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English has been my pain for 15 years (2013) (antirez.com)
73 points by Tomte 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments





Growing up, speaking US English natively, I never realized how messed up English is. Then I learned Spanish (and lived in a Spanish speaking country for 2 years). Wow. Now that is a sane language. Once you learn the alphabet and a few pronunciation rules you can read anything in Spanish correctly. Try doing that with English. Ha!

This has become even more reinforced as I've helped my children learn how to read English. Trying to explain to a child why a certain word is pronounced the way it is, even though it looks nothing like how we are pronouncing it, usually falls back to "that's just the way it is" unless I want to try explaining to them the niceties of Old French/Latin, Old English, Old Germanic, the great vowel shift, etc. Eh, that's just the way it's pronounced.

There are so many people who already speak Spanish and it is such a nice sane language that I think it is a real shame that it did not become the universal language.


Meh, each language has its quirks. I am a native Spanish speaker, and while English pronunciation is a clusterfuck, Spanish has its own share of issues for non-native speakers - like the need to memorise the useless the gender of words that refer to non-gendered things. Nobody cares that a table is female, but you won't sound native if you don't know it.

I'm told that some of the advanced forms of verbs (like the subjunctive) are real trouble for non native speakers, although at least learning that isn't a fruitless task.


I'm currently learning Spanish, and have to say that I don't find noun gender to be a huge problem, as generally (apart from some exceptions) if it ends in 'a' then it's feminine, and if 'o' then masculine. Compare that to German, which has no general and easy mnemonic for guessing a noun's gender, adds an additional gender, has a grammatical system where the article attached to a noun changes to that of another gender depending on case, and then to top it all off has no standard rule for creating a plural from the noun singular...

Apply that masculine/feminine rule to 'wing'/'wings', or 'sea', or 'eagle'/'eagles' in spanish :)

I know those are exceptions. The thing is... there are a lot of exceptions.


La foto, la mano, la radio. El dia, el mapa, el sofa. There are plenty of words that are exceptions.

English’s main issue is spelling, but every language has its quirks.


I don't need to memorize table is female. I need to memorize it is "mesa" and I always use la with words than end in a. Spanish needs to fix el mapa and a small number other words that break the rule.

There is no reason for two different words for the depending on how the noun ends, but since the rule is easy and there are only two I'm fine with it - it is exceptions and complex rules I'm against, not rules.


As a native speaker of a romance language, I do not find English particularly insane. It is quite straightforward as a language. That is, written English is a sane language, and spoken English is a sane language as well. The problem is that they are two unrelated languages :)

I actually agree wholeheartedly.

My 5 year old is learning to read and write in English; his spoken English is quite good (his pronunciation is way better than mine of course), but I'm at loss of how to teach him properly to map the written to the spoken word (and the reverse mapping is even harder); he seems to be learning fine anyway.


>That is, written English is a sane language, and spoken English is a sane language as well.

What's your definition of "sane" here?

>The problem is that they are two unrelated languages

Sounds like Chinese/Mandarin to me. :)


I disagree with spoken English being a sane language. I have yet to find a deterministic way of knowing how to pronounce a word I haven't heard before. I can make up a word in Spanish and I know everybody will pronounce it the same way.

> I disagree with spoken English being a sane language. I have yet to find a deterministic way of knowing how to pronounce a word I haven't heard before.

I do not understand what do you mean here. In spoken English, the only way to know about one word is by having heard it, so you know how it is pronounced. Illiterate people can speak perfectly correct English.


That is exactly my point. If you've never heard a word you can never know how it's pronounced. That's not the case with Spanish where I can make up a word and everybody will pronounce it (almost) the same way.

This is not exactly true. There are some fundamental differences between spanish dialects. For example, "yo", "calle", are pronounced in an unrecognizable way between Argentina and Spain. But I agree that the mapping from written to spoken spanish is mostly deterministic (like that for French, Italian, and other romance languages). The mapping from spoken to written, of course, is not deterministic at all, which you can verify by looking at how illiterate spanish-speakers try to write.

