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My Controversial Views On Correct English & British and American English

Today’s video episode is dedicated to all those perfectionists out there who are always concerned about the wellbeing of the English language.

All those who start whining about the demise of English whenever they hear the slightest deviation from standard English pronunciation or grammar.

All those who’ll waste hours of their time on online English learning forums debating merits of using this or that particular adverb or preposition. All those who’ll perfectly spot the slightest difference between American and British English and argue in favor of one or the other referring to lists of differences between the two. All those who say things like – “Just listen to him; he can’t speak proper English despite being American/British/Irish!”

My one and only question to you, my dear perfectionists, is the following:

“What is this so-called proper English you all seem to be worshipping? How do you define correct speech and why are you so obsessed with making sure everyone speaks super correctly?”

I know it’s a rhetorical question and no-one can give me an answer right now, so I’ll try to answer this question myself because I have a very strong opinion in this regard! 😉

There’s No Such Thing as CORRECT English!

This is my ninth year in Ireland and throughout the years I’ve established a surprisingly common trait in many foreigners who live here. It can be seen very well on situations when they can’t understand what they’re told OR they hear colloquial English which is sometimes much different from what they would have learnt at school or read in an English Grammar book. They would say things like – “You just listen to that, those Irish don’t speak English properly themselves and they want ME to understand what they say?”

I’ll tell you what it is.

Firstly, it’s a lame excuse not to improve their own spoken English. It’s kind of saying – “They don’t speak correctly themselves, so what they want from me?” Ironically enough, I’d hear such comments mostly from those foreigners whose English is actually quite poor but somehow they happen to know so much about correct English… 🙂

Secondly, it’s a lack of understanding about different forms of English out there. Many foreigners perceive the formal Oxford English as the only proper form of English, and if they hear things said in a different way, they freak out.

They hear someone ask a question “Sleep well?” and they immediately take it as bad English. Wait, wait, it didn’t say that in my English textbook, it must be wrong! English Grammar rules stipulate that an auxiliary verb is used in front of the question – “Did you sleep well?” And they can go on like this forever without realizing that informal English is much, much different from formal English, and there’s nothing wrong with speaking like that!

The same goes with pronunciation, and I really don’t get those foreigners’ who say things like – “When I watch American movies, I understand everything, they speak proper English, but these Irish or English – depending on which country the foreigner lives in – are so hard to understand with their terrible accent!”

For God’s sake, don’t you people understand that there is no single PROPER English pronunciation? Every local region in any English speaking country would have its distinctions in a way they pronounce words and it’s absolutely normal. Just think about your own native language, doesn’t the same thing happen when you meet your fellow natives coming from different regions? I bet it does, it’s just that you are the native speaker of that language, and you see it in a different light.

But when it comes to English language, for some reason many foreigners assume that one of the major English pronunciations – either American or British is the right one. But how can you determine which English accent is the proper one if the worlds native English speaking population is estimated about 375 million people?

Forget Correctness – it’s All About USEFULNESS!

I actually think that the very concept of CORRECTNESS needs to be reviewed if you want to become a fluent English speaker. Well, if you’re very sociable and you don’t spend much time sitting at home but use your free time to meet up with friends and English speaking friends among them – then you might not have this sort of a problem. You would have learnt much of your English by natural communication, so your English speech would most likely contain expressions and colloquialisms used by local English speaking people in the country and region you live.

For a person who sticks with the English textbooks, however, the story might be much different. The general consensus is that books don’t lie, so that person is lead to believe that one has to speak exactly as if reading from an English Grammar book, and any deviation from those norms is considered as a mistake and therefore is classified as incorrect speech.

Such a foreign English speaker would arrive to an English speaking country; settle down, have a job, but at the same time being completely delusional about what English he has to speak!

English is means of communication first and foremost, and you have to use what English is spoken around you within the society you live in ❗

For example I live in Ireland. I go to work everyday and talk a lot with my work colleagues and superiors and they all use Irish-English with its distinct expressions and way of pronouncing words. So tell me know, why on Earth should I be sticking with formal American or British or Oxford or whatever English? What purpose would it serve other than alienate me from the others?

Irish pronounce words differently, yes, and one has to get used to it, that’s a fact. Also informal chats include loads of incorrect grammar and so on – just like you’d speak in your native language with close friends – but does it all taken together make it incorrect English?

