the viewers are able to get the meaning from the subtitles only, they don't necessarily PROCESS the foreign language. Some do, so the mileage varies a lot.

(Watching without subtitles will force you process the meaning – or if the difficulty level is too high, just frustrate and ignore it. Or process partially.)

I find that even more than TV shows, kids these days are learning English from games – in Finland, they don't translate games at all, so there's even greater incentive to actually try to understand the English input.

I think the biggest impact of subtitling instead of dubbing is when kid shows are subtitled. Small kids cannot get the mean from the subtitles since they cannot read or if they can often cannot read fast enough. This means that those kids get a crash course in the language by associating actions with English words and getting used to the pronunciation of the English.

Kids also tend to have more patience when it comes to watching something that they do not fully understand due to language issues so they're less likely to give up.

Sounds plausible unless you happen to know that children's programmes are dubbed, at least they are in Norway and as far as I know in the rest of the Nordic area.

As an adult subtitled programmes are very useful for locals learning English and foreigners, like me, learning Norwegian.

English spelling is often a problem because people are told that it is simply irregular when the truth is that if you know a little etymology you can figure out a lot because when you know where the word comes from you can then find out what set of rules are to be used for it. I'll admit that there are still difficult words :-)

Im not sure how it is today but when I grew up in Finland in the 80s all the most popular tv-series for kids where in English only. Of the top of my head: The Transformers, Inspector Gadget, M.A.S.K., He-Man, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Care bears, Smurfs, Postman pat, DJ Kat show, and then non-cartoon shows like like MacGyver, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Quantum Leap, Rescue 911, etc.

We also watched some some non-English tv shows like the Swedish "Bjornes magasin" and the Finnish "Pikku Kakkonen". But these shows where not as cool and not as plentiful as those English tv shows.

As far as I can remember, that's a relatively recent trend though (dubbing childrens' programmes), at least in Sweden. I can't remember any being dubbed until possibly in the late 1990s, more likely the early 2000s.

Been in Norway 30 years now and all three children grew up here from the late 80s. Children's television has always been either dubbed or home grown.

You make it sound too easy. You don't "automatically" learn a language by hearing its sounds on TV (although it most likely helps). You need to engage with a language, preferably by real life interaction. Not dubbing movies is not a silver bullet to second language learning.

I think it's much more plausible to say that the smaller countries of Europe have more of a economic necessity to be proficient in a second language (which often happens to be English).

Spelling English is a pain. Can modern text reduce this pain? How can you see the sound in text?

Written and spoken English can sync CAPS in sylLABles while vocaliIZED. http://th.ai youtube CCaptions=ON, text=monospace, see syllables precisely while you hear them, playback SLOW.

In theory, constant experience of SYNCHronous vocALized TEXT will help you spell better faster.

Most of Albanians speak/understand Italian by watching italian shows/movies when they were young (without subtitles).

That's exactly how I learned English when I was young, although most of my classmates didn't. Maybe those suckers actually spent time studying instead of watching cartoons!

No, kids don’t really start school pre-equipped with English skills. In fact, most preschooler shows are dubbed.

The previous exposure helps some, especially those who can already read the subtitles, but more important is that when they actually start studying English, they’re also exposed to more grown-up shows—which do come subtitled.

Or that’s how it was. Nowadays, of course, it seems that kids move pretty seamlessly to content without even subtitles (think youtube and whatever it is the kids use).

Personally I started to watch English and French movies without any kind of subtitles since about 2005. It certainly helped with my level of English.

It may also involve the language roots : Saxon (easier path to English) versus Latin.

As an Englishman living and working in Paris for a few years, my eyes have been opened to the difficulty of working in another language. I used to be a little bit dismissive of foreigners who hadn't completely mastered English but now I realise that they were almost fluent. On the other hand, I haven't really managed to master French at all.

His observation about becoming introverted in a foreign language is something that I experience too. Something that he didn't mention though is that often people will assume that you are stupid if you can't speak their language fluently, this is made even worse since you are indeed dedicating 80% of your brain just to following the conversation, so that in a sense they are correct in their judgement at that moment in time. It's painful to be on the receiving end of this and again this is something that I was unconsciously guilty of when I lived in London.

We just need to occasionally remind ourselves when the other person is not speaking in their native language that they are having to do a lot of extra work just to communicate with us.

Oh, I like you mentioned that. It reminded me of a quote I'd read recently and which I'd liked. Here it is:

"For me, the hardest thing about functioning in a foreign language was not the long hours it took me to get through a text, not the heightened anxiety, accompanying every social interaction, but the sense of reduced personality that comes with limited verbal expression. For someone who prided herself on writing music criticism for one of the largest Russian newspapers Vedomosti, a branch of The Financial Times, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Even though I communicated perfectly fine, I missed being able to say more with less, to say the same thing in several ways, to express character, not only literal sense. What came out of my mouth felt crude, stiff, and trite."

(from http://www.rma.ac.uk/students/?p=2646)

It is so true for me, this thing about reduced personality.

Great to see you move your viewpoint on such a thing based on personal experience. I think the world as a whole would be a lot better if we all spent considerably more time in places other than those that we were born in.

> people will assume that you are stupid if you can't speak their language fluently

Yep, and this is an unconscious process, as well. If someone doesn't speak any of the languages I know, I find myself thinking "wow they're stupid" even if they're the sage of the mountain, and I hate my brain for it.

As a native English speaker, I can understand pretty much every other native English speaker (though I may struggle a bit with Cockney or Nigerian english, the point gets across).

I'm also pretty good at Spanish, and living in Southern California I mostly hear the Mexican accent. When I hear Argentinian or Cuban Spanish, I have no fucking clue what's going on. Does that mean Spanish is phonetically broken? It, like Italian, has a very simple set of rules for pronouncing words. But even so, clearly different groups of people have different ideas about how these words should be interpreted (not to mention just straight up dropping syllables).

I'd argue the "phonetically broken" nature of English has more to do with his learning it as a second language than anything intrinsically wrong with English. Yeah we have lots of whacky accents and exceptions to pronunciation rules, but if a language is spoken by huge swaths of people across the world there's going to be a lot of variety.

English does not have a simple set of rules for pronunciation or dictation. Spelling bees don't exist for most languages, but it's a thing for English.

So yes, I'd say English is “phonetically broken”, if that means it's difficult to figure out how to convert from spoken words to text and vice versa. I am not a linguist, but I speak English, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, and German. English does seem to be an unusually difficult language in this respect.

Understanding different accents of spoken English is sort of beside the point, I think.

This is so true. It's even worse than spelling bees though. Dyslexia is less of a problem for non-english speakers because our writing system is so messed up. We we have letters that not only represent multiple sounds, but redundantly duplicate the sound of other letter combos (c->k,s; x->z,ks; q->kw). We have multiple letter combos for single phonemes (ch, sh, th). "th" actually represents two phonemes--compare "there" to "through" and you'll see they are two different sounds (try to say through like you would say there). English is a mess.

I'm usually the first one to jump on the English-spelling-is-atrocious bandwagon, but you're not presenting very convincing arguments here:

* c being pronounced either /k/ or /s/ is a perfectly common process called assibilation [1]. Compare Italian "centro" /ch/ as in change, vs. "casa", /k/, as in can't. The general rule is /s/ before e, i, /k/ otherwise. English is relatively regular here.

* x as /z/ is probably some sort of assimilation process when the /s/ in /ks/ would be +voiced. Another reason to pronounce it that way is that anglophones dislike complex onsets (try pronouncing "Dvorak." It's very difficult for English natives not to insert a Schwa /ə/ between /d/ and /v/.

* q as /kw/ is from Latin and most languages using the Latin alphabet retain it in some form.

Letter combos for single phonemes are common as hell. Compare German 'sch', or 'st', Italian 'sci' etc.

