Overview of the English Language
From its origins in England, the English language has spread not only throughout the British Isles but also across the globe to countries as distinct as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many more. Hundreds of millions of people speak English as a native language, while millions more learn English as a second language, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
English Origins and English Vocabulary
As a member of the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, English is closely related to German, Dutch, and Afrikaans, among others, and also has strong ties to the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian) which belong to the North Germanic branch of the same family. When speakers of those languages learn English, or vice-versa, they will discover a certain number of cognate words that reflect their shared origins.
The modern Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, etc.) make up a much more distant branch of the Indo-European family, but people who speak those languages will also see words they recognize when learning English. These similarities occur primarily because English absorbed a significant number of Norse words in the 8th and 9th centuries, in addition to an enormous amount of Norman French vocabulary after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Over the centuries, it has also taken in numerous terms of Latin origin, either through direct borrowings or by building new words on Latin roots.
This ability to accept new words has not faded with time. English actively continues to borrow words from the many languages it encounters around the world, as well as providing loanwords for other languages. All of these borrowings have given the language an exceptionally large and rich vocabulary, with a wealth of words to delight of native speakers and English learners alike. However, it is important for those learning English to realize that the pronunciation and meaning of cognate words may not always be exactly the same as in their native language.
The English Alphabet, English Spelling, and English Pronunciation
English is written from left to right using a version of the Latin alphabet with 26 letters. Unlike many languages, it does not generally use any kind of accents or diacritic marks to modify the basic characters. However, this comparatively simple writing system does not mean that writing or speaking English is automatically easy. As anyone learning English can attest, spelling and pronunciation can be challenging - even native speakers must study English in school to learn English spelling properly. Some words are written the way they sound, but many others are not, often because the spelling reflects an earlier pronunciation or because the term was borrowed from another language with the foreign spelling intact. To add to the potential confusion, there are variations in spelling between certain English dialects. For example, American English uses the ending "or" in words such as "color" or "neighbor", while British English prefers "our", as in "colour" and "neighbour".
Dialects also cause variations in the way people speak English aloud, particularly in regards to pronunciation and vocabulary. In addition to various major dialects (American, British, Australian, and so on), there are also more subtle shadings (such as the southern drawl or the midwestern twang) that can identify an English speaker as being from a specific region. One result of this variety is that people who learn English as a foreign language may be taught different pronunciations depending on where and how they study the language. For example, students learning to speak English in India often acquire an accent that reflects the British influence in that country, while an immigrant learning English in the United States will pick up the local American accent.
Learning English grammar is straightforward in some respects and more complex in others. For example, the language has no grammatical gender and no formal forms of address beyond the polite use of titles with last names in certain situations. Nouns do, however, have singular and plural forms, and there are some exceptions to the general rule of adding "s" or "es" to make the plural. Similarly, verbs change form to indicate tense and certain persons, and a number of common verbs have irregular conjugations. The normal word order for an English sentence is Subject-Verb-Object.
Practice is a necessary aspect of learning to speak English well, which is one reason why good English software programs can be particularly useful. It has never been easier to learn English than with the language resources and language software available from Transparent Language. We wish you success with your study of English!