Curiously, Polish is apparently spelled phonetically. Know the sound of the letters, you can read out a Polish newspaper and sound pretty much like a native speaker.

Same with Hungarian (Magyar). Spelling is over by grade 2.

But literate people can't speak all the words they know in an agreed way. It's like the whole "how do you pronounce Linux" thing.

Then you move, and local people (in UK, say) pronounce the word differently (eg bath, heard).


This is an absurd view to hold. English accepts an extremely wide range of pronunciations for almost all words, allowing it to be easily used (ironically) as a linuga franca.

Re: 'That's just how it's pronounced' --> In your regional dialect of the language, which can probably still be understood, with >99% certainty, by anyone else in the world who is also a native speaker, and probably by almost anyone who speak English as a second language...

If you want a phonetic English, you'd need an alphabet with about 40 characters in it. And for what gain exactly...?

And suddenly dialects are writing the same word completely differently, because the sounds are different..


Communication can only happen when the people involved get the same internal mental model on what a given sequence of sounds/letters mean.

To that end dialects need to die. They harm communication. Even when they are close enough to each other for understanding they slow down the speed of communication.

I don't care if we need 100 characters in the language, one sound per character would greatly aid English. Enough of this to/too/two nonsense: one pronunciation, one and only one spelling. (if we could reform word definitions to get rid of those issues so much the better)


Dialects should not die! That would be a shame in my opinion. We should just all speak a „common dialect“. I guess what the speak on US TV (Friends) is the most likely candidate.

As a simple example, please consider live and live.

>Trying to explain to a child why a certain word is pronounced the way it is, even though it looks nothing like how we are pronouncing it, usually falls back to "that's just the way it is" unless I want to try explaining to them the niceties of Old French/Latin, Old English, Old Germanic, the great vowel shift, etc.

I want an ELI5 about this, please. I'm sure there's room for swords, dragons and secret treasure maps somewhere in that story. :)


Not the OP, but consider the following...

Of course, you know of odd plurals such as house -> houses vs mouse -> mice.

why is womb pronounced "woom" and tomb "toom" but bomb is not "boom"?

gh: tough and laugh (as f) vs thigh (silent) vs ghost (hard g)

Why is tear (crying) pronounced the same as tier (levels) but spelled differently when tear (ripping) spelled the same as tear (crying) but pronounced differently?

The list of weird English oddities just go on and on. English is just plain weird.


Thanks for the list of oddities, all of which I'm aware, but I was hoping OP could work on an explanation.



You're absolutely correct that phonetics are really bad in English, but that's not the only metric of sanity in a language. English is pretty simple when you compare it to other languages, even considering our nightmarish spelling issues.

I bet you're from Utah... just a guess.

No... Oregon. But I grew up in South Florida. Why would you bet I'm from Utah? Do they have some sort of English fetish?

Contrarian perspective here:

English is not my first language, but I have come to deeply appreciate the idea of a common language that people share so that we can all work together regardless of where in the world we are.

Knowing more than one language adds lots of value, because each language offers different modes of thinking and conception. But also having one common language adds an insane amount of value, because now you can both win by having the capability to exchange ideas with people that otherwise might not happen and the opportunity cost is unpredictable.

(Example - German and Japanese teams use a universal language as a common language to work together on a groundbreaking energy project. That collaboration might not have otherwise happened due to language barriers. But if both parties learn a "Universal language" as a collaborative base, we can all gain advantage from that product of that win-win scenario. )


The author wasn’t arguing against a common language. He was arguing against English being that language.

Hmm? Didn't sound like he was arguing that point (ship has sailed). Just reminding people that learning languages is hard, and that we also need a common dialect for the common language.

If I read correctly, antirez's biggest complaint is English orthography (the way the spelling maps to the pronunciation - or doesn't, in the case of English!)

There's a secondary thread about native speakers being useless at adjusting their language to simplified English when talking to people for whom it is a second language. IME, that's something most people only learn to do when they learn a second language themselves.


REPLY TO ALL: No one "picks" a universal language. Is spontaneous chosen when people adopt because it drives the most value for them.

Its not the end-all that English is that language, but I think its fair to say that anywhere in the world atm English might be the closest to a "universal language".