"th" representing both voiced and unvoiced interdental fricatives is what's called an "allophone" [2]. Again, this is super duper common, and, off the top of my head, I can't come up with a language without allophones, and I'd require serious proof for the claim that there exists one.

English spelling is a mess, though. But mostly because it's terribly inconsistent. There are several poems about it, which illustrate the point nicely, for example, the Chaos Poem [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assibilation

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allophone

[3] http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html

The letter overloading trait is not exclusive to the English language as it's featured in numerous other languages but the problem with English is there's no clear rules governing the pronunciation of these letters. It's totally arbitrary.

Take for example, "charity" and "charisma", the /ch/ combo here would fool any beginner in pronouncing the latter as the regular sound and not as a /k/ and there's no solution for this problem but to memorize the words as you encounter making the whole experience of learning a new foreign language tedious and horrible.

A reform of English orthography is long overdue esp. if it's going to stay as a lingua franca for quite some time to come.

> English, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, and German

Just curious, in what order did you learn them? That's a pretty diverse set.

Based on the language list metafunctor is Finnish, so the only language standing out is Japanese. Finnish and Swedish are first and second languages (or vice versa). English and German are typical third and fourth school languages and Japanese is most likely something picked up in college.

Metafunctor: how did I do? :)

Spot on – looks like you're intimately familiar with the Finnish school system yourself. Are you Finnish?

Finnish (mother tongue), English (almost pass of as a native speaker), Swedish (get by), German (basics), Japanese (basics). The last two I'm rapidly forgetting, though.

> I'd argue the "phonetically broken" nature of English has more to do with his learning it as a second language than anything intrinsically wrong with English.


Bough (ow), Though (oh), through (oo), thorough (uh), rough (uff), cough (off), hiccough (up)

That's broken.

"Hiccough" is spelt "hiccup" by nearly everyone nowadays. In comic books, "though" is often spelt "tho", and "through" spelt "thru". The US and UK should get together and create a small language spelling reform group to suggest more such changes to the 20% of words that cause 80% of the problems, e.g. changing "thorough" to "thuruh", "rough" to "ruff", and "cough" to "coff".

It's happening by default anyway. Schools now encourage "inventive spelling" rather than correct spelling, so you have kids in 8th grade who can't spell basic words correctly but rather they write them how they sound.

For a historical anecdote, this sort of simplified phonetic spelling was championed in the early 1900s by Andrew Carnegie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplified_Spelling_Board

Moon Joon? bedrum?

And don't forget words that are pronounced differently with identical spelling, for added hilarity:

* Polish people live in Poland.

* Polish your boots.

Obligatory link to Nolst Trenité's "The Chaos": http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html

New to me, thanks for sharing.

Some great examples there, such as "minute" and "minute". heh.

'Feoffer' is probably the worst word there. But just maybe the worst snare in English is 'positive' — the other 'positive' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_organ . Yes it's obviously some kind of loan-word, but then so are most English words...

Another example:

* I read this book whenever I feel lonely.

* I read this book many years ago

A friend of mine coming from Scotland once told me that he phoned Twinings (the English tea maker) in order to understand how to pronounce it ("twain..." or "twin...").

So, don't make us go to sleep without knowing how to actually pronounce Twinings! I have no idea and now want to know.

Twine-ings. As in twine/string. Rhymes with wine. The 'ings' is pretty standard, like in 'things'.

Twinings is a name, though - and all bets are off when it comes to name pronunciation.

"Polish Remover"

A bottle of solvent or leader of the Nazi party?

That's just etymological spelling reflecting an old pronunciation. Whether such spelling is "broken" is purely a matter of opinion.

There's no phonetics there; just orthography.

Spanish here. One of biggest differences is that spanish vowels always sound the same, that's why spelling contests aren't a thing here. It's pretty confusing at first, until you embrace the fact that there aren't shortcuts: you hear the word or you don't actually know how to pronounce it.

See http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/04/spanish-vowels-vs-english-... for a comparison.

And vice versa, you read the word or you have no idea how to write it.

by "phonetically broken" I think he means that there is not enough consistency regarding what you write and what you pronounce. I give you some examples: door and tool. The same two letters 'oo' are pronounced differently. 'en' in 'broken' and 'en' in 'enough'. I suspect Italian, Romanian and Spanish inherited some consistency from Latin where AFAIK 'a' is pronounced the same everywhere and even in combination with other letters it's still very predictable and the same is valid for nearly all the vowels and consonants. I don't know Portuguese but French is definitely "broken" too ('o' = 'au' = 'eau' = 'aux' = holly cow !)

It's interesting that you chose the word 'enough' but didn't talk about the end of the word. Because the 'ough' construction in English is perhaps the best example of what you're talking about. There are 10 [1] ways to pronounce those 4 letters, though only 6 in American English.

My Spanish teach was fond of telling us, "There are no Spanish spelling bees." It was his lighthearted way of telling us to memorize the few pronunciation rules of the language so that we could easily parse what we were hearing and pronounce what we were reading. But inherent in his comment was a reference to the lack of consistency in English. This lack of consistency means that speakers need to memorize more. If we were talking about a programming language, we'd say that the language has unnecessary cognitive load. Similarly, Spanish and the other romance languages add unnecessary cognitive load by differentiating between masculine and feminine words. Still, of the major European languages, English is probably the one with the largest unnecessary cognitive load, so I can definitely sympathize with those who have difficulty learning it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ough_(orthography)

P.S. As an aside, I always thought Antirez was much better at written English communication than he appears to be. There's something about having corresponded with people online for the past 2 decades that has leads me to turn off my inner proofreader until something like the subject matter that was being discussed brings it to the fore.

The problem with Romance languages is that they shifted the burden of complexity from orthography to grammar with all the verb conjugations that a speaker has to memorize in all tenses and moods such as the bloody subjunctive :)

I find that french is fairly consistent with how to pronounce written words. It's the other way, how to write pronounced words, that is broken. English is just broken either way, IMO.

Actually English has a defective phonemic orthography system [0] that makes mastering the language an unpleasant and daunting experience esp. for beginners. In a nutshell, English language is high-maintenance.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonemic_orthography

In French, if you see the written word you can deduce with a few simple rules how it is pronouced. However, information is lost on the way, it's hard to reconstruct how the word is written based on the sound (and there are many homophones where this is just impossible).

In English there is not such deterministic way of simply deducing how a word is pronounced based on how it's written. In fact there are many heteronyms.

You have a tear in your trousers but a tear in your eye.


French isn't as deterministic as you make it sound.

For example many letters are silent and it's not always obvious why. Contrast the last sounds of these words: grec (ɡʁɛk) and tabac (ta.ba), chef (ʃɛf) vs nerf (nɛʁ), six (sis) vs prix (pʁi), etc. There are also some heteronyms, for example, les poules couvent (ku.v) but les soeurs restent au couvent (ku.vɑ̃).

I'd argue the "phonetically broken" nature of English has more to do with his learning it as a second language than anything intrinsically wrong with English.

Nope, there is something intrinsically 'wrong' with modern English: the lack of a central language authority plus the Great Vowel Shift[1] caused the massive spelling inconsistencies of today.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

> I mostly hear the Mexican accent. When I hear Argentinian or Cuban Spanish, I have no fucking clue what's going on. Does that mean Spanish is phonetically broken?

No, it just means that you need more exposure. That very same thing happened to me while learning english (as my 3rd language after Spanish and Catalan [0]). I started to interact and shared flat with people from USA, England, Wales, Australia, Ireland, etc... For instance I wasn't able to differentiate between Scottish and Australian, only between American English and non-American English. Now I'm quite good at it.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_language

> I wasn't able to differentiate between Scottish and Australian, only between American English and non-American English

I've spent quite a bit of time in New Zealand, and a common complaint I've heard is that when they travel to the U.S., people often ask if they are from Australia. When I first rocked up to NZ I couldn't tell the difference either, but now the two accents are like night and day. Beyond that, every country has its own regional accents as well.

