the hardest part [127/365]

As the perpetual learner of the English language, I still find two parts being the most difficult.

  • Prepositions: Am I living on the seaboard or at the seaboard? I can never remember, and still it doesn’t come natural.

    Am I sitting at my desk? Or perhaps by my desk, even? I’m pretty sure now, it’s at.  I know for sure I’m sitting on the sofa, but in the armchair. I was corrected once, when I said I was sitting in the sofa. The one who corrected me, bless his heart, got a bashing from a friend who said to him: “… and this coming from a person who can’t even spell the word preposition!!!“ 🙂 Back then I just used the corresponding preposition from my native tongue, and there we sit in the sofa.I know the cat is sitting on my lap, but normally I would have said he’s sitting in my lap.

    I work at whatever company, but I’m in my office. There’s another thing too, but that’s not related to prepositions: If I didn’t know better, I’d say “The microwave is standing on the counter.” Now I know, so I say that it’s sitting there. I thought that sounded funny in the beginning — I visualized the microwave sort of hunkering down, on the kitchen counter.

  • Next issue would be “one word, or two?”Is it weeknights or week nights? I know for sure it isn’t wee knights 🙂. Meat balls or meatballs?

    When I’m not sure, I use a hyphen. Again, it’s my native tongue that’s causing the problem. There, they put all words together so, for example, two words like “Sunday afternoons” would become “söndagseftermiddagar”. A floor sander becomes “golvslipningsmaskin”. That word really consists of three words, put together; golv-slipnings-maskin.All that has caused me to often feel uncertain whether to write words together or split them into two. No big deal here, on the computer, where I get a red underscore when I’m in the wrong, but that’s not always the case, and I’m still learning these things the best I can.

saintsrest_may5If you’ve never tried to learn a second langue, or third even, you’ve never had to consider these issues. Kids growing up bilingual just don’t know how blessed they are, to get two languages “for free”.  I’m lucky, because I have my dear  husband who’s also my live-in-dictionary/grammar. So easy to just ask! It’s worse when I’m not even aware, when I think I’m right and don’t even hesitate. Secondly, how to remember. I’ve found jotting each thing down, by hand, really helps for me. Not always, though. I still have a hard time remembering the pronunciation of “saline”. Listening to it now, in Websters, so I know it’s ‘SAY-line’, but yesterday, out by the ocean, where I was breathing the saline air, I wasn’t sure.

42 Replies to “the hardest part [127/365]”

  1. There are so many great points in your post, and so many issues that I can relate to. Prepositions are probably most difficult for me too, especially when they come in prepositional phrasal verbs – like give up on something. One’s native language is a poor guide when one struggles to find the right preposition in English – in Czech, things are on a picture, in English they are in. This is just one example out of many. We also have our microwaves standing on the counter rather than sitting.

    One or more words is not what I normally cope with, but I have huge problems with pronunciation and with stress and intonation in connected speech. I blame my lack of musicality for it. I know I’m doing it wrong but I’m incapable of getting it right. It doesn’t help that stress in Czech is used very differently. Curiously, i also have a bunch of words whose spelling I’m just incapable to remember – I always have to look it up and no matter how often I use those words, I can’t remember the spelling. My “favourites” are especially necessary and occasionally. (Now I was thinking hard and managed to get it right, I think!)

    You are very lucky, as you know yourself, that you have a husband who is a linguist. That’s something I would love so much – to be able to inquire not only about the correct usage but also get an explanation of the grammar as a bonus.

    1. “Archipelago”! I don’t know how many times I had to say that word, quietly, in my head, before I could remember that the stress is on PE. As a Swedish person, where we don’t have the z-sound, I have huge problems with the “voiced” S. I’m getting there, but slowly. G. has explained the rule to me, but when you speak, you just don’t have time to think about what kind of vowel that precedes the S — if you start to do that, you just get mixed up in the head.

      I know I’m so lucky, on so many levels 😍. Especially when it comes to expressions and their usage.

      1. Now I’m sitting here with the online Oxford dictionary and practising the pronunciation of archipelago… * sigh * Usually when I present at a conference, I print out my speech and then add pronunciation to all words I’m not sure of. Which are many. It doesn’t help that I use words like heteroglossia, antisyzygy and other stuff that is even not in a dictionary.

        1. I would do that too, if I were to present something. I think of all the medical terminology I worked with, and how the Latin words are pronounced differently in English … just a simple words like “tinnitus” for example.

  2. How true – I remember when I was attending classes in Israel to learn Hebrew that the teachers said that prepositions were the way they could tell who were ‘foreigners’. They couldn’t always tell by accent or intonation because so many people were either first generation or the children of first generation, but prepositions were the big giveaway.

    With Tamara being American, we have many ‘discussions’ between us of the way things are said. The British English phrase she thinks is the funniest is when people take a course – for example a writing class. We say we are going ‘on a course’ and Tamara imagines people like ships at sea, heading on a course towards their goal.

    1. I’ve taken Hebrew classes too, but it’s all forgotten now. I would imagine they hear all kinds of accents there.

      In my case, here, it’s the pronunciation of the letter S, that’s the big giveaway.