I for one would rather stick to English, until a better alternative "proves" itself in the "marketplace of ideas".

As for the main argument about the phonetics, I think most languages have this problem, for instance in Germany every region has its own nuance and dialect, but the common one is "High German".

Same thing in English, and I would argue (even as an American) that our common version is "RP English or BBC English". If you can speak in this dialect, not only will (almost) everyone understand you, but speaking it also comes with a hint of "Respect", as its not so easy/common to do.

Is it not possible to consider that part of the English languages perceived disadvantages as a universal language could be also perceived as an indirect advantage? In that learning its grammar and structure is fairly easy (Barrier to entry is low), but perfecting the nuances of its depth in precision and pronunciation is fairly difficult.


Marketplace of ideas? More like geopolitical power.

The most reasonable scenario change at the moment would be a world dominated by China and then Mandarin becoming the new lingua franca. I wouldn’t bet on either of these events, but it seems plausible.


My perspective may be skewed as a Westerner, but it seems to me that the Chinese writing system is too difficult for it to be effective as a lingua franca. To be fair (and as the article points out) English has a lot of non-phonetic spellings, but you still only need to know 26 characters have some idea of how a word is pronounced. But you are right, if we were choosing a language based solely on its objective qualities, we would probably have to choose Spanish or something like Esperanto.

Please, no!

I love the variation that allows a sense of place in a "common" language. I can just know where the character in a novel is from by their idioms: Is it "couldn't care less" or "could care less", "pavement" or "sidewalk", color or colour etc? It only fails when the author gets it wrong. It's disappointing that regional accents have homogenised somewhat from entirely national TV programming in a country that must have 50 regional terms for a bread roll.

So long as we can understand each other, I delight hearing the more musical cadence of English from some non-native speakers, or the idioms of my Indian, Geordie, Scouse or Scots friends (OK, I confess it took me a little while to tune-in to full on "Weegie").


> in a country that must have 50 regional terms for a bread roll.

This is so controversial that some regions have propaganda music videos about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O98qd7-dAaU


I think he agrees: a common language is good. However English is a horrible choice because it is so difficult.

I'm a native English speaker, even though picking a different language would be worse for me I still agree English is a bad choice. Maybe if we reform our spelling we could improve - maybe.


As we all know, English is the hardest language, except for all the others.

English spelling is such a mess in good part due to historic attempts to improve and reform it, along with a few accidents of history. I suspect it's safest to leave well alone now. :)

What's your suggested alternative?

Spanish. A lot of people speak it already (a big bonus), and the spelling and grammar are reasonable. However I have no particular attachment to it, so if you get traction arguing for a different one I'll be fine with that.

Native here. What most extrangers complain about is verbs. For every verb there are a hundred forms and most used verbs are irregular, so you need to learn dozens of exceptional forms. We learn all those when we're children so it's not painful, for new learners... The rest is very easy, specially pronuntiation, that is a terrible for English, with so many vowels.

Currently Spanish is the second most spoken language, after Chinese. But English is still first second laguage for most people.


My experience of learning Spanish as a second language was that there are actually relatively few true irregularities (e.g. ser), and that most of what our tutors referred to as "irregular" were actually regular in their irregularity (e.g. vowel shifts like dormir). I even found after a bit of exposure, I could guess which verbs would take which vowel shifts fairly accurately.

And there are, what, ~16 verb tenses, ~8 of which are compound (ancillary verb+participle: easy to learn) and several are very rare in common discourse.

Personally,if I had to pick a universal language based on how easy it is to learn, I'd definitely pick Spanish!


Only two are obsolete, the other 14 are commonly used. Oh, and there are two with a second optional form to compensate :)

In English it's mostly done with mandatory pronouns and ancillary verbs (have, should, will) and only present tense is different for third person, everything else is just the same. Of course the pronuntiation and the phrasal verbs ruin the party.

You must be very proficient already, so you don't realize how many irregular verbs there are. I won (ex aequo) a competition at school and it was very hard. Ser (to be) is specially pathological, stealing from ir (to go) half its conjugation, but hardly the only common irregular verb: have, go, say, walk, want, put, know...