And to be fair, I reckon a good number of Americans who haven't traveled can hardly differentiate accents beyond American English vs non-American English too.

Spanish speaking people tell me they find the Cuban accent difficult. Of course, it's all inter-comprehensible, but you're not refuting the OP's point.

A kind-of-rule based in personal observations, is that spanish people closer to the sea talk FASTER than the rest.

We have somebody in the family that is know as:

"Blah ahk guak fiuya sdsds caramañola ñame!". And " caramañola ñame" is the only thing you will understand 100% of him ;) -- the other text is not a perfect rendition. In fact, nobody agree how exactly him talk when left him at full speed!

How fast is the talking is not the only issue. Is the slang. We can have the same language... but, o boy! the slang is diverse even in the same country.

And some words have reverse meanings, or don't make much sense.

For example:

"Esta haciendo sereno"

"Is doing serene (???)"

If use this dictionary, you could get it wrong:


Instead, despite the fact "sereno" is exactly "serene", this in colombia mean "colder wheater".

Is so funny when we teach the slang to outsider. Is crazy fun for them ;)

Oh man, don't get me started. I'm trying to learn Spanish, and if I watch a movie from Spain, there's no "v" sound, everything is "b". If I watch a movie from Mexico, it's the other way around! Trying to get the accent right on my trips to Spain are pretty frustrating to me, although it's a pretty minor difference, so it ends up fine.

Surely both sounds exist in both vatieties? Mexicans don't pronounce 'bueno' with an initial fricative, and people from Spain don't pronounce 'estuvo' with a plosive at the beginning of the final syllable.

I don't know enough to know, I thought the Spanish did pronounce it "estubo".

Probably it has to do with socioeconomic classes and level of education. Usually uneducated people or people from rural areas sound, for the lack of a better term, "crude" to big city or urban ears in universally all languages and Spanish is no exception. You have to judge a language or dialect based on how they communicate in official mass communication media like Radio or TV and not some guy you met on the street.

I think Spanish, English and Portuguese are broken languages (French less, because France dominates it) because they were spread during era of colonial empires and now there a big countries which use it as main language, they have evolved since.

I speak French and Portuguese, both as native languages. I wouldn't characterize any language as broken, but what most people seem to be describing here is the divergence between the spelling and the pronunciation, as well as the amount of redundant spelling. In this regard, French is unquestionably worse than Portuguese.

Basically, French and English follow the same orthography "school", which is the etymological one. The idea that spelling reforms should be few and far in between and that the way specific words are spelt has to do with how they were either spelt or pronounced in other, older languages.

This makes it so that they're both to a great extent languages whose writing system feels ad hoc.

Languages such as Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, are such that if one gets taught the sound of each letter one can start accurately sounding out words immediately.

Portuguese does not follow the etymological school, instead adopting a more phonological spelling. It has, however, a far from 1:1 phoneme to grapheme ratio, and more complex rules governing how to pronounce words. Perfectly regular complex rules, though.

Another Italian checking in, agreeing with everything Antirez says. I've been living in England for 13 years, but talking to inner-city-ghetto youth to order a mcburger can still be a hellish experience.

English is the QWERTY of languages: historically messed up for reasons that don't matter anymore, but an imprescindible standard enjoying unmatched global popularity. It's simple enough to allow non-natives to achieve good productivity very quickly, but mastering it phonetically is harder than in most other languages. This complexity means that it's constantly getting stretched by people with limited formal education, and effectively enforces class separation.

Anyway, I'll never forget when I started studying it and realized that words I was familiar with because of gaming experience (LOAD, FOR, NETWORK etc) were actual everyday words that programmers simply borrowed. Suddenly, coding made so much sense! To this day I value language clarity so much, I prefer Python to everything else ;)

imprescindible is not a word (in english at least) :P

That will teach me to post on mobile without spellcheck :) still, I'd never confuse it's / its, their / they're / there, have / of... so I'm already better than a lot of native speakers ;P

As a native English speaker who is hard of hearing, I can echo his pain with phonetics. I learned most of English from reading and writing, and I say a lot of words incorrectly. People I am talking to that do not know me well often treat me as if I am retarded.

I can imagine it is far worse for people like antirez.

English is my third language; I've read and written English almost every day for 30 years, but I've only ever spent two weeks in English-speaking countries. I sometimes find myself unable to pronounce words that I've used for decades in writing – often, it's the type of more formal vocabulary that doesn't often come up in movies or TV series. For instance: cuticle, paean, echelon, emaciated, heinous, comely, disreputable, hearth, dearth, contumely, beatify, subsequent, etc.

English is my first language, I've spoken it all of my 33 years, and I am an Engineer.

I have no idea what "contumely" means, or how to pronounce it. You're doing great :)

contumely means an insult, it almost exclusively comes up in Shakespeare. 99% of people on the street would not know that word

I'm guessing 99% of people wouldn't know what "beatify" meant either, and a significant number would think it was a typo for "beautify". Those two words also rather nicely express the vagaries of English pronunciation (the latter is pronounced to rhyme with "pew", the former "bee-A...", which almost feels like it deserves a diaeresis, except we don't do those in English).

I leave the gentle reader with the English place name Beaulieu, which probably isn't pronounced anything like you'd expect, or how it should be.

There's a lot of Catholics out there. They might not know how to spell it, but most of them would know what beatify is about. To be fair, beatify is more 'Catholic jargon' and less 'standard English' - I wouldn't expect anyone unfamiliar with Catholicism to know it.

As for names, my favourite wtf is Featherstonehaugh, pronounced fan-shaw. Then there's Chalmondley (chum-lee)...

If you use Chromium (or Google Chrome), you can use this extension. It has helped me greatly with my pronunciation.


"heinous" is featured in every episode of Law & Order: SVU.

Yeah, its in the intro:

"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad, known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."

Vicious is another word I want to pronounce wrong if I see it in writing.

I think often English speakers have a similar but opposite problem - they are used to speaking words but when you come across them in writing you cant recognize them. The "typical" examples of this are gazebo and hyperbole.

I also think only very educated and well read people would know what half those words mean or how to pronounce them.

kyoo-tih-kul, pee-uhn, esh-uh-lon, eh-may-she-ay-ted, hey-nuhs, cuhm-ly, dis-reh-pyoo-tah-bul, hahrth, derth, kuhn-too-muh-ly, bee-at-if-iy, sub-seh-kuent

Haha, that is helpful only if you already know how to pronounce English.

While intuitive for English speakers, this notation (don't know what it is called like) is actually discouraged because it is not even able to unambiguously describe English pronunciation...

(The alternative is the International Phonetic Alphabet, which after getting used to it is not that hard to master)

Dearest creature in creation,

Study English pronunciation.

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.



Further notes:


> There is just one problem, it has nothing to do with the real English spoken in UK, US, Canada, and other countries where English is a native language.

"Real" English is a bit of a misnomer. There's really no such thing. English has developed, over time, from a mix of various other languages (French, German, Anglo-Saxon, Norse), and also split several times throughout its history, developing dialects that have different points of divergence from 'UK' English.

For instance, I speak Canadian English, which is very much 'textbook' English that would probably be equivalent to a 1930's or 1940's style of British English plus a few Americanisms, and one or two native quirks.

My wife speaks Caribbean creole (as well as more 'proper' English now), but also learned an earlier version of British English, which leads to some hilarious misunderstandings (she knows lots of archaic words, doesn't understand some of the more modern, technical words, and of course Caribbean creole adds all sorts of words, grammar, and pronunciations).

