Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Posts Tagged ‘English

Who’s Better at English? Swedes or 6-Year-Olds?

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Ever go to plan a vacation (somewhere … anywhere but here!) and wonder where your English will be of the most use?

Of course, I’d advocate learning at least some, if not a significant amount, of any local tongue. But let’s face it: learning all of the world’s estimated 6,500 languages is hard. Like, really hard.

So what countries speak English the best?

This blog post from The Economist highlights a new study that examines the fluency of foreign English speakers.

According to the post:

EF Education First, an English-teaching company, compiled the biggest ever internationally comparable sample of English learners: some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries. The top five performers were Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The bottom five were Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan. Among regions, Latin America fared worst. (No African country had enough takers to make the lists’s threshold for the minimum number of participants.)

The post, which is fairly short and contains lots of other intriguing tidbits about the whys and hows of foreign fluency.

But one thing in particular caught my eye:

Starting young, while it seems a good idea, may not pay off: children between eight and 12 learn foreign languages faster than younger ones, so each class hour on English is better spent on a 10-year-old than on a six-year-old.

Huh?

All right. I guess I can buy that, especially from a financial standpoint, but I would like to point something out.

Even though children may be able to learn more quickly at a later age, it still may be a good idea to start a second language younger so that by age 10, they’re already working with a good foundation and can grow from there.

An often-cited study by K.A. Ericsson and A.C. Lehmann shows that expertise in almost any field requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

If older children really soak up languages better than their younger brothers and sisters, think how much more and how quickly a ten-year-old would learn if he’d already had four years of instruction.

Written by Nathanael Green

April 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Absolutes: Some Very Unique Words

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Can something be more than perfect? A little bit perfect? Or, if something’s one of a kind, can it be more one of a kind?

If you’re taking these ideas literally, the answer is no. Perfect, by definition, means there’s nothing better to be had. It’s as good as it can possibly be.

Perfect is what’s known as an absolute. Perfect is perfect; it doesn’t come in degrees of perfectness.

But what gets tricky, is that in everyday speech, absolutes like perfect get modified all the time. So, you may ask, is it ok to say “more perfect?”
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Written by Nathanael Green

August 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Prepositions: Put ’Em Where You Like

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Let’s make this abundantly clear: it is perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. Or rather: a preposition is something you can end a sentence with.

The supposed rule to not end a sentence with a preposition is one familiar even to people who don’t spend their Saturdays reading grammar books (cut me some slack – grammar can be more exciting than some fiction I’ve read).

But despite how often we’ve all heard this supposed rule, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and what’s more, it’s not even supported by many grammarians.

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Written by Nathanael Green

July 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Set Your Commas Free!

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I have a beef with the Oxford comma.

Just to give you the background, the Oxford comma, in addition to being the title of a Vampire Weekend song, is also called the serial comma. This is where you use a comma before the final item in a list.

For example: My desk is wooden, old, and cluttered.

Notice the comma after the word old. That, my friends, is the Oxford comma. It’s promoted in a lot of writing guides including The Chicago Manual of Style and one of my all-time favorite books – Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

This comma is so important that many writers will harangue for hours about how it’s the single most important thing that makes English readable.

I think it sucks.

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Written by Nathanael Green

February 19, 2009 at 12:41 pm

5 Reasons to Never Use “he/she” Again.

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I can’t stand the phrase “he or she.”

You know what I’m talking about. We used to say “he” or “they” to talk about a person whose gender was unknown, but now this often shows up as “he/she” or “his or her” and no matter what form it takes, it makes me cringe.

Why?

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Written by Nathanael Green

January 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

English As It Is, Or As It Should Be?

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Yesterday, I was enjoying my word-nerdery in the reference section at Barnes and Noble (a not uncommon occurrence) when my wife showed me a book100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces.

I smiled. Then I wondered.

If we all mispronounce the same words the same way, doesn’t that mean that language is evolving and our pronunciation is actually correct? English by popular vote?

Or is our language sacred and we should learn to speak it properly?

That got me thinking about how people look at the rules of English, from sentence structure to spelling to pronunciation. Do we get laws handed down to us, or do we just speak however we want?

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Written by Nathanael Green

January 26, 2009 at 9:03 pm