N is for English as a New Language

English, on a language perspective, makes no sense at all.

english_as_a_new_languagelMy wife is a teacher of English as a New Language (ENL). It has also been called English as a Second Language (ESL), but the NEW designation is more accurate because, for some of these students, English is their third or fourth language.

Here’s a 2008 article about English Language Learners (ELLs) that I think describes the process and problems of learning English for non-native speakers.

The rules for the order of adjectives are nearly instinctive for native-born speakers of English. But it is tricky for the ELL. There are several lists, found here and here and elsewhere. But they generally agree on the order.

Comparative / superlative
Example: Bigger chair, smartest student

Opinion
Example: an interesting book, a boring lecture

Dimension (size)
Example: a big apple, a thin wallet

Age
Example: a new car, a modern building, an ancient ruin

Shape
Example: a square box, an oval mask, a round ball

Color
Example: a pink hat, a blue book, a black coat

Origin / nationality
Example: some Italian shoes, a Canadian town, an American car

Material
Example: a wooden box, a woolen sweater, a plastic toy

So you would say a “new Italian car,” not an “Italian new car.” Or a “big pink plastic sculpture.” And you don’t use commas between the terms. If you ask a native speaker why, she’ll say because to do otherwise sounds wrong. If I were an ELL, this might be a difficult aspect.

Other issues for ELL students depend on their native language. Certain sounds aren’t “available in their first language (‘th’ is a big one in general, but so are ‘v’ for Turkish speakers, ‘w’ for some European language speakers, ‘sh’ for Spanish speakers, and ‘r’/’l’ for many Eastern/Southeastern Asian language speakers).

“English, on a language perspective, makes no sense at all. There are so many exceptions, and these exceptions don’t follow the same rules. Some letters are silent, but they aren’t always so. There is no real verb conjugation. You always need your pronoun or it makes no sense at all.

“The sounds are weird as well. You can learn the short and long vowel rules, but in some situations, they are just different, and there is no reasonable explanation as to why you have pronounced something differently.”

There are also issues with verb conjugations, idioms, and homophones/homographs/homonyms.

I’m always impressed when people take on English as a New Language.

abcw19klein

ABC Wednesday – Round 19

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

16 thoughts on “N is for English as a New Language”

  1. What’s weird is that I have trouble with this adjective order. I never even heard of it until a few years ago.

    I empathize with the sounds issues of ENL students. Danish has a huge range of sound between “r” and “g” that for a long time I couldn’t even hear.

  2. American English (haha) – I thought we knew it well, until we came to study here and our backyard neighbor (who later joined WYCLIFF – the organisation to translated the Bible to other languages) started pointing out some of our “strange” pronunciations, like the “v” – he instructed us to pronounce it like a “w.” It helped us a great deal, but the language is just the beginning of cultural adjustment:):)

  3. Oh yes! I usually tell my new French students not to worry because it’s easier than English and I show them examples!

    Leslie
    abcw team

  4. The adjective order is new to me – and yet ingrained. I am grateful for having grown up with the English language as I think it would be most confusing to a newcomer.

  5. Hi Roger,
    I think the English language is a complex language
    but as I was taught just to learn it ‘parrot fashion’
    and not question it.
    I could read and write from a pre-school age,which was
    a benefit.
    I tried learning Turkish, as we used to holiday frequently in Turkey,
    sadly I just couldn’t grasp it at all apart from a few tourist terms.
    I fared better with the French language although that can be complicated;
    particularly their love of using the subjunctive.
    I like the way the Americans re-arrange the English language, e.g. We say
    colour they say color, we say colour, they say favor we say favour, et al!

    Best wishes,
    Di.
    ABCW team.

  6. English as a Second Language, English to Speakers of other Language, English Language Learners, English as a New Language…. etc. Same as when English speakers learn another language, foreign, second, world language, etc.? We struggle with names.

    Your wife has a very important job!

    Janis
    GDP

  7. I like the new term for ESL better. It was torture for both the Mama and me when she asked me to tell her how to spell a word. For her, e’s were a’s, i’s were e’s, and a’s were something else. I suppose I could’ve written it out to her, but that never occurred to either of us. lol

  8. Different countries have morphed and even in the 40 years I have been to New Zealand. Bear becomes Beer. Care becomes Cere.
    This week, we start the spelling competition, Kids must be so fantastic to be in the spelling bee.

  9. There is no logic to the English language. Children seem to learn languages with ease. I can speak 3 Indian languages fluently that I learned as a kid. But struggled through German as an adult and practically gave up learning Maori.

  10. I had no problems with learning English because it was my 2nd foreign language. I first had to learn to speak French because my parents moved with me to Brussels. French was very difficult for me to learn because it is a language based on latin. But once you have learned another language, the others come from alone ! Writing of course is another thing, but it’s easier if you first learn to speak and then to write, just as the kids do in school !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.