I also speak French, which in many ways is easier - more consistent spellings/pronunciation, grammar, but can be difficult at times because there are so many French words in English, but we change the meaning of many of them. There's also English words that have no direct equivalent in French, and vice versa. You need to 'think' differently to speak each. Plus, as French modernizes, it adds more and more Anglicisms, French people cheat on grammar all the time, and of course slang evolves rather quickly.

Anyhow, while English is a pain due to its history, I think as the world becomes more and more cosmopolitan, these 'quirks' just get absorbed into the language, and aren't really a problem. After all, there was a point when the language of nobility in England was French, that changed, likewise the notion that 'proper' English is the only real English will change over time too.

> One of the things that shocked me the most with my experience with the English language is how not mastering a language can switch you into an introvert.

Too real. I've spent some time in Italy where, due to my broken Italian, I was very much so an introvert. People noticed it too when Americans would come by and I'd talk to them - they said I "became a different person."

When I studied on a Chinese language course last year, they encourage you to "speak Chinese only" and most of my classmates spoke better Chinese than me, so I ended up not speaking much to them so as not to burden them.

Great read. This bit was especially interesting to me:

Still, guess what, nobody has issues understanding one of another region, or even from a Switzerland canton.

I learnt standard Italian (Tuscan) whilst I lived in Bologna, and achieved a reasonable level of fluency - though sadly quite rusty now, a decade later - but I really struggled with regional dialects, especially in Sicily and Venice. It's not just the differences in pronunciation: there are also vocabulary differences.

If it's any consolation, I understand that North Americans find Glaswegian quite challenging, especially when watching "Trainspotting" (eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc3E7UkIzt4).

As a native speaker of Florentine Tuscan Italian, I often have more trouble understanding other Italian dialects than other Latin-derived languages such as Castilian, Catalan and Portuguese.

My maternal grandmother came from a small town in Abruzzo and nobody could understand her when she was arguing with her sister in their dialect.

The truth is that these "dialects" are indeed completely separate languages evolved from Latin with strong influences from various waves of domination:


Wikipedia has more details on the present situation:


Of course none of the accents in that clip are supposed to be Glaswegian...they're all meant to be from Edinburgh (though Robert Carlyle was born in Maryhill in Glasgow). For the full Glaswegian effect, try this bit of Rab C Nesbitt, parodying the fact that previous series of this show had been shown subtitled in England


on the other hand we from Glasgow don't seem to have problems understanding accented US stuff (eg The Wire)...I guess because we're brought up on imported TV. The Glasgow accent is nothing though compared to full-on Geordie and Aberdonian dialects, with lots of non-English vocabulary.

A Glaswegian here, who learned phonetics for a text-to-speech project. A Glasgow accent actually has the closest correspondence between spelling and pronunciation of any accent of English.

We don't all speak like Rab C. Nesbitt. The reason you might find it difficult to understand some Glaswegians is not so much lack of familiarity with their accent, but because they don't speak Standard English. What you're hearing is a mixture of English and a variety of Scots. Scots (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language) is a distinct language, though it's very closely related to English. So when, for example, you hear a word like mair (meaning more), it's not a different accent, it's a different language, just like German mehr or Dutch meer. Glaswegians pronouncing "more" in Standard English don't sound that different from Canadians or most Americans.

You can't in good conscience link to the Wiki page on Scots without linking to version in Scots. :)


Thanks for the correction - it's years since I've seen "Trainspotting" and somehow I relocated it to Glasgow in my mind; that said, Wikipedia helpfully informs that it was actually mostly shot in Glasgow!

"The Wire" is an interesting example since two of the protagonists (McNulty and Bell) are played by English actors (the former an Old Etonian, just like our prime minister!) putting on Baltimore accents; there's even a delightful scene where McNulty attempts a deliberately dreadful English accent.

You are also correct about Geordies - I lived in Newcastle for a number of years and never really understood the locals except by way of sign language.

That totally makes sense bshimmin, Sicilian is considered a language per-se for example, so it's not very understandable by people talking just Italian and not even a southern Italian dialect at least. But all the schools use Italian language so unless you talk with an 80 years old in Sicily that is not able to talk Italian at all (rare but possible), you can understand easily what people tell you. However within families or colloquially it is possible that most people in small towns use dialects.

That absolutely mirrors my experience - I never spoke to anyone in Sicily or Venice who didn't immediately switch to non-dialect Italian as soon as they realised I was a foreigner (fairly obvious from my fair hair and blue eyes!) who could hopefully just about understand Italian but plainly couldn't understand their dialect. I did once watch a play entirely in Sicilian; it was very beautiful and mostly incomprehensible to me!

But in Sicily there are different dialects of the same mother language, is that right?

Languages/dialects in Italy are complicated!


Many of them basically evolved from latin on their own, rather than from some kind of standard Italian. Standardization has come later, with TV/radio/travel spreading 'standard' Italian.

For fun, here's "Where did the guy go?" in Italian, followed by some sort of Venetian:

"Dov'e` andato il ragazzo?"

"Dove xeo nda' el toso?"

To see how Sicilian is far away, and considered a separated idiom, the Sicilian translation is illuminating:

"Dov'e` andato il ragazzo" -> "Unna sinni ji' lu carusu?"

Sicilian is a single language that extends even in some part of near regions like Calabria and Puglia (the south parts), it predates Italian a lot, and was one of the main literature schools in ancient times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicilian_School. So from one part to the other of Sicily there are a few different words and accents and there is a division by "groups", but it's pretty much the same thing.

Watching? Reading it is even worse! :D (UK here not American, though.)

I sympathize, because I occasionally try to pair program in French, and yeah, it can be a struggle—and French spelling is far more rational than English spelling, despite the silent letters.

But if you're having trouble with listening comprehension, there's a fairly rapid way to improve that seems to work for many people: Watch lots of TV. A couple of years ago, I started buying DVD box sets in French, and just watching entire series straight through (both native French series, and dubbed US ones). My comprehension still isn't 100%, but it got a lot better, and I was pleasantly surprised when I started understanding a lot more people in Montréal, who tend to have strong accents related to European French speakers.

As a general rule of thumb, to improve a specific language skill (reading, listening, speaking), you're going to have to actually do a bunch of it. European programmers read a ton of English, so they can usually read it just fine. But unless your country shows a lot of subtitled US television, you're going to have much weaker listening skills.

> French spelling is far more rational than English spelling, despite the silent letters.

I would argue that French is far more consistent, which is really the helpful part. Patterns of letters in French pretty much always work the same, whereas in English you don't have that luck. The "ough" part of words in English is a good example. There's a joke that highlights that. "Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though." [1]

[1] https://twitter.com/iowahawkblog/status/594168269759623168?l...

Being an academic, I often hang out with people of various nationalities, usually each with it's own english-based language, slightly modified by grammar quirks and foreign vocabulary. A linguist friend call that "international english", which I like quite a lot. After a while, you can play "guess the nationality" based on the grammar quirks.

And everyone is still easier to understand than Scottish people. :)

I got lucky in that I learned english not only by reading, but also by watching a lot of series (both american and british). Watching english series with english subtitles was a huge help for me, and I think it's a decent way to learn nowadays, much more effective than english classes.

I'm from Eastern Europe and I've heard from native speakers that we use perfect tenses more often than a native speak would.

It is interesting to see how much easier it is to communicate with other non-natives in English than with natives. I always struggled with UK accent and considered the US version simpler. However it seems British have developed more tolerance for varying accents over time, while Americans have often trouble understanding anything I said. For them, there was only one version of any given word and I was not using it.

Britain has had a lot of people immigrating to the country from all over the world for hundreds of years so a little tolerance in the biggest cities and towns is a necessity. But also accents used to vary dramatically over the British Isles so just talking to someone from the next county could require a little adjustment and conversing with a person from the other end of the country could be a very slow business.

