Why English is so Hard to Learn

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When Jill and I married two years ago, twin thirteen-year-old boys and a sixteen-year-old girl came with the package. All three are remarkably intelligent. Selena is now in her junior year at college with a high GPA in a Marine Biology major. Arthur and Robert are high school juniors, each with a high GPA in math-heavy, advance-placement-with college-credit classes. Recently, Arthur handed me the following essay (or is it a poem?), which is typical for how his mind works.

We’ll start with a book, its binding is blue, I can read it to you, but when were done reading, the blue book is read. Within this blue book, there are many words, 3 fours (4/fore/for), 3 twos (2/to/too), and 2 ones (1/won).

To site the book or have the book in sight. To see some blue seas, or see something to seize. You can say “I’ll go,” “I’m going,” but not “I goed.” You can see a hoarse horse and a coarse course, or even a boar that’s a bore, but a board will never be bored. “Is not” is “isn’t,” “was not” is “wasn’t,” but “will not” is “won’t,” not “willn’t.”

You can read and have readlead and have lead, or can breed and have bread, as well as have led or have bred. Another thing to add, a match cannot box, but a tin can. You can tune a piano, and you can tuna fish. You saw the saw, made a hole whole. 12 inches is a ruler, a ruler was Queen Elizabeth, while fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and to go fast is to be rushin’ around.

You can catch a drift, you can catch a cold, but neither are things you can hold. You can have a radish face or a turnip nose, while a cobbler mends soles, and a preacher mends souls, but a cobbler is neither a peach nor a stone. You can wait over here or get your weight over there.

To go past something is to have passed it, and you can sit up or sit down. To shut down is to stop working, to shut up is to stop talking, and you can open up, but not open down. It’s possible to weave a basket or to weave around.

The Wright brothers were right, and they could write with their right, and a fisher could fish for a fish at a fissure. An onomatopoeia is boing, but going is not goyng, but one could be going to make a sound like a Boeing. If you’re Finnish you’re a Finn, but if you’re English you’re not an Engl.

Your car is not their car, but you’re able to be over there. You can be alert or aghast, can applaud or be alone, but there are no such things as lertsghastspplauds, or lones, even though you can plod through the forest and get a loan from the bank. Tigers don’t tyg, vipers don’t vipe, adders don’t add, and a fork in the road is not a discarded utensil.

If the flower was lifted, then the rose rose. And on one dark, stormy night, the dark knight stormed the castle. If the “k” in knife is silent, why isn’t know pronounced “now”? When you die you don’t turn into an angle, and you cannot measure the angel of a triangle. You can leave the leaves on a tree, or shoot the shoots of bamboo.

You can eat a meat, but not eat a meet. You can be stonewalled, but not brickwalled. You can check out and check in, cross out but not cross in. After you shake you shook, after you take you took, but after you bake you did not book, and while you can cook and look, you cannot cake or lake. And what about the snake?

It’s entirely possible to have sensecents, and scents, as well as make sensecents, and scents. It is also possible to have sent, but not make sent. You can have time and have thyme, you can rime and rhyme. There are puffins, but not puffouts, penguins, but not penguouts, and football is played with your hands.

If “sleep” is to “slept” and “creep” is to “crept,” wouldn’t “peep” be to “pept”? A freshman may be a kid, not a man, and as one strawberry said to the other, “If you weren’t so fresh, we wouldn’t be in this jam!”

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