Teacher Teacher: English Myths and Facts

This article was originally featured as part of Englishjer‘s “Teacher Teacher” column.

Hello world! In this multi-part article, we’ll be looking at fascinating aspects of the English Language which your school teacher never told you about. We’ll also cover some unusual but convenient tricks to write and speak in this language, useful for beginners and seasoned pros alike.

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For this very first entry, we’ll uncover some of the myths about English which may have stopped us from improving. We might think we know the language, but you might be surprised and realize you don’t really know it after reading the following!

#1 – Myth: English is from England. Long live the Queen! Fact: English didn’t come from England, nor did it come from America!

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One of the original languages spoken in England was actually Cornish (which isn’t corny in any way, by the way!). So, where did English come from, then? Believe it or not, English was originally a German dialect, spoken by three tribes from East Germany: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Ever wondered where the term “Anglo-Saxon” came from? It came from two of the three tribes which first spoke English! Whatever happened to the Jutes, nobody really knows! When the tribes invaded the land that is now known as England, they brought English with them, and the rest is history.

So what does this mean to us? Some of us may be told that English is “bad”, because it came from the UK or the US. Worry no more, because it never came for those countries! Also, this shows a unique trait of the English Language: it is not owned by any country or race anymore. Instead, it is owned by the community which uses the language. The community is then free to make English their own. That’s why we have so many different flavors of English in the world, each with their own unique quirks, embellished with different pronunciations. Speaking of varieties…

#2 – Myth: Only British are American are “standard”. You’re either a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch or Brad Pitt. Choose only one!  Fact: There is no real “standard” version of English!

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You might have heard people arguing that we “must” study British English because it is supposedly the standard. You might have also heard people saying we should use American English because the media is dominated by American news and entertainment. Which one should we use? Come to think of it, what kind of English is being used in Malaysia?

In reality, we aren’t even studying British English AT ALL in Malaysia (I may write an entire article about this at a later time!). It’s actually Malaysian Standard English (MSE, not to be confused with Manglish, which is basically Bahasa Rojak!), and it uses pronunciation which is neither British nor American – it’s Malaysian! MSE is a version of English with words only used in Malaysia – you would never find terms such as “K.I.V.” or “medical certificate” used outside our region! We do, however, adopt British spelling. That, along with the fact we were once colonized by the Brits, is the only thing that is remotely British about our English.

What makes it fun is that our English is truly unique. It’s so unique, linguists (basically, experts who study language for a living) worldwide actually consider Malaysian Standard English as a distinct variety of English. How about pronunciation, then? As long as we don’t make a glaring mistake such as pronouncing the “k”, “g” and “h” in the word “knight”, we’re fine! And to those with thick accents from states such as Kedah, Kelantan or Sabah, don’t be afraid to flaunt your accent and add a unique flavor to your English – it’s perfectly fine to have a local accent when pronouncing words! Try saying “close the door” the Kelantanese way! Hmmm, so if accents don’t really matter, then what’s important?

#3 Myth: Grammar is important! Grammar police, arrest the offenders! Fact: Grammar is not THAT important!

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Whoa, wait a minute that sounds like total blasphemy! Imagine the pain, the embarrassment, the shame, all your life… Everything that we feel when we made that mistake in tenses or subject-verb-agreement…

AND NOW YOU’RE TELLING US GRAMMAR IS NOT THAT IMPORTANT?!?

Relax. Inhale. Exhale.

Linguists have long found that knowing grammar simply means you know the grammar of a language. Nothing more. It does not reflect your actual intelligence or thinking capability. It is actually common for people to have perfect grammar and still talk complete rubbish. To illustrate this, let’s look at the following sentence:

“Our laptop is pregnant.”

Grammatically, it’s superb. Subject-verb agreement, check! But meaning-wise, it’s absolute rubbish. While it would be awesome for laptops to be pregnant one day so that we no longer need to buy new laptops when they’re old and obsolete, in reality, the sentence just doesn’t make sense. And that’s what’s important about any language – a sense of what is acceptable and what is not. Why do we say “Siapa nama kamu?” in Malay and “What is his name?” in English instead of “Who is his name? (which is a direct translation of the Malay question)? It’s because we just have that sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. And we can only obtain that “sense” of the language by regularly using the language. Just relax, English jer!

Hopefully these facts inspire you to discover more about the English language! There really is a lot to know about language, and that just makes things even more fun. In the next installment, we’ll be looking at even more fun facts, and we’ll learn ways to get better at English without needing to do endless grammar exercises. Until next time!

 

 

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