And of course the language and vocabulary evolves. I've been out of the UK for almost 30 years now and I find that a lot of current slang is completely incomprehensible on first hearing.

> In my opinion one fact that made me so slow learning English is the fact that I started reading English without never ever listening to it. My brain is full of associations between written words and funny sounds that really don't exist in the actual language.

Really good points on learning to speak before writing. Trying to learn japanese now, and I'm glad that someone told me to learn to speak it fluently before learning to write it.

People who learned english mostly via text rather than speech 20 years ago do have a bit of an excuse though: it was _a lot_ easier to find english content to read than to listen.

These days you can just get "south park" with subtitles off some torrent site, but non-dubbed content was quite harder to come by in Italy when I was a kid.

Sadly, this is not necessarily the same when trying to learn something other than english.

Do you mean "write it fluently"? Are you just skipping out on memorizing kanji and their onyomi an kunyomi? Surely to learn to speak, you need to learn grammar and that grammar is taught from a written source. I feel like you get another level of understanding what's being said out loud if you can imagine the kanji. For example, you might not know that みる has multiple forms with slightly differing meanings depending on how it's used ( i.e. 見る and 観る ). Speaking and reading/writing our two very distinct skills that need to be individually practiced. However, they benefit each other and should probably be practiced in tandem to progress as fast as possible.

>Surely to learn to speak, you need to learn grammar and that grammar is taught from a written source.

Actually, you don't. I've learned several languages with Pimsleur, which is audio only. I took the lessons to their end and then progressed just by talking to people. You learn the grammar intuitively.

I'm doing Pimsleur for Japanese now. Though I'm learning the writing system as well, because I've heard that written Japanese lets you make more progress than, say, written portuguese would, since Kanji let you grasp some of the meaning of words before you know them.

Some people, including myself, find it much easier to speak when the grammar is more advanced than the speaking - or at least conversations. Reading aloud for the sake of learning how to say words, was the sole exception. I'm in my second year of language classes now. Once I got a good sense of grammar - more than just basic - the ease of speaking jumped.

In contrast, my brother really does well with audio learning - such as the pimsleur method. Immersive environment methods do well for him. He also benefits more from things like classroom lectures than I.

My sister is somewhere in between, but since she does well with inter-personal communication, she would pick up on sayings and slang and dialects a bit faster.

These sorts of differences, along with differences in learning difficulty, are noticable in class.

> Really good points on learning to speak before writing. Trying to learn japanese now, and I'm glad that someone told me to learn to speak it fluently before learning to write it.

Japanese is a very different issue. It is structurally very simple and the phonetics are highly regular (there's a reason why japan has had successful voice-synthetized singers since the early 00s), but reading and writing fluently it requires learning 3 different scripts, including a logographic one.

I am also learning English, don't know whether my suggestions or corrections are appropriate.

Also, sometimes I watch a TV series in which police is trying to solve a 50 years old closed case. What I find interesting is how sad the life of that people are, never a joke, sharp sound, short sentences, never a smile. Perhaps, it is a mirror of a society. In Spain the eyes of people are full of life, the doom is outside of our frontiers (or so I think).

"I'm still not great at English but I surely improved over 15 years": => (I have surely improved) or: I haven't mastered English yet, but I am sure I have improved a lot in the last 15 years.

Without to mention how trivial is to go back in the learning process as long as you stop talking / listening for a couple of weeks… => To top it all, if you stop talking/listening for a couple of weeks you begin going backward in the learning process.

My long term hope is that soon or later => My long term hope is that sooner or later.

Another reason I find myself. => Another reason why I find myself.

NEVER learn a new word without learning what is its sound. => (how it sounds)

I must apologize, I think that surely people lives must not be so doom as in that series, but I find it difficult to watch a film in which people are really happy enjoying life. I can adventure an hypothesis: That many people has so high a goal that they never can reach that high mountain, hence is no wonder films are about killing criminals, war films, or enjoy life in prison.

Another hypothesis I can adventure is that my karma will be soon below zero, at this moment I have six (6) points, not a big deal to me.

Native English speaker here with some corrections, if you like! :)

police are


lives of those people are

sharp sounds


Thanks. police are (ok they are more than one). 50-year-old (why not 50-years-old ?).

It seems that nouns are created with "-" (merriam-webster agree with you).

a long-term solution is like a never-ending story.

Now, my question why neverending story (film) and not never-ending?

I'll try to answer your "50-year-old" question:

You'll find that you describe a quality that has a quantity attached to it, you'll drop the 's'. The reason is mostly to keep things brief by omitting a verb.

A few examples:

- We walked a ten kilometer-long trail. (The trail we walked is ten kilometers long)

- They are building a 500 seat auditorium. (The auditorium they are building has 500 seats.)

- We'll put a 10,000 piece order in on Monday. (Compare to: the puzzle has 10,000 pieces.)

Hyphenation is tricky and I still don't know all the rules.

Another correction I'll make on

> (merriam-webster agree with you)

It should be "Merriam-Webster agrees with you" because in this case it refers to the dictionary itself (singular) and not the people the dictionary is named after. "Merriam and Webster agree with you" refers to the people themselves.

It's occurring to me now that being a native English speaker is probably my best trait for hiring.

The hyphen actually goes the other way:

* They are building a 500-seat auditorium

* We'll put a 10,000-piece order in on Monday

* We walked a ten kilometer long trail. No hyphen here, the trail was just ten kilometers long. "We walked a ten-kilometer trail" is what you were looking for.

Non-native English speaker here, btw.

I think the book "The Neverending Story" is named that because it's originally German, where "neverending" is "unendliche". The English-language movies are actually "The NeverEnding Story", which is an odd choice. "never-ending" would be more standard English.

I can related with the OP. I guess most non-native English speakers can.

> Before 1950, when the "TV Language Unification" happened, everybody was still taking with their dialects and italian was only mastered by a small percentage of people. Sicilian itself, the language talked the most by my family, predates Italian by centuries.

For a hands-on example about what he is talking about, those of you who learned Italian try to understand what this song[1] says, without actually studying the lyrics. It's an awesome Sicilian tune by an ethnic group Messinese[2] group called Kunsertu (concert).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXQSoTGwun4

[2] Messina is the port-city that gates the most beautiful island in the world: Sicily! :-)

I love this song btw :-) It's 20 years I listen to it from time to time.

Yeah, I love it too!

That song's language is like Italian and Romanian had a child.

I can relate to this despite being a native English speaker from the UK. I misspent my childhood in IRC and messing around with dozens of UNIX machines.

I can communicate well with people over the internet, but only recently have I met people in the flesh with similar interests to me. This means that I mispronounce jargon. Cache, deprecated, whenever I use words like these in conversation, people have no idea what I am talking about, I have only ever been exposed to them via text. I realised that I have never heard people say them before. This was probably not helped by the fact that I prefer an essay to a videoed talk any day.

That's very common. No-one knew what the heck I was talking about the day I first spoke out loud about Ess Queue Ell.

I think the jury's still out on that one. I've always spelled it out (and I always will, dammit!), I've had professors either spell it out or pronounce it, and it very much seems to be a mix of regional preference and past experience. Of course, there's two arguments here: One is that SEQUEL was changed to SQL to avoid possible trademark issues (thus implicating that this also necessitated a change in the pronunciation), the other is that the original intent was to call it SEQUEL (thus this is the Only Way). Which is more correct? No one knows!

There's an interesting write-up on the differences[1] which I find interesting. There's even a fellow who asked one of the original developers[2] how to best pronounce it (spoiler: no resolution).

Come to think of it, I spell out most acronyms under 4-5 characters much to the chagrin of my peers (unless the intent was clearly to make it a word). I think it ought to boil down to preference.

