English. And the non-English

While in bed awaiting sleep, I found myself again contemplating the world. On the edge of sleep I realised that I had again solved all the problems of the world and everyone would be able to live in harmony if only they followed my plan. A plan I promptly forgot when I awoke. So when the world explodes, you’ll know why.

Which brings me seamlessly to tonight’s subject: English by the non-English. Working in London and frequenting a number of on-line forums, I am brought into contact with a number of people who were not born in England and do not have English as their first language.

Television would have you believe that anyone for whom English is a second or third language is unable to string together a sentence without messing it up with hilarious results. But this is not the case.

I work with a number of first and second generation Indians (from India), Pakistanis and and people from Asia and Africa. And every single one of them speaks and writes English flawlessly and fluently. Equally, I am brought into contact with a number of English people (who can trace their English-ness back through at least 3 generations) who can’t string 3 words together.

So what does this mean? Well, I don’t know. I think (and this is just an idea) that we in the English speaking world are getting lazy. We, for whom English is a first language, know that everyone else in the world has to speak English to be understood by everyone else. English is the lingua franca of the business and political world. And so citizens of non-English speaking countries carefully learn English so they can converse with others. And we seem to be forgetting it.

As a case in point (and I hope he doesn’t mind being used as an example), read Hari’s Blog. Look at the sentence structure and then compare it with other blogs. See the difference?

Now you could argue that since Hari is writing his blog, he has time to go back and correct any errors with the help of a dictionary or other resource. To that I say this: I have seen Hari respond very quickly online to comments made and the same writing structure is evident. Even during a heated online debate. Again, I have also seen this with other non-English/Western people. And I have seen native English speakers’ language skills devolve throughout a debate.

So, this is a call to arms … er… words. We English speaking types need to really work on this, otherwise we could see ourselves removed from arguments simply because we can’t use the language properly.

(and apologies Hari if this is embarassing to you :))

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Posted on 24 November, 2005, in Generalities. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the kind words, Ray! šŸ˜Ž No, it’s not embarrassing because I’m shamelessly addicted to appreciation! šŸ˜›

  2. Heheh šŸ™‚ I find it rather strange that someone who has English as their first language is often the poorer author than someone who uses English as a second language. Even allowing for slang and dialects, English speakers in forums look as though they took a bunch of words and threw them at their computer hoping to make a sentence.

    It’s infuriating.

  3. A few years ago we reached a milestone. There are now more non-native speakers of English than native. There goes our language as we know it. The common grammar errors of a third-grader are now so commonplace that in a few years, they will no longer be considered errors.

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