I agree. Spanish is not perfect. It is the best alternative that I personally know of though (outside of constructed languages, which have other problems)

spanish is also the language with the most illiterate people in the world

That's just a statistics artifact. None of the 25 countries with the most illiteracy ratio speaks Spanish. Anyway, why are you mentioning it? It's unrelated with the article or the thread.

Of course Krells' telepathy :P

Very risky side-effects.

Use at low power only.


If we want to select a common language, we should do so based on the criteria that said language is, first and foremost, easy to learn regardless of which language is the student's native language. I contend that no naturally evolved language has this property, which is to be expected since languages are living things with long and complicated histories.

Therefore the obvious solution would be to construct a language with the properties we desire. The difficulty would be in keeping it from evolving on its own and just becoming as complicated as the rest of them.


> If we want to select a common language

I think you're making an assumption that there is some central authority that has the power to make this selection on behalf of everyone.

I think the reality is that each person is making language learning choices based on their own utility. It's a network effect situation where everyone wants to learn the most popular language. English is ahead for historical reasons but that is enough.


I guess what I'm saying is maybe in an increasingly global society we should purposefully select a common language. English is de-facto today for historical reasons, but its difficulty is creating inefficiencies we could do without.

If we want to select a common language...

We don't select a common language. English is the common language because of many historical reasons.


> I have come to deeply appreciate the idea of a common language that people share so that we can all work together regardless of where in the world we are.

It seems to me that antirez strongly agrees with that. He mostly has issues with English as a verbal communication medium.


As an Italian programmer working and living in the UK for the last 10 and counting years, I can feel the pain.

I'm at the point that I can have a technical conversation with all my colleagues without issues, but when moving to more mundane subjects, I have difficulties following the conversation. As many, I have learned most of my English vocabulary by reading (I'm at the point that I can read a book written in English as well as an Italian book, and I vastly prefer to read in the original language when I can), but that means that I do not know the pronunciation of most of the words.

Also when going out of London (where 50% of the population is not native and the natives, especially in professional environments, are used to deal with us non natives), I really have an hard time understanding the various accents.


How were you able to avoid watching countless hours of English video content (youtube, netflix, news...)? That's how I learned listening/speaking (American) English.

If you are in Italy, Netflix, like TV has dubbed American content.

In that regard, there isn't a single European non-native English experience but the non-native experience is split between dubbing culture and subtitling culture.


You are, unbeknownst to you, answering your own question there

(Standard) American English and RP are easily to understand. Some other standardized styles/accents in other countries are easy to understand as well.

But regionalized accents are far harder to understand.


Funny thing: In my experience people with English as a foreign language all have a pretty much a common subset, the operational part of the English language. We non-natives also have an instinctual understanding which words and structures are more "advanced" and we can tone our language down to simpler structures when we feel that the audience needs it.

In effect, non-natives are good at communicating in English with other non-natives.

Whereas native English speakers occasionally mix in "difficult" words and grammar, thus making themselves less understood in the company of non-natives. Additionally, while most American accents are easy, many British accents range difficult to really difficult to understand, even for someone who's spent decades in international teams speaking English, but mostly with non-British.

I remember one workshop, listening to talks by Chinese, Finnish, German, Indian, Russian, Swedish etc. speakers. The one native British presenter was the only one with whose talk I really had to concentrate, and maybe I missed some of the details.

This can put native speakers (especially those with difficult British accents) to a disadvantage in international teams. People will not understand everything they say, but will probably be too shy to ask for clarification.

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20161028-native-english...

https://www.ft.com/content/26692848-f59b-11e5-96db-fc683b5e5...


I'm relatively comfortable with the English language but I absolutely loathe having to use it every single day. Whether it's the bland style found in newspapers, the opaque style found in scientific articles, the fake let's-pretend-we're-best-friends used by some technologists and younger journalists, or the long-winded and contrived style used by most of HN and reddit and technical blogs in general, all of it turns me off. (No offense, folks, I'm sure I'm no Joyce either.)