Of course it doesn’t, in real life it doesn’t make much sense discussing language’s correctness; we can only talk about usefulness! What I meant by saying this is – you have to use English as an instrument in your interpersonal communication without paying attention on how the particular English speech corresponds with the ideal Oxford English.

One person can be walking around holding Oxford vocabulary in his hands preaching the importance of correct English, the other person is enjoying a friendly and joyful chat with his English speaking friends using all sorts of colloquial expressions and phrases that the first person would probably have never heard of in his life!

Now tell me, which person would you rather be?

I hope the second – because that’s the REAL usage of English – as means of communication, and it’s just common sense that depending on your location and who you speak with, your English can also change, but that doesn’t make it correct or incorrect!

British, American… Which One Should I Follow?

If you browse the Net looking for English improving related information, you’d come across a certain type of questions on online forums and discussion boards. Generally it sounds like this: “Which English pronunciation – British or American you think I should follow?” Or statements like – “I want to learn American English!”

Personally I think it’s nonsense!

I’ve never followed any particular way of English pronunciation, I just speak as good as I can and neither do I care about whether I use British or American expressions.

In the UK you’re supposed to say “Have you got?” and in the States you say “Do you have?” I use both depending on my gut feeling, and I hear native speakers here in Ireland speak the same, so why would I stick to one or the other? Just to boost my ego and feel smarter than everyone else? I don’t need it, so I don’t pay much attention to those lists of differences between the two Englishes spoken on either side of Atlantic.

I guess you definitely must have heard about the huge differences between British and American English and then they bring up the same old examples about “washing up” and that in the States it means to wash your hands but it the UK it means to wash dishes after a meal. All right, fair enough, there are quite a few technical differences between the two Englishes, but I personally think they’re by far too minuscule compared to the overall general English knowledge that you have to know to communicate successfully ❗

To recap my video lesson today, I’ll tell you this: don’t try to pursue some ideal English language, don’t spend countless hours on doing research into which version of English is the best and most correct, and don’t compare real-life English to grammar textbooks.

You won’t find perfection in real-life communication and you’d better start perceiving English as a tool whose usefulness is determined by the situations you find yourself in on daily basis rather than something contained within a pile of grammar books and dictionaries

All right, thanks a lot for staying with me, and talk to you soon again!

Robby

P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hi Sunny Liu,

    Thanks fro dropping by and for leaving the comment!

    Yes, unfortunately you can’t see YouTube content in China – I’ve had more blog readers complain about this issue so you have to do with the text which is still better than nothing, isn’t that right? 😉

    You’re saying you find the EH System to be too good to be true – well, I can only say that I indeed have plenty of satisfied customers who find the System to be almost too good to be reality; nonetheless, the product is available for anyone out there including you! If you have any doubts, please bear in mind I give money back within 60 days to anyone who’s not satisfied with the product so there’s really no risk involved.

    Now, speaking of small babies learning English by listening – it’s not really the case. Yes, babies listen mostly but there’s a huge difference between an adult foreigner and a baby growing up in a native English environment – the non-native adult IS CAPABLE of speaking whereas the baby CAN’T EVEN SPEAK YET so it has no other option but to listen and then try and emulate the sounds.

    However, it doesn’t mean that the baby will start speaking because it’s been exposed to a lot of English. It starts speaking simply because it will START MIMICKING adult English speakers, and if you’re saying you can learn English by listening only, it’s the same as if you were saying you’re not capable of speaking just like a small baby! ;-)))

    Basically the point is – babies only listen because they can’t speak yet, and when they start speaking it’s not because of the English they’ve been exposed to in the past months. They start speaking because their brains have finally reached the stage of development where they can actually start speaking, so they start mimicking English words and sentences people around them speak.

    So, by the same token – you as an adult who’s perfectly capable of speaking, don’t have to waste your time listening only because you can ALREADY speak! You can jump right into the mimicking stage whereby you listen and repeat instead of listening only!

    For more in-depth analysis please refer to this article here: http://englishharmony.com/kids-vs-adults/

    Best Regards,

    Robby

  • Sunny Liu, Shandong, China

    Hi Robby,
    I couldn’t find the video in your blog but the transcript! Is it linked to YOUtube? In China, I usually could’t access to Youtube!
    today i googled ‘frequently used phrases’ and fortunately find your text. I have read a lot your Programe and titles. I like them very much! but your programe is too good to believe!
    another question- why do you say listening a lot can’t help me speak freely and the baby can speak just because it has the ablity not because they listen for months before they say mom! so tricky!

    All the best,

    Sunny Liu, Shandong, China