      That’s too funny, about the course, and ships at sea. I would’ve said ‘going on a course’ too, but not anymore.

      1. Now wait a minute, you two…
        Bekah, you know how I’ve set my keyboard to British English? This is a prime case in point… “Going on a course” is what we say in this house as – more often than not, the course in question is being held somewhere else and you are GOING there to take it; )

          1. Yes, not that it helps with pronunciation… I’ve been thinking about this since I started reading your post. When I come across an unfamiliar word, I’ve always stopped to sound out various possible combinations in my head to see what “sounds right”and even then I sometimes got it wrong… So I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone who didn’t grow up listening to English all along.

            1. Oh well, it isn’t all that bad — just imagine all the place names and streets. They’re would be new and difficult even to a native speaker, first time I saw Mississauga even, I had to practice a few times, quietly.

  3. As a multi spoken brit (black Country and proper english) I can honestly say that learning English is impossible.
    I have been in so many situations, bare in mind I’m a native speaker, where I’m baffled by the concept of people’s sentences is too high to count.

    As an example, people in the black Country (West Midlands, dudley areas mainly)
    They will pronounce water as “wareteh”.
    They will add The to places that don’t require it.
    Merry hill becomes THE merry hill.

    Honestly, if what your saying makes rough sense, unless your in an exam condition, don’t stress about what you say.

    English nationals can’t speak the language either…

    1. Hi and thanks! 🙂 I don’t sweat too much about this — otherwise I wouldn’t be able to even open my mouth. In the area around Boston, Mass. they have a somewhat different way of pronouncing things too; ‘car keys’ sounds like ‘khakis’ 🙂

  4. Hmm… Rebby, (I think) you live at the seashore (sea’s shore) which is on the eastern seaboard…
    Lol, when you say “sitting in the sofa”, I get a mental picture of you peeking out from under the cushions or worse – trapped in the fold-away bed (a personal phobia of mine):
    It could go either way, but I’d also go with “in your lap” (because your lap is a “bowl”)?
    Words are amazing. English is a dog’s breakfast of many languages and arcane terminology. As to pronunciation? PO-Tay-toe/ po-tah-toe.. And “salt air” works just fine for me (saline is a salt solution/ salt dissolved in water; )
    The biggest thing is that you are still learning and THAT is all that counts… (GranMa used to say that the day she didn’t learn something new is the day she’d pull the grass up over her head; )

    1. Yes. I just chose saline as an example of a word I’ve looked up many times, but still have trouble remembering. There are always work-arounds, when I’ve totally forgotten a word.

  5. I think English is one of the hardest languages to learn. It’s rules are not really rules. A rule is supposed to be consistent. It shouldn’t have so many exceptions that it isn’t a rule anymore.

    1. Yes. I’d lived a long time in QC, when I finally got around to asking what the heck ‘maintenant’ mean. I kept seeing it everywhere 😂

            1. ROFL 😂 For the longest time I thought it was strange that there were so many post offices in the big Mall in Sainte-Foy. There were signs pointing everywhere saying Mail west or whatever.

  6. Used to be so “afraid” of using the wrong grammar in the past…. really bothered me if I did not get it right but these days I am ok with it if I do not get it 100% right with the grammar. More thinking these days, as long as everybody understands what I am saying/writing, that is the most important! 🙂

  7. I have deep respect for anyone who can speak more than one language … fractured or otherwise. I have only one, and even then I often question whether my grammar is ok … not to mention spelling and pronunciation.

    1. Yes, and I admire the ones who are truly bilingual … those who grew up in a bilingual environment. The ease with which the switch back and forth, and are just as comfortable in both.

      1. My oldest son is like that. I’ve watched him slide back and forth between French (with his grandmother) and English (with me) without making a mistake.

  8. As another non English-native, I so know what you mean. Those are the few instances I really falter still. And the prepositions are so very different to German, too.
    But what David said up there is so true, in German, too. The prepositions really are how you always can tell the non native-speakers – or at least tell them longest. They might be perfect in intonation, vocabulary and everything – and then use the wrong preposition.
    Me, I go by gut feeling (and probably go wrong with it all the time 😛 ). I’ve read so many English books I just kind of go with what feels right. Might be that I’m kidding myself and still using the wrong ones at least half the time, but everyone seems to understand me, so that’s fine. Though sometimes I really wonder just how many mistakes I still make. I’d love to have someone run along telling me when I make them, actually, just for information purposes.
    Perhaps I’ll go take that Cambridge English course ( CPE I believe) sometimes anyways, just for that. For the polishing factor.

    1. I know all German prepositions by heart (!). Three groups. If you were to wake me up in the middle of the night, I could still tell them. Then again, how to use them … to remember which was accusative or dative … that’s a whole different story. All forgotten.

      I go with the gut feeling too 🙂

      I took some course, many years ago, I don’t remember the name, but when you say Cambridge, that rings a bell.

      1. Hell, even I don’t know which one is accusative or dative 😛 I’m very bad with the theoretical grammar – in any language. Even my own. But I use them (naturally), so I guess I go with gut feeling here, too 😉
        I tried to go back to the theory of it a while ago, but I still can’t seem to remember what is what in grammar for longer than a few minutes at a time. I stopped again. 😉

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