I guess it wouldn't annoy me so much if my job and social circles (many of them involving foreigners who don't speak my native language) didn't require me to consume so much of it. There's so much subtlety, nuance and "color" that's lost in a conversation where both participants aren't speaking in their native language. Even if both are relatively good at it.

Then there's the issue of native English speakers who seem to be only very dimly aware that other languages exist and think that everyone speaking their language fluently is a given. (This shapes a lot of current politics, such as language policing or the whole 'pronouns' issue - I'm mentioning it because antirez was the center of a controversy for not changing terminology that's loaded for Americans only). And many native speakers think the less of people who struggle with English, even unconsciously.


> This shapes a lot of current politics, such as language policing or the whole 'pronouns' issue

And then there are languages entirely without any concept of grammatical gender or gendered pronouns, such as my native Hungarian. So the controversy doesn't carry over easily to Hungary, at least not in the same form. Of course someone may explicitly use words like "woman" or "boy" in the unpreferred way, but you don't have spend extra effort to be neutral/ambiguous. This also makes translation quite difficult, when a writer relies a lot on he/she to mark who is speaking in a conversation between a man and a woman. In such cases the translator has to sprinkle in the names to better keep track of who's speaking.


> And many native speakers think the less of people who struggle with English, even unconsciously.

This can affect you even when you're aware of it. I've spent a lot of time with non-native speakers and I've been the non-native speaker in other scenarios. I've gotten close with a non-native English speaker who recently moved to the states for engineering. I forgot how the language barrier can unconsciously affect me. I knew he was at least smart enough to be an engineer but just this past weekend he told me more about his life and career. He was modest but blunt and straightforward about his accomplishments, in my own words I'll say it's prolific. It was a good reminder for me. Unfortunately most of the exposure I have these days with people in the category of "struggling to communicate" are children. What a terrible mistake it is to subconsciously associate non-native speakers with the intelligence of a child.


Even as a native speaker English spelling is hard. I was working on reading with my son last night and hit the word "love". Pause, and think about that word and its pronunciation. Well, he starts la-a-v-eh, and I correct him "the e at the end isn't pronounced", and later we get to 'make', ma-ah-k, Mac!, And I tell him, "no, this word has a long a, Ā, eh, because...of the e at the end" -_-, "but only sometimes."

Then we hit 'night'. Ni-eye-ga..."no, no", I say, "gh" in the middle of a word isn't pronounced. Luckily the book didn't have "though" and "thought" in it.

English pronunciation and spelling are basically no more related than second cousins at this point. I can't imagine having to learn to pronounce it simply by reading it.

That's only the German bit of the language, the French bit is subtly different, and then the Greek bits work just a little bit differently as well.

Then there are native American loan words, usually as place names, that weren't regularized (or maybe they were but aren't anymore?). Is there another word with a gh pronounced like the first pair in Youghiogheny (j ɒ k ə ˈ ɡ eɪ n i)(yock-a-gain-y)? I think it's probably via Scottish? But I'm not sure.


Blame Daniel Webster for 'formalizing' spelling with his dictionary a century ago. Froze spellings in time while pronunciation continued to change.

Noah Webster -- Daniel was a politician. And to be fair, Noah did improve quite a lot of spellings -- that's why the US spells things like "plough" and "gaol" as "plow" and "jail".

Thanks! My elementary school learnin' is fast fading away.

I had problems visualising things, when reading it in English. Many years ago, when I started working on enterprise applications, I would come across terms like "Provider" which I would read about and then forget. I guess I could not make simple connection between the technical term "Provider" and the real word abstract noun. This made understanding simple design patterns or abstractions harder. A lot of times when you know the literal meaning of a technical word and can visualize it in your head, understanding the related concept becomes a lot easier.

In college, some friends and I learned a little bit of Esperanto just for the sake of it. It was amazing how fast we learned it and were able to have simple conversations.

However, it’s a mainstream idea that artificial languages are always going to fail because geographically separated people will create dialects and “ruin” the language. It’s a bummer, because Esperanto is really useful (and there might be other artificial languages even better!).


