Many people need and want to speak English. But there is a lot of ignorance around about what it is, and where it came from, and why it exists.
Having answers to these questions can make learning easier and more interesting.
When England was a super power, it invented official English. One way a government controls people is through controlling the way they communicate. Governments today control language in the same way. They control people with schools and universities. If you use their official language in the wrong way, you won’t pass the course, and you won’t get the job, and you won’t get the visa, and you won’t get a good salary, etc.
For many people, learning this official government English is a matter of great importance, because they need a good job, and a visa, and a good salary, etc. But it is not easy to learn. In fact, more than 80% of native English speakers would have great difficulty passing any of the modern English language tests – such as IELTS, or TOIEC – and it is likely that this 80% know less than 20% of the grammatical rules of official English.
There are clearly two types of English.
There is the “official” that people who want high salaries and visas and international jobs must learn. And then there’s English. Real English. Not proper, nor correct, or official, but the English that native English speakers actually speak, that native English speakers use to communicate in their daily lives.
Real English is the subject of this article. It is never correct, or incorrect. It can be assessed by only one criteria – communication. Anything written or spoken must communicate what the writer or speaker wants.
What are the characteristics of real English, how did it come to exist, why? Where did it come from? And can it help you or me, if we need to learn the official version?
What are the characteristics of English?
As we’ve mentioned it is entirely based on words and phrases borrowed from other languages.
English is Creative: It does not follow the forms and rules of the languages it borrows from. Real English has no forms or rules. It is never correct, or incorrect. It can be assessed by only one criteria – communication. And to do this it uses all and every available and imaginable means to communicate the world.
English changes: Because real English has no rules, it is a free language. It is truly a global language. It has changed, and will continue to change, as the needs of those who use it change.
English is efficient: English can communicate a lot, with very few words. A person with a very low level can still communicate.
English is flexible: English can be spoken incorrectly and still communicate what the speaker wants. Sentence structure is not important. A person can say the same thing in many different ways, there is no correct or incorrect way to say anything, it is an open language. For example – I go shop- go I shop- shop I go- go shop I- shop go I- these all communicate the same thing. This person is going to, or has been, to a shop. We will know the past or future tense by context.
English is phonetic: It uses 26 symbols (the alphabet) to communicate. Those 26 symbols (letters) are sounds. A person can learn how to write and read English very easily, and this makes learning to speak it easy. For example I can ask someone -How do I spell espionage? They will say, e, s, p, etc. Then I can read that out simply by the sounds of the letters, and I will say espionage. A person with the most basic alphabet knowledge can do this. But this is impossible to do in many other languages. For example Asian kanji.
How/Why did English come to exist?
English is simply a language that developed as different cultures met through war, migration, expansion, and business. If English didn’t exist, and there was a room of 5 people who don’t speak each other’s language, then each of the 5 must learn 4 languages to speak to the 4 other people in the room. That is not smart. So we borrowed bits of all the languages, and made a new language, and now everyone only has to learn 1 language to communicate with all the other people in the room. Now that is smart. This is the very heart of English.
Where does real English come from?
What is known as English has developed over a long period of time, and been created from many different languages. One main characteristic is that it’s a borrowing language. Other languages borrow as well, but English is completely based on borrowing.
Can Real English help people learn Official English?
Of course, because the “official” version is based on real English. If we understand that there are two types of English, and that the real is easy to learn and the official is hard to learn, then naturally learning to speak real English will help greatly in our understanding and learning of official English.