[1] http://www.vertabelo.com/blog/notes-from-the-lab/sql-or-sequ...

[2] http://patorjk.com/blog/2012/01/26/pronouncing-sql-s-q-l-or-...

In our company, the practice is to refer to MS SQL server as "Sequel Server", and MySQL as "My S. Q. L.". I think it's not clear-cut.

in UK English we tend to convert acronyms like SQL to words like Sequel

An interesting related article, English is not normal - https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-english-so-weirdly-different-f...

I like the idea of Globish, though I have to admit both that I have not studied it, and, as a native English speaker, my enthusiasm is somewhat self-serving.


John McWhorter's 'magnificent bastard tongue' has many quirks to trip up anyone learning it as an adult, and which could be simplified without making the language unintelligible to those who already speak it.


One interesting thing to me I the comments to the original article was the mentioning of the weird "have got" instead of just "have" you learn in European schools. I hadn't thought about it since I started learning English I school in Germany many, many years ago. I think even the teachers dropped that in later classes. But I remember always having to say stuff like "I have got an apple" instead of just "I have an apple". I live in the US now and have never heard that and also don't recall ever having heard that in the UK either. What's up with that? Sounded like BS even to my fifth grade self who knew nothing about English.

Wow. You have made me remember that I also learned it like that at school. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that since school (maybe once in a blue moon, but it seems to be really infrequent), so I just forgot about it and say "have". It would be interesting to have the opinion of native speakers on this.

For the record, I'm now learning some Mandarin Chinese and apparently this kind of phenomenom is even stronger in that language (I say "apparently" because my Chinese level is still very basic, but that's what people who know more say). The first word you learn when studying Chinese as a foreign language is 你好 (nihao) for "hello", but apparently no one says that in China in real life, and the same goes for 你好吗?(how are you). There is also a controversy about a tone which is taught as a falling-rising tone but it doesn't actually rise unless the syllable is pronounced in isolation (and you hardly ever pronounce a syllable in isolation in real life...)

Weird stuff. I wonder what similar absurdities foreign students of Spanish (my native language) are subject to :)

People do say "你好" in formal, like "How do you do?" such as greet someone who just met for the first time. "Hello" is more like "嗨", casual greeting.

Having said that, learning spoken and writing English are hard for countries that have complete different language system such as Japanese and Chinese, Korean etc. Two reasons:

First, there’s no argument that they all have completely different style of writing and pronunciation. Nothing to piggyback on like Dutch or German. The English teacher in my school doesn't even speak good English, more like "Chinglish" as we mostly emphasize in writing. Many do write English well but have hard time communicate verbally. That’s a BIG problem.

The second thing is that the in the old days, kids don't get to learn English until in middle school. The best time to learn language is when one is still very young. It then becomes a second nature rather than a skills to master later in life. I think that it's different now. Kids are learning English early in school now. However, they don't get to practice outside of school.

No one would ever say "have got", it's the sort of redundancy that naturally gets distilled down to the minimum required in everyday language.

I imagine this sort of focus on technically correct but functionally useless things is pretty common when studying languages. I took a few years of German in school, and literally 25% of our time was spent memorizing the various forms of der and matching nouns to them. I haven't been to Germany, but my understanding is that you won't get laughed out of too many rooms if you use die when you should have used den.

I didn't keep up with the language, and I can barely understand even basic German at this point. I do still remember my der/ein charts though. I'm not really convinced that was the best use of my time.

I never say "I have got an apple", but also hardly ever say "I have an apple". I virtually always say "I've got an apple", or even "I got an apple" if talking really quickly and informally. I'm from New Zealand.

Now that you contract it like that I think I hear people say it all the time in the US and also use it myself, but never the non=contracted form. It's amazing how much of language usage is outside of our awareness. I guess it's all "system 1" as Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow would call it.

What? "Have got" is used all the damn time! What do you think "gotta" is short for? Most of the time you say "got", there's a "have" in front, especially in things like "I've gotten older".

As s native English speaker I say "have got" in certain situations. "Do you have an apple?" "I've got 5!"

Also the past participle. "I've gotten to level 5".

>In my opinion one fact that made me so slow learning English is the fact that I started reading English without never ever listening to it.

The Italian practice of overdubbing English language movies and TV series doesn't help either.

One of the great benefits of the Hacker News community compared to most online communities is that Hacker News is truly international. We are blessed here with comments by participants from all over the world, many of whom did not grow up speaking English. But English is the common language (ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος, as the Greeks would say) here, so learning English is an interest of many Hacker News participants.

I had to learn Chinese up to a high level of proficiency as I studied Chinese as a major subject at university, lived for three years in Taiwan in the early 1980s, and then worked for several years as a Chinese-English interpreter all over the United States. I'll try to share here some information that helped me learn Chinese as a second language after starting out as a native speaker of English, in hopes that it will help readers here learn English better.

Any two languages, even closely related languages like Spanish and Italian or standard Thai and standard Lao (and, for that matter, different regional dialects of English or of Italian) differ in sound system, so that what is a phoneme in one language is not a phoneme in the other language.[1]

But anyone learning a second language past the age of early adolescence will usually simply not hear many of the phonemic distinctions in sounds in the language to be learned unless the learner is very carefully trained in phonetics. Disregarding sound distinctions that don't matter in one's own language is part of having a native language (or native languages). You can't imitate what you can't even perceive, so learning to perceive the sound distinctions in the language to be learned is the crucial first step in learning a second language.[2]

For most people it is brutally hard (especially after the age of puberty, and perhaps especially for males) to learn to notice sound distinctions that don't exist in the learner's native language. That is extraordinarily hard when the sound distinction marks a grammatical distinction that also doesn't exist in the learner's native language. To give an example, the distinction between "I speak" and "he speaks" in English involves a consonant cluster at the end of a syllable, and in Mandarin Chinese there are no such consonant clusters at the ends of syllables at all. Even worse for a Chinese person learning English, Chinese has no such grammatical distinction as "first person singular" and "third person singular" for inflecting verbs, so it is difficult for Chinese-speaking learners of English to learn to distinguish "speaks" from "speak" and to say "he speaks Chinese" rather than "he speak Chinese" (not a grammatical phrase in spoken English).

If software authors who write foreign-language-learning software simply included information about the sound system of the language to be learned, such as a full chart of the phonemes in that language, with descriptions of the sounds in the standard terminology of articulatory phonetics,[3] that would be a big help to language learners. Even better would be for all language-learning materials to teach the notations needed from the International Phonetic Alphabet[4] for each language to be learned.

Language-learning books, sound recordings, and software always need to include a lot of focused drills on sound distinctions (contrasting minimal pairs in the language) in the language to be learned. No software program for language learning should lack pronunciation drills and listening drills like that. It is still an art of software writing to try to automate listening to a learner's pronunciation for appropriate feedback on accuracy of pronunciation. That's a hard problem that needs more work.

Even before learners think about learning pronunciation, they think about learning vocabulary. But the vocabulary lessons in many language-learning materials are very poorly focused and ineffective.

The typical software approach to helping vocabulary acquisition is essentially to automate flipping flash cards. But flash cards have ALWAYS been overrated for vocabulary acquisition. The map is not the territory, and words don't match one-to-one between languages, not even between closely cognate languages. Every language on earth divides the world of lived experience into a different set of words, with different boundaries between words of similar meaning.

The best way to learn vocabulary in a second language is day-by-day steady exposure to actual texts (recorded conversations, stories, songs, personal letters, articles, and so on) written or spoken by native speakers of the language. The late John DeFrancis was a master teacher of Chinese, so I'll quote him on this point here. In the section "Suggestions for Study" in the front matter of his book Beginning Chinese Reader, Part I, DeFrancis writes, "Fluency in reading can only be achieved by extensive practice on all the interrelated aspects of the reading process. To accomplish this we must READ, READ, READ" (capitalization as in original). In other words, vocabulary can only be well acquired in context and the context must be a genuine context produced by native speakers of the language.