Did the same in thing in college but with Toki Pona. Think Esperanto but even more stripped down to under 200 words that you combine to express ideas. If you work hard at it, you can reach an intermediate level over a weekend. My roommates and I exclusively used Toki Pona for about a month and I would say we all became very comfortable in the language.

> NEVER learn a new word without learning what is its sound.

Would that I had learned this earlier. Native english speaker, but I grew up reading voraciously from quite a young age. This meant that though I got a big vocabulary and context as to the appropriate uses of a word, I would have difficulty pronouncing them and often come up with something completely wrong. I'd go and look words up in the dictionary, as taught by my parents. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the meaning of the IPA symbols, let alone how to decipher them; they looked to me as foreign script might to another. It was rather amusing for friends and family, but rather humiliating for me.


On the contrary. Mispronouncing a word shows that you learned it through reading and that is to be celebrated, not mocked. You should simply acknowledge this fact and make it a badge of pride.

Well said. I am not english but I get by but I struggled when recently used the word "chasm". I pronounced the 'cha' as in chat. Oh boy, was I wrong. So eventually, after spelling it out my listener got me. She is my wife and she smiled. She knew I had learnt it through reading.

While growing up much of my access to English was through written words (literature, newspapers, magazines etc.) so my English vocabulary grew primarily due to my readings. I do have run into a few minor troubles when I use some of the words I learnt so in my speech. Despite that, I think learning via reading has been a net gain for me. So I don't necessarily agree that one should never learn a word without learning how it sounds.

I speak/write ~english, ~italian and spanish, and if I have to arrange them by 'coherence' it would be english-spanish-italian.

>> Italian is phonetically one of the simplest languages on the earth

The fundamental importance of the double-consonant and its pronunciation is very difficult for non-italians. Same goes for V and B sound differences.

I agree that English for an Italian is a nightmare. Did you know that Italians can't pronounce the english 'H'? Like in 'hate' they will pronounce 'ate'? That's for starters. You can guess some text was written by an italian if you find something like "that task is an hassle".

Spanish is as difficult as Italian, but it has more rules that are useful when reading/writing (Italians: if I don't know how Modena and Milano are pronounced, where do I put the accent?), but spanish has also a lot of exceptions that are difficult to learn and remember.

English is perfect for tech stuff. Short, concise and clear.


> English is perfect for tech stuff. Short, concise and clear.

As a Spaniard who's also fluent in French, I agree that it's the best of technical lingua franca of the three. Like the article says, the most convoluted part about English is its pronunciation ("lead" as in leading a team vs. "lead" as in the metal - WTF?), but otherwise I'd say it's easier than Romance languages.

A very interesting conversation has ensued in the comments of the article, where some Esperanto speakers claim that it would be the best lingua franca. I don't have trouble believing that a well-engineered artificial language might solve many of the problems that natural languages present, but in the latter category perhaps English is one of the least difficult.


I don't find pronunciation extremely difficult (as spanish has most of the 'sounds' already), but in most cases, as the word 'lead', can be parsed easily according to context.

What infuriates me the most of the english language is phrasal verbs. There is no rule and no context-parsing, and can mean completely different things.


As a French, I am almost sure by now that the existence of H is just a lie, even if some say that haricot and hérisson suffice to prove that it's not.

Well Italian has some exceptions in pronunciation too, for example "gli" and "agli" sounds the same but "glicine" does not. About putting the accent, italian is just as bad as english..I still struggle with "vegetables" after so many years!

You'll always find exceptions, but it does not disprove the fact that the general rule covers 90-something percent of the cases.

I don't speak Italian (except the usual hello/goodbye/thank you), but I can read a sentence to a native (say from a travel guide) so that they'll understand it. Try doing that with English.


Oh yeah, absolutely! I'm on Salvatore's side here: English pronunciation is just plain random

You are completely right about accents of course. In theory written words should have accent marks, but it is common accepted practice (outside of dictionaries) to omit them.

Interesting take. I'm a native English speaker and I found Spanish refreshingly structured and consistent.

I picked up a hobby about a year ago that has distinct regional differences around the world with people in different regions doing things quite differently and communicating almost exclusively in their own languages.

