Every Tuesday I tutor a young Vietnamese woman in English, helping prepare her to take the citizenship test next year. Lately we’ve been working on her vocabulary and writing skills. Until you look at English through the eyes of someone from a non-English speaking country, you can’t appreciate what a difficult language ours is.
For example, this woman asked me why our letters didn’t have just one sound like they did in her language. She thought the cell in cell phone was spelled “sell,” and was very surprised when I told her it began with a “c.” We then talked about words that were spelled differently, had different meanings, and yet were pronounced the same, like won and one. How on earth does “one” start with a w sound? Then why isn’t “wonder” spelled “oneder”? She was even more exasperated when we talked about words that were pronounced differently, had totally different meanings, and yet were spelled exactly the same, such as “tear,” meaning water dripping from your eye, and “tear,” meaning to rip something.
She wanted me to give her the rules on how to form plurals. I knew she was in for more disappointment because as many rules as there are, there are a ton of exceptions. Child becomes children, woman becomes women, goose becomes geese, and mouse becomes meese. Or at least it should. We put letters in words and then don’t pronounce them (gnat), we put an e at the end of a one-syllable word to make the preceding vowel have a long sound (bone), and then we put an e at the end of a word and it makes the same vowel short (come). Can you imagine how frustrating all of this is to a person learning English? I dread getting into the whole “ough” problem (through, rough, bough, etc.)
As difficult as our language is, at least we don’t have to worry about the tones of our words as they do in the Chinese language. I read a post by Slice of Shanghai that made me think ours may not be quite so hard. I think, though, that my sweet Vietnamese young lady might find that debatable.