The "English is harder" myth?

Subject: The "English is harder" myth?
From: Janet_Swisher -at- trilogy -dot- com
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Nov 1999 18:02:51 -0600


Apologies, but I can't resist one more shot at this:

Every non-handicapped, developmentally-normal child learns his or her
native language with a high degree of fluency by the age of about five. In
that context, no language is noticeably harder than any other. It does
not even seem to matter whether the child is given explicit instruction.
(As in, "Look at the bird! That's a bird. Can you say 'bird'?" -- in
many cultures this does not happen.)

Everyone in this discussion has been assuming that the context is English
as second language, after the age of about five, when the native
language-learning ability starts to fade. In that context, it seems
pretty obvious to me that the relative difficulty of learning English
depends on the speaker's native language, the degree of similarity between
that language and English, and the degree of similarity between that
language and some other language that the speaker might also try to learn.
Note that similarity need not be based on taxonomic relatedness.
Furthermore, for any given speaker, the degree of difficulty may depend
partly on attributes or deficits of that individual. For example, someone
who is "tone-deaf" may have a much harder time learning Chinese than
English, as tone plays a much larger role in Chinese than in English. (The
tie-in to tech writing: remember your audience!)

All of this is sufficiently complex that I don't care to make any broad
generalizations.

Over and out,
Janet Swisher
Trilogy Software, Inc.






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