In recent blogs, I have been comparing British and American English, and now I would like to turn my attention to my experiences with Russian ESL students in terms of the bigger picture of the future of "Russian English." I use this term (Russian English) pointedly because it is my contention that future generations will produce Russian citizens who are basically bilingual from the cradle onwards and who then should be correctly described as "native speakers" of the English language. Already I have had many experiences of working with Russian children whose parents are both fluent and well-grounded in English grammar and who are fully aware of the tremendous advantage their children will have if they grow up speaking English.
There is another term afloat to describe "foreigners"
who attain enough proficiency in English to do business in the language. This is referred to as "International "English", and the label often is applied with the intention, to borrow a beautiful old expression, of "damning with faint praise." Which means basically to condemn while offering a passing acknowledgment. In other words, some would-be purists regard so-called International English as little more than a kind of advanced pidgin English..In the opinion of such persons, nothing less than English as spoken by an Oxford Don or a Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University would qualify as a truly legitimate speaker of the language. And it remains a fact that you had better sound a lot like that if you have any hopes of publishing scholarly or research-oriented work in an English language journal.
However, common sense would seem to indicate that if a Korean does business successfully with a Brazilian and the only language in which they can understand each other and make themselves understood in is English, then, while the ink is drying on the contract, they have done the transaction, by God, in ENGLISH. Who cares if, according to some British or American snob, they have "butchered" the language? Likewise, if a guy from the Czech republic is able to woo a young lady from Spain into bed by sweet-talking her in English, seems to me that the dude is going to feel just as good afterwards regardless whether or not he dangled a few participles or used the Present Simple when he should have used the Present Continuous.
The English nation does not "own" the English language and neither do the Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, or anyone else. The English invented football. Do they, therefore, own it? Those bums haven't won anything for years and years. So if anybody owns football these days, it's probably the Spanish. But the fact is, nobody owns it. American English is very different from British English just as Canadian French is different from "French" French. Are you going to tell a guy from Montreal that he is not speaking French just because he doesn't sound like a guy from Paris.? He will say, "Baiser mon cul, monsieur!", and quite rightly so. In my book, if you grow up speaking a language, you a native speaker. Russia, therefore, is beginning to produce native speakers of English.
But the fun part is that to this new status this they inevitably bring and will continue to bring a Russian cultural perspective (just as Americans speak English from an American and not a British perspective). I am always telling my students that they live in Moscow, not ""the Moscow", that they should pronounce "clothes"" as if it were Kloze and not Klo-thuz, that they should give "advice"" not ""advices", that they should "discuss" not "discuss about", that they should say they are "in a meeting" or "at a meeting". not "on the meeting", that they are "going to work" not "going to THE work", and that they should "TELL me the answer", not "SAY me the answer." Etc. When I am not busy raising hell with them for confusing "he" and "she", I am continually reminding them not to make these and other "mistakes." Yet how long can I get away with calling them mistakes, when the time may come when Russian native speakers of English continue to use such mistakes as "variants" and see nothing wrong in it? And if I keep saying, "No, no, no Dima,, calling clothes KLO-THUZ is a mistake !" -- Dima might just tell me to take a long hike to Siberia because what he has just used is nothing less than a Russian "variant" of English. And if I object further, he might ask me why, as an American, I say "LAB-or--a-tor-y" while the British say "la-BOR-a-tree". Or why Americans say "SKED-ule" and the British say "SHED-ule" (schedule). And I will be forced to shut up because Dima will be right.
One of the most important things to remember is that language is not cast in granite. New vocabulary constantly comes in, often crowding out the old. Technology and marketing never cease to add to the language, and slang is ever ephemeral. People, including natives, who try to read Shakespeare and run into trouble, usually assume it is because Old Will was some kind of highbrow who deliberately excluded the average bloke. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare (or the man from Stratford-upon-Avon who passes for Shakespeare) was a businessman as well as a writer, and his idea was to put as many butts in the seats as possible. His language was very accessible to most all Elizabethans, and the tavern scenes are ribald in an utterly common way, bordering on being smutty in places. But casual contemporary readers are lost, and the reason is that much of Elizabethan English has drifted off into history. People in England don't talk that way anymore, and their vocabulary is different..
If that is true of lexus, it is also true of grammar. Many of the English grammar rules I was taught as a child are now passe' . Nowadays we split infinitives all the time and end many sentences with prepositions. "For whom are you waiting?" has been replaced by "Who are you waiting for?" "To whom does this book belong?" now comes out as "Who does this book belong to?" Why? It is because the English/Americans finally decided to stop trying to make English fit the rules of Latin -- like putting your foot into a shoe the wrong size -- and simply make English sound English. So "John plays the piano as well as me." is preferred to "John plays the piano as well as I." -- which sounds a bit hoity-toity, doesn't it? Logic says ""John plays the piano as well as I play the piano." and it is correct, but if you choose not to repeat "play the piano", then ""me" sounds more natural and more English.
Thus, the grammar is always evolving (or "devolving"", depending on how you look at it).. For now, the two biggest changes that are happening are (1) the use of the present continuous where the present simple used to hold sway. Ex.:"I am hoping you will help me tomorrow." instead of the traditionally accurate (with stative verbs) ""I hope you will help me tomorrow." And (2) the blase' manner in which "uncountables." have suddenly become countable. It has gotten so that virtually everything is treated as a countable these days: behaviorS, monIES, foodS, fruitS, materialS, etc. It simply sucks because no good purpose is served by any of it. "These behaviors" instead of the traditional "This behavior" is merely the psycho-babble of bored academics, and "these monies" instead of simply ""this money"" is a fine display what a load of wankers corporate people generally are. But this is the mentality we are stuck with and the English language pays the price.
These days the ESL schools downplay the importance of grammar for no other reason than that grammar involves a lot of drills, repetition, and hard work. Alas, this concept does not sell, so the schools and book publishers produce glossy products where there are more pictures than prose. The idea, I gather, is to make learning English seem fun and exciting. People don't want to slave away all day in the office and then come to an English lesson which consists of endless grammar drills monitored by some dour Anglo-Saxon with a rod of birch in his hand... The euphemism that the schools use is that they are now opting for "fluency"" rather than mere correctness. But new wave teaching methods are like new diets. People are always looking for the magic pill.
I tell my students two things: (1) there is no magic pill; learning a new language does indeed call for hard work; and (2) learning the grammar ultimately "sets you free." A person with a solid basis in the structure of a language and limited vocabulary will find a better expression of deeper thoughts than someone who knows a lot of words but has no idea how to use them.
In boxing, love making, and language learning, there is no substitute for good technique. To assume otherwise is to kid yourself. Passion is paramount; however, the technique is likewise an absolute must. That's what I tell them. If you wish to discuss about it or wish to hear my advices, that's what I will say you too.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===