I have been giving free advice on language learning since the 1990s on my personal website,


and the one advice I can give every language learner reading this thread is to take advantage of radio broadcasting in your target language. Spoken-word broadcasting (here I'm especially focusing on radio rather than on TV) gives you an opportunity to listen and to hear words used in context. In the 1970s, I used to have to use an expensive short-wave radio to pick up Chinese-language radio programs in North America. Now we who have Internet access can gain endless listening opportunities from Internet radio stations in dozens of unlikely languages. Listen early and listen often while learning a language. That will help with phonology (as above) and it will help crucially with vocabulary.

The third big task of a language learner is learning grammar and syntax, which is often woefully neglected in software language-learning materials. Every language has hundreds of tacit grammar rules, many of which are not known explicitly even to native speakers, but which reveal a language-learner as a foreigner when the rules are broken. The foreign language-learner needs to understand grammar not just to produce speech or writing that is less jarring and foreign to native speakers, but also to better understand what native speakers are speaking or writing. Any widely spoken modern language has thick books reporting the grammatical rules of the language.[5] It is well worth your time to make formal study of the grammar of your native language and of the language you are trying to learn, especially in materials for foreign learners.

[1] http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/Wha...

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10442032

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articulatory_phonetics

[4] http://www.langsci.ucl.ac.uk/ipa/ipachart.html

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Soluzioni-Practical-Contemporary-Routl...





> But anyone learning a second language past the age of early adolescence will usually simply not hear many of the phonemic distinctions in sounds in the language to be learned unless the learner is very carefully trained in phonetics.

I had one very clear example of that at one time: The difference between the Polish words for switching something on and switching something off.

włączyć -> to switch on


wyłącz -> to switch off

When you see them written here they look very different but when you hear them in spoken Polish conversation they're all but impossible to tell apart (at least, to me!).

I enjoy watching foreign movies with subtitles, and then trying to learn a few words in the language that way. I watched a French movie a few days ago that way, and was surprised at how many French words I already knew.

I've been told that's how the Dutch learn English. The country isn't big enough to make it worth dubbing the shows, so they are shown in English with Dutch subtitles.

That's pretty much it. We also start second (and third) languages pretty early in school. True story: toddler in a local health center after being asked to count from 1 to 10: "what language do you want me to do it in?"

I never did find out how many he spoke but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was 3 (both parents from different countries in NL, they spoke English between them).

> I've been told that's how the Dutch learn English. The country isn't big enough to make it worth dubbing the shows, so they are shown in English with Dutch subtitles.

IIRC that's the case in all scandinavian countries, I'd also expect it in most of eastern europe (but having started much more recently).

Norway dubs childrens showsm including things like Disney. It was helpful; At one point in my learning Norwegian, I was watching Spiderman cartoons because the language is always very simple and clear. Children start learning English in school formally around age 6. It helps that video games and popular more adultish movies only have subtitles. A few workplaces are English-dominant, but in general one can't find job with english skills alone.

The actual effect of this is that I'm easily understood when I speak english by many and get advantages like being able to use an english word when I am unsure or being greeted by many words that i only need remember pronunciation. But not everyone can actually speak english well, or they are just as unsure using english as I am norwegian - which weirdly, doesn't seem to be such a problem speaking english with other non-native english speakers.

At least in Romania, subtitles have always been the standard.

I don't know what is typical in the rest of the English-speaking world... but note that in the USA now, it is law that all broadcast programming be closed-captioned in English (at least). There are two CC "channels" for every program; the second may be populated by captions for another language, e.g. Spanish.

A growing number of network shows also have live audio in Spanish via a selectable Separate Audio Program (SAP).

Even older programming broadcast in syndication is typically captioned. (Heck, I'm watching a series episode from 1964 on MeTV right now that has been captioned.)

Point being, if you are in the USA and are an English learner, turn on CC for any programming you watch. Most captions are placed such that they don't disrupt you viewing very much. (The exceptions are kind of comical... many Fox sports shows, for example, have the CC overlay the scoreboard block more often than not.) I generally leave mine on most of the time, since modern TV dramas often "drop" a critical phrase or two of dialog in background noise, to my ear.

As a native English speaker learning Spanish, one thing I've found especially helpful is watching Spanish programming with Spanish subtitles. Such resources used to be difficult to find, but with SAP on cable systems [1], YouTube videos [2], and streaming programming [3], it's never been easier. And Spanish is easy to spell; I'd bet the returns to watching English programming with English subtitles would be even higher, given that English spelling is a bit, um, tough.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_audio_program. I particularly like watching children's programs, which focus on vocabulary acquisition for everyday terms.

[2]: See especially http://www.bookbox.com/.

[3]: E.g., Club de Cuervos and Narcos on Netflix.

Club de Cuervos looks nice, I've been looking for a Spanish comedy, thanks!

I'm from a small Europen country. I watched a loot of English cartoons and movies when I was in primary school. I never really put time into studying English, and my grades were below average. But I was always able to understand and communicate in English better than my friends. I still struggle with spelling and forming proper sentences. Sometimes I found myself stutter, or I get lost in the middle of a sentence. I work for an English-speaking remote company, and I communicate with coworkers on a daily basis. I think I'm pretty introverted in my native language. Usually, I just don't pay enough attention when speaking to people. But when I use English, I have to put that little extra effort into following a conversation that is showing up as me asking more questions and being a more active participant in the discussion. This is no a 100% rule, but something a noticed over the years.

I think this fact (and he's obviously not wrong, though I don't know if I'd label it a secret - everyone knows this about English, I thought?) is inevitable from any language which gains the reach English did, or at least, gained the reach English did at the time English did... whether it would be different now we have global communication all the time remains to be seen I suppose.

How do you have a language spoken by so many wildly different people, who bring in their own vocabulary with each generation, and not end up with irregularity in spelling and pronunciation?

English is a mongrel, certainly, but that is a product of it being so widely 'deployed', not an inherent feature of the language. Sure, Italian is regular. Italian also doesn't have germanic roots all over the place mixed in with the latin and chinese and whatever else.

English has been "weird" for the reasons you're describing since before it spread anywhere.

It has more to do with the number of different cultures that have conquered England, combined with the fact that written English has existed for a very long time compared to most European languages. The fact that there isn't an authority that can dictate major spelling reforms doesn't help either.

> The fact that there isn't an authority that can dictate major spelling reforms doesn't help either.

Nor is there any need for it. An authority that could dictate spelling would soon start dictating pronunciation. It's bad enough that the pernicious influence of Estuary English is levelling pronunciation over the whole country but at least people, theoretically at least, have a choice. The only influence such an authority has is to artificially slow the development of the language and to try to shoe horn regional variations into a single formula.

People often complain that written English doesn't correspond with pronunciation. But no one ever says whose pronunciation that the spelling is supposed to reflect.

I'm from the south west of England and my pronunciation of words like house, boat, castle, book, etc. is quite different from that of, say the North East. So how would you like us to spell house? Should it be /'haʊs/ which is probably about what I would say and is also regarded as RP. Or should it be /'hu:s/ which is the best I can do for the pronunciation that at least used to be common in the North East and in parts of Scotland.

Would the spelling authority also specify which syllables to stress? Then how will it deal with American English which stresses the final syllable in cases where most Brits would stress the penult.

Both french and spanish have a huge number of speakers, yet haven't broken to the extent that english has. And the issue of english phonetics long predates its rise to primacy as the international language.

