Learning English

How does anyone manage to learn English if it is not their first language? Not only is it generally accepted to have more words than any other language, but the idioms and unusual ways in which we use those words continually changes and new words appear so quickly that even native speakers find it hard to keep up with it all sometimes.

If someone told you to ‘get cracking’, why does that indicate that you should get a move on? Shouldn’t you be trying to crack? And why get a ‘move on’, that sounds like an instruction to dance; why not just ‘get moving?’  I suspect that even English people are already scratching their heads.

You wouldn’t say to someone “stop blithering, John”, yet every time we refer to an idiot the word blithering is often attached. What is a blither and why do only idiots do it? Someone who reads the news is a news anchor. Are they dragging everyone to a halt, as an anchor does to its ship? Are they a bit rusty and occasionally having to scrape off a barnacle? It seems to now mean a central hub, someone fixed to a point while others move around them, but they could just as well be a news tether or a news eye-of-a-storm, it makes about as much sense.

“I’m just going to stretch my legs” sounds as though you want to torture yourself rather than get some exercise. If a doctor says “pop your clothes off” a foreigner can be assured that absolutely no popping will be involved. I might accuse you of being ‘daft as a coot’, although to my knowledge the poor coots have done nothing to indicate that they are less sensible than any other bird. Why do we say these things?

At work I used to have a Frenchman in my team. His English was excellent yet every day he would have to ask us to clarify something we had just said. “Hey, Pierre, you must have shed-loads of work at the moment!” “Shed loads??” “Ah, yes, that means ‘lots’”. “So why do you not just say lots, what have sheds got to do with it?” “Good point, I have no idea, it is just something we say. Anyway, good news, one of the projects on your to-do list has officially been declared dead in the water”. “Why is it in the water?” And so on ad infinitum. Poor old Pierre. I felt somehow superior and yet inferior at the same time. I knew all these strange English inflections and meanings, yet he also knew another language ie his own. How he would ever get the hang of and then keep track of all the daft things we English speakers say was beyond me, and possibly beyond him too.

Wherever we look there are odd words and sayings that pepper our everyday sentences. Hang on, pepper? Why not salt our sentences instead? I had better stop writing before I confuse myself even further.