There is little doubt that one’s first language interferes with how they learn a second or foreign language. People whose intention is to acquire reading, writing, and comprehension skills know well that English is indeed an imprecise language that takes a lot of practice before one can master it. As a Chinese student studying in America, I know that the challenges of English communication, which is an acquired language, are all real to me. The struggle to speak what is referred to as ‘standard’ English is therefore something that I pursue due to diligence. This paper argues that with the English language being touted as a global language, its use as a communication tool is far more important than abiding by the dictates of the rule by ‘Standard English’. Specifically, this essay states that if one is able to effectively communicate in English, it does not matter whether the acquired form of English fits into the ‘Standard English’ classification. Hence, everyone who uses English, either as a mother tongue or as a second language, can lay claim to manage it. This is especially true if such people regard English as their main language of communication.
This paper makes the following claims in regard to the acquisition of English as a second language:
First, anyone who speaks English can lay claim to managing the language: Jordan (363-374) is one of the authors who have addressed the issue of language ownership. The article, (Jordan 363-374) highlights the claim that African-Americans have accepted their version of the English language (Black English) as valid. In its spoken form, Black English had been widely accepted by students that Jordan taught. However, reservations and even outright rejection were observed when students were asked to read a book written in the same language. In Jordan’s (363) observation, most people surrender their versions of the English language in an attempt “to please those who will never respect anyone different from themselves”. Yet, there are those people who carry on with their versions of the English language, in spite of their knowledge that it does not measure up to what is referred to as a “standard” English.
Notably, such people are still able to communicate relatively well. An example of the latter category of people is Tan’s mother as portrayed by Tan (47). According to Tan (47), her mother “reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, read all of Shirley Maclaine’s books with ease…” yet, some of Tan’s friends rarely understand anything that her mother says when she speaks to them in her version of English. Knowing that not everyone understands her, Tan’s mother can lay claim to owning her version of the English language. In fact, her ownership can be supported by her daughter’s switch to a different type of English whenever she is communicating with her mother as observed in Tan (47). Opponents to this claim may state that only people who know, understand, and follow the English rules to the latter are authentic claimants to owning the English language. Such a claim is however subject to debate. The position that English users can lay claim to owning their own version of the language forms the basis for this essay’s second claim.
There is no such thing as a right or wrong way of using the English language; the important thing is for effective communication to occur. The main purpose of any language is communication (Krashen 67). Besides, English is a language that has too many rules to the extent that, learning it, especially as a second language, is often hindered, but not completely blocked by interferences from the experience that a learner had acquired from their first language (Krashen 67). Hence, the different types of English that people use should not be branded as either right or wrong. In Madera (79-83), for example, it is apparent that the author’s attempt to use ‘Standard’ English was never good enough for some of her critics. Yet, she communicated effectively with other people using the ‘neighborhood’ version of the language.
The two contrasting views that people had about her use of the English language are a testament that the ‘right or wrong’ labels are not always accurate. The fact that (Madera 81) was promoted at her place of work ostensibly for her “… knowledge of the English language…” is perhaps proof that there does not exist a right or wrong way to language use. Although some people may contrast this claim by arguing that those who follow the standard rules in the English language are right, it is rather evident such a position would categorize even native English users as being in the wrong. Hence, not sounding right when judged against standard pronunciation or sentence construction rules of the English language, should not be an indication of how well a person can communicate in written English and vice-versa. In fact, one can argue that comprehension of the English language occurs at the brain level before a person can express it through writing and oral communication, hence this essay’s third claim.
The English language becomes manifested in one’s brain before it can be expressed through speech and written work. This claim is seen in Madera’s position indicating that when she writes, “words come from deep inside of me, and spill out on to the page” (Madera 82). Although her spoken English may not be as articulate as she would like it, there is no denying that Madera has knowledge regarding the English Language deeply ingrained in her brain. For the same reason, she writes with relative ease and is able to communicate with her audiences effectively. In the same manner, Tan states that her mother’s “expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands” (Tan 47).
In other words, Tan argues that one should not judge another person’s comprehension of the English language based on their eloquence of speech or lack thereof. As Tan says, although handicapped in speech, her mother reads books written in what is considered to be standard English, listens to programs hosted by people who speak Standard English, and even talks to a stockbroker who speaks Standard English (Tan 47). In all the cases, Tan’s mother perfectly understands all messages conveyed to her. Her understanding supports the claim that the English language (just like other languages) becomes manifest in one’s brain before it can be expressed through speech or written work. The comprehension of the English language is also affected by the kind of instructions that learners receive from teachers, hence the fourth claim.
The scholastic approach used in English-teaching schools or institutions has helped shape how learners use the language in both it’s written or spoken forms. As (Sawyer 568) observes, language teachers, target imparting knowledge in the learners first, before testing them on their spoken and written English abilities. Like most languages, however, teachers insist that the best way to learn English is through practice. Hence, English learners are encouraged to use the language in their written works and oral communication as often as they can. Unfortunately, oral communication is less personal than written works, and language students are always shy about practicing the use of English through speech (Sawyer 568). Consequently, most people are more adept at expressing themselves in written English more than they are in spoken English.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the main reason people strive to learn English as a second or acquired language is that they want to become better communicators, especially people who use the language as their main lingua franca. Having observed that one’s first language interferes or influences how they learn English, it also true to note that such interferences do not always necessarily interfere with people’s ability to communicate using the language. The different syntax as used by different people supports the claim that people who use the Language can claim it as their own because it serves their communication purposes.
In the future, scholars should investigate whether the claim that people can allege ownership to a language despite their lack of eloquence has any theoretical backing in literature. Notably, however, this essay realizes that no one can lay claim to the English language in its entirety; this is because the Language is ever-changing depending on the people who use it.
Jordan, June. “Nobody Means More To Me Than You And The Future Life Of Willie Jordan.” Harvard Educational Review 58.3(1988): 363-376.
Krashen, Stephen. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1981. Print.
Madera, Susan G. “One Voice.” Across Cultures: a Reader for Writers. Ed. Gillespie, Sheena and Robert Becker. London: Longman Publishers, 2008. 79-83. Print.
Sawir, Erlenawati. “Language Difficulties of International Students in Australia: the Effects of Prior Learning Experience.” International Education Journal 6.5 (2005): 567-580.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Across Cultures: a Reader for Writers. Ed. Gillespie, Sheena and Robert Becker. London: Longman Publishers, 2008. 46-52. Print.