I think you need to have a frame of reference to truly realize it as a native English speaker

Does french suffer from the same issues? It has been spread pretty widely too and with long history.

French has a central body that regulates (dictates) what is 'French'. English doesn't. Descriptivism vs prescriptivism.

I have been using full time English for a 23 years now.

I think the biggest struggle for me is it's hard to tell what's right from wrong. While I completely understand that I'm not anywhere perfect in grammar, things that Ginger won't catch is the ones I have often had problems with, perhaps the sort of thing that makes my composition very obvious that it is written by a non-native. (Probably people can even tell that by reading this comment...)

While I never had so much of problem in operation side, it is a bit frustrating for me when I am forced to work with public relations matters (I work for a very small company) considering I know that I am way under-qualified.

I agree with the sentiment regarding how important talking/listening is in the language learning process. I came to Germany from the U.S. a year and a half ago and have spent that time trying to learn a foreign language for the first time. I definitely found a lack of online resources that were centered around conversational fluency, and so started working on one of my own:


They take influence from some of the resources I found most effective like the Michel Thomas and Assimil audio books which gave me the biggest boosts in terms of my German listening and speaking abilities.

Oh, I so completely understand the lack of resources, though imagine you are in Norway instead. I took a year of french and a couple years of German in high school, unfortunately that was years ago. I've been here 2.5 years, and tried to teach myself. I started my second year of language classes in August, which has worked out much, much better.

Well, we need a common language. If it's not your native language, you'll be at a relative disadvantage if it is somebody else's.

Would Esperanto be preferable? Some people would have the jump on you for that as well.

"The nonsense of english spelling": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTjeoQ8gRmQ

> in 10 years I'll likely no longer write code professionally


The introvert vs. extrovert part just sounds like what I experience. I consider myself decent in writing and reading skills, but when it comes to speaking and communicating ideas, it doesn't come natural to a non-native speaker like myself. Worse is when people expect you to think and speak out loud during programming interviews. Then, my brain is tasked to do two things at once under a lot of pressure.

Someone fluent in English should rewrite antirez's post and submit it as a diff to the author. I for one, would really enjoy learning from it.

I had a similar experience. And event after living in a UK/US for 6y and my partner being a native english speaker, sometimes I struggle. One other frustration that I had, when you have to argue for your case. If you have to justify a solution against a native english speaker that can create some frustration as finding the right wording for the arguments can be sometimes a challenge.

That's weird. I have pretty much the opposite experience from the author. I'm talking with americans, canadians, english people, australians and a few slavic europeans in english (myself being from a slavic country) and the only ones I have a little bit of trouble understanding are australians. And that one guy with the lisp.

As an Australian, the only English speakers I have trouble understanding, are the Scots.

Are your TV shows dubbed or subtitled?

Phonetic English: http://unspell.it/

I've found http://youpronounce.it/search.jsp?q=either useful for clearing up some mispronunciation issues / doubts. Link also shows some English awkwardness...

I am struggling with it right now.Some time I think my language part of my brain does not work.

This post is more than 2 years old and still very relevant.

English isn't unique by any means in that people from different countries speak different dialects which can sometimes be marginally difficult to understand. In fact, this is how new languages are created in the first place. At one point Italy, France and Romania all spoke Vulgar Latin. And French used to be considered the lingua franca to such and extent that it's in the damned name of the thing. But no one complains that the Portugese have difficulty understanding the Spanish who can't understand the French who can't understand the Italians who can't understand the Romanians. I've been to a few different English-speaking countries now and I can understand everyone's English just fine unless they're from a rural area. Doesn't matter if it's rural Ireland or rural Georgia, I'll have to ask them to put on a fake accent, no matter how poor it is.

English is not particularly strange or unique on most measures. Phonetically it has a few unusual sounds, but every language has one or two (and our most odd sound "th" is found in everything from medieval Japanese to ancient Greek). Grammatically English approaches an analytic language, though nothing quite like Chinese. That means we have fairly sophisticated syntax (meaning attributed to the order of words), but our morphology (the actual words changing according to grammatical meaning like for tense or plurality) is very simple. People from countries where the speak languages with all sorts of genitive and ablative cases with verb agreement on prepositions with an animacy hierarchy (I'm exaggerating here, obviously) seem to see English as simple.

Of course, English isn't particularly well-suited to be a lingua franca. If anything our shift toward analyticism is more of a result of England being repeatedly conquered in it's early settlement by Germanic tribes followed by English speakers repeatedly conquering everyone else, while embracing multiculturalism. But like most lingua francas, they gain status because of their economic importance and then you have to learn them simply because they've become the lingua franca.

I am not optimistic on the idea that a language should emerge that is actually well-suited and designed to be a lingua franca. Esperanto has been around for, what, over a hundred years now or something? And I'm sure Amiga was technically superior to IBM and in a thousand other format wars the technically superior option never took hold.

I'm just glad that I don't have to learn the bastard version of Latin that has grown up in academia and instead my own native language is the standard. There's very little you can do to convince me that an 8-syllable compound word formed from the roots of a language that did not allow compounding using word meanings that are grossly different from their original meaning for a common, everyday concept or thing for the sake of "universal standard" is a superior method of doing things.


And you made an account just for that?

That's a pretty low blow. Redis is insecure because it is designed that way, it is a powertool with a very specific role to fill and it comes with a very nice warning to that effect. If you use it in a way that's insecure the problem is yours, not redis'.

Compare with cooks knives, powertools (drills, reciprocal saws and circular saws as well as fun things such as plasma cutters, welding gear, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, lathes and mills) and other professional tools sold without any kind of license or requirements of proficiency by stores all over the world.

Each and every one of those can kill you, in a pretty straightforward manner. And yet, they continue to be shipped, insecure by default. Because their users will not be able to do their jobs if each and every one of those would come with the kind of safety requirements that we'd normally apply to say a toy for a toddler.

If you don't know how to use a tool like redis in a secure way then you probably have other problems besides.

You'd probably be shocked to hear that many cluster environments have a single gateway machine that is (usually somewhat) secure but behind that gateway the whole cluster is wide open.

I know that HN has a "don't feed the trolls" rule, but I don't mind losing karma here, I'm going for it.

Not only your comment is off topic, it's also comment is short-sighted at best. Redis is a fantastic tool that helps professionals like me get work done. It's well designed, well maintained, well written (just read the source code), and is one of the few small open source projects you can introduce to big co without fearing upper management complaints.

So yeah, maybe it's not as secure as you wish by default, but I'm glad antirez has the priority sense he has, because it led to working software that you can easily secure in your architecture.

So no, I don't think security is his biggest pain.

The only country where English is the native language is the UK.

Wrong: the only country where English is the native language is England. Wales, Scotland and Ireland were taught the language at the point of a sword.

Worse: English is a somewhat arbitrary set of different local dialects with heavy Icelandic and Scandinavian influences, and formalized by French and German ruling classes. Many things it might be, but hardly "native" of any given region.

> Wales, Scotland and Ireland were taught the language at the point of a sword.

AFAIK this is somewhere between very incomplete and clearly wrong in the case of Scotland, and to a lesser extent Ireland. It may actually be a bit more accurate to say that of England, come to think of it: it's just that the pointing of swords happened a while earlier there (to the extent that it really happened) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_settlement_of_Brit... . But this just highlights that it's probably impossible to reasonably declare languages non-native on this kind of basis.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language

> Irish (Gaeilge), also referred to as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. [...]

> Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought it with them to other regions, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where through earlier branching from Middle Irish it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx respectively.

I did most of my primary and secondary education in the Republic of Ireland, and finished with a secondary leaving qualification in Irish Gaelic language and literature (as well as modern Irish and European history). My final grade in Irish was fairly respectable too, and I even had half-decent conversational Irish by then.

I think America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada might beg to differ

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