English: 3 Different Languages?

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Jun 9, 2019 21:21
To me, it looks like the English language consists of three layers. To be specific, on a vocab scale, it can even be three different languages. 😊 Believe it or not, I'm serious. Just hear me out.

The first layer: at this level, most expressions are of Anglo-Saxon origin. They are usually simple words and frequently used in daily lives.

The second layer: most words are of French origin or some other. They are relatively formal but are also used quite often.

The third layer: most words are from Latin. They are formal and usually used in academic texts and elite newspapers.

Perhaps you guys don’t think it fits into your experience well, but that’s quite obvious for us Chinese students, the reason being that you picked up English along the way but we study English from course books. The vocabulary you’re exposed to is quite mixed-up but we memorize words from “simple level to difficult level.” (Perhaps Latin-originated big words are also distinguishable to you guys, but they are definitely more so to us.)

Interestingly, nearly all Chinese students (English teachers as well) are only relatively good at understanding level-2 English. Even though they have studied “leve-1” vocabulary, they in fact haven’t mastered it at all, not to mention that most of them tend to stop studying English before achieving level 3. Only those who want to apply to American graduate schools cram for the GRE and memorize the “big words”. However, these students usually claim to their fellow countrymen: “No need to memorize big words unless you’re going to take the GRE, because Americans don’t use them.” (Shame on them spreading the wrong message! I don’t think it’s a good thing for intellectuals to be unable to read “elite” publications such as the NYT.)

Getting back to level 1 and level 2, let me give you two conversations as an example:

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Conversation 1:

Tom: Hey! That girl over there’s CHECKING you OUT! Why don’t you go say “hello?”

Jack: The last time I said hello to a girl in a place like this, she thought I was COMING ON TO her and BLEW me OFF before I even had a chance to introduce myself.

Tom: That doesn’t surprise me. Usually you STRIKE OUT after using one of your stupid PICK-UP lines.

Jack: I didn’t get that far this time. Maybe she was just PLAYING HARD to GET.


Conversation 2:

Tom: Hey! That girl over there is examining you! Why don’t you go say hello?

Jack: The last time I said hello to a girl in a place like this, she thought I was flirting with her and rejected me before I even had a chance to introduce myself.

Tom: That doesn’t surprise me. Usually you fail after using one of your stupid flirtatious opening statements!


Jack: I didn’t get that far this time. Maybe she was just pretending not to be interested.

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Most Chinese students, even most Chinese English teachers, have difficulty understanding conversation 1, but conversation 2 is much easier, especially if they resort to dictionaries. Although the capitalized words in conversation 1 are the simple words the students “have studied,” they simply don’t get what they mean in this context. These words are phrasal verbs and slang, which, in fact, aren’t taught in textbooks here.

Also, you may have no idea how hard phrasal verbs are for Chinese students. Really really hard. I may talk about it in the next installment.