There's enough commonality that you can follow things, but it's pretty hard to understand the specifics if you don't speak the same language.

I've been using Google Translate to bridge the gap and while the translations miss all kinds of things, it's close enough that I can understand the important things and am able to even participate, though not at the level I can in English.

There are people saying that there are essentially multiple Internets, split by language barriers. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that argument, other than it kinda made sense to me, but my personal experience through my hobby definitely made me realize it's most definitely true.


I don't think it is only English, I find this happens with native speakers of other languages as well. They fail to accommodate their language to fit the people listening to them.

I always wonder what it is that prevents people from switching to a more standard version of the language, is it not obvious the message is getting lost? is it some sort of pride in the accent? lack exposure to foreigners?. I've experienced this many times in Spanish, English and German.


Native speakers might not always be aware of their accent.

Sometimes, there is no standard version of the language. With British English for example you used to have Received Pronunciation (RP) but nowadays it's not that widely used anymore. It's also associated with social class. In some ways it's always been an artificial accent only people from a certain background used consistently.

These days, even BBC TV presenters often use their respective regional accents (Still optimised for clarity and comprehension, though. You won't hear a thick Glaswegian accent from BBC newsreaders).

Arguably, there's "Modern RP" but in many cases that's just a South-East England / general London (i.e. non-Cockney, non-MLE) accent.

Anyway, you probably need to have some linguistic awareness to be able to recognise and make these distinctions for your own speech and change your register accordingly.


Because it's hard. You sound all wrong to yourself. Maybe it's an uncanny valley thing.

Yep, and talking more slowly with more simplistic language can feel "patronising" to the listener, which is dumb really, because it's being considerate to them.

>Because it's hard. You sound all wrong to yourself.

And after years of conditioning to sound "right", it's very hard to unlearn all that and sound "wrong", in order to perform that accommodation.


Maybe, that's a good point. At the same time, we often change our language in other circumstances already, for example, there's a difference how I speak to my grandmother, friends, boss or partner.

One of the best things I did that boosted my English level was playing WOW at a young age.

I though English was difficult until I had to learn German

They're closely related - like your two uncles, the German is a strict disciplinarian that it is hard not to find offputting, the English is quite enjoyable and chummy, but erratic, whimsical, and so apt to go off on flights of fancy that after an enjoyable conversation you are not sure what was really said.

There has never been an enjoyable conversation with the German uncle.

on edit: damn these English typos!


German might be a strict disciplinarian, but mostly illogical when it comes to

* Articles (Der, Die, Das) which you need to know correctly in order to form a correct sentence with nominative, akkusative and dative objects. * Plural of the nouns (maybe after a while you would get a feeling of it, but not as easy as adding an 's' to the end of the noun like English)

You just have to remember a lot of stuff :-(


That's a cute analogy. Sounds like my maternal and paternal grandfathers :)

What's great about German is the spelling is consistent. I know that, because I could ace my dictation tests without understanding a good deal of what I was writing.

That's because they regularised the spelling.

Many languages have undergone spelling reforms, e.g. Irish Gaelic in 1948, (if I remember correctly).

English is now a World Language rather than a property of the English, and so this no longer appears possible.


Knowing a language is not just being able to read/write but to be able to talk. It's a completely different level: you pass from 'turn based' to 'real time'. To learn languages nothing beats immersion and is even more difficult when you lean toward introvertion. You don't need perfect grammar but you do need to be able to "tame" the language.

It's not about real time, is more about sound, lot's of people are not used to the sound of words, and if you are from a place whose native language pronounces the letters very differently, you won't adapt easy. It's not timing, as people's brain might even change to english as base when writing and it's immediate, not translating, but when you can't understand well the sounds, than conversations go south really fast.

Yes, you are right.

But that can be learnt. Studying phonetics, despite its theoretical aspect, is essential to know how to pronounce but, also (and most importantly), what sounds to expect. Only when you try and make them do you realize what you should be "expecting to hear". Otherwise, sound becomes simple noise.

Accents are, of course, an aggravant and a difficulty: for this you need exposure.


I have gained some fluency in three foreign languages and I can now say I'm not surprised by the long tail anymore. Gendered nouns or inconsistent prepositions are only the start of it. If you get angry at arcane pronounciation rules, what are you going to make of the huge body of phrases found in every language? Learning any language well takes a lot of effort. And initial tribulations like pronounciation don't affect the overall effort much.

The international version of English is shaping up even without a governing body. And I do expect children in traditionally English-speaking countries having to take classes in it to make themselves understood. It would be nice if some warts could be removed in the process. But no authority with enough pull exists. We'd need a WEO setting standards and nobody wants that badly enough.


“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

— James Nicoll


One advantage that English certainly has is a very rigid, predictable sentence structure. I come from Russian - a language where words can be rearranged in many possible orders while being not only grammatically correct but also stylistically valid (also with slightly different accents and meaning). The fact that putting words in different order is just a mistake (and not originality) was completely alien to me, but now I enjoy it a lot, because it makes the language so much easier.

And prononcuation of English is, of course, a special hell - but one that you very quickly get over with, once you start systematically watch movies and tv series with subtitles instead of dubs. And what other language has as much movies, tv series, music and videogames other than English, through the whole 20th century and up to this point?


I'm someone who's experienced the reverse issue--I'm a native English speaker who's moved to a non-English speaking country. Interestingly, in the tech scene here anything written is still done in English, to the point where people will give lectures in the local language using English slides.

I'd echo a lot of the sentiment antirez has; it's harder for me to be my extroverted self here, and reading complicated documents is hard enough that I often ask someone else to translate them to English. But I expect those issues to go away after a while of living here.

I think that the key to solving these language problems is exposure. Many Scandinavians that I've met attribute their countries' strong grasp of English to not having dubbed movies--they have to watch it in English with subtitles.


> The fact that people from different English speaking countries have issues communicating is already a big hint about how odd is English phonetically.

Is this a fact? I wasn't under the impression that there is a general problem of communication among UK/US/Canada/Australia people. Maybe with some of the more extreme Scottish accents? Or former African colonies with very thick accents?

In any case, the comparison with Italian is moot if the issue is with foreigners learning the language. It's great if all Italians understand each other's accents, but this doesn't say anything about whether learners of "school Italian" understand Sicilians. Or whether foreign learners of the "school dialect" of German would understand my Eastern Austrian.


I spent four years in Italy and during my time there I found that I could speak very simple, yet passable Italian just by substituting English words for Italian ones - from an eastern-European perspective up to a certain level the grammar was pretty much the same.

Which makes it all the more surprising that Italians in general were hesitant to speak English, with the notable exception of my 74 year old neighbour, who picked up some phrases specifically to communicate with me.

Some of my friends back in Poland often express frustration with the fact that they had to learn English, since they don't see it as something strictly related to their work.


Native greek speaker. Learned english before becoming an adult, as most people do here, because the greek language is mostly useless if you are doing business with foreign parties (e.g. tourism or multinational companies). Learned italian as an adult. I agree with antirez that pronunciation isn't difficult, but there are some challenges to a non-native speaker.

The writer ends with

>My long term hope is that soon or later different accents could converge into a standard easy-to-understand one that the English speaking population could use as a lingua franca.

I suspect the opposite has happened and will happen.

When populations become fluent in English they decide that their accent is a valid way of speaking English, so stay hard to understand to other populations.


I dunno, we already have a concept of Stage Voice (or Youtube Voice), where the accent spoken is different than the speaker's native accent for the purpose of being more widely understandable. It doesn't seem such a stretch to suggest that English settle on one accent to serve this purpose in every day life as well. And hey, learning a new accent is significantly easier than learning a new language.

Maybe this is a specifically English thing, and not an issue in your native language (assuming you're not a native English speaker), but the idea of putting on an accent carries a LOT of baggage.

I think it happens to the extent that people will sometimes tailor/'round off' their accent and vocabulary depending on context. But people are attached to their accents - it's part of who they are - and having to put on somebody else's accent in certain contexts is not something that most people would be okay with. The idea that, for example, I would affect a, say, American accent if I was making YT videos, is completely crazy. Let alone in everyday life.





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