Sunday, April 10, 2016

Which is more difficult to learn, English or Spanish?

English, of course. English can be chaotic because the changes come mostly from the users and not from an academy filtering and organizing the language, as is the case of the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy).

But having not such a filter –and since mostly everything new is invented by the U.S.–English is a richer language. (But don’t tell that to a Hispanic . . .)

Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar

Prescriptive grammar is when rules are established from above, from the language authorities, whether a language academy or linguistic experts.

Descriptive grammar, however, describes how the native speakers use the language.

In the case of Spanish, the prescriptive approach, set by the Academia Real Española, has been paramount. Only recently there has been some allowance for descriptive grammar, coming mostly from how the Latin Americans use the language.

Again, Spanish is a rule-oriented language, mostly a logical language but English is less so, much less so. That’s why Hispanics learning English find it hard to believe that sometimes there is no logical explanation for why the English language is used this or that way. (“Teacher, is there a rule for when the vowel ‘a’ is pronounced short as in ‘at’ and long as ‘artist’? Or when it is pronounced as ‘ei’ as in ‘cake’? How do I know when it is pronounced one way or the other?)   

That’s why the subjunctive has almost disappeared in English. The English grammarians want to preserve it but to no avail –Americans, a practical people, shun complicated grammar.

But bear in mind: Grammar is about the language, and not the language itself. The direct way to learn a language is orally. And grammar should be taught in context, ideally in oral context –grammar is not math.  

Most Hispanics as well as Americans use the language correctly even though they have forgotten the rules. Ask the average Hispanic about the subjunctive mood, and you’ll see his or her eyes roll. 

Nothing new: throughout most of human history only a few at the top of the social scale were able to read and write; the rest learned languages orally –the oral tradition.

The first priority is to listen and speak the language, never mind accuracy at first.

When I first came to this country I quickly learn to say “Iu sonavabích.” Never mind saying it like in syllabic Spanish: “You-son-of-a-bitch.” They understood my "sonavabich" –I could see it in their faces.

No comments: