English arguably has become a "universal" language. According to askoxford.com, 1 in 4 people worldwide speak English, and English has official or special status in at least 75 countries. The commonality of English may gloss over some of the disadvantages of learning the language. Educators and those interested in learning English should recognize these disadvantages so they can weigh them against the pros of English study.
Vocabulary Extent and Roots
As shown by etymonline.com, many of the words in English are not really "English" at all. They have their roots in other languages such as French, German, Latin and Greek. As a result, there may be many words for the same exact concept. For example, a person may say "book" or "volume" to refer to a bound set of written pages. This means that to be truly fluent a person has to have a very large vocabulary when compared to some other languages and that one may need an understanding of the root words before they fully comprehend the meaning of an English term. To make matters even more confusing, people learning English may encounter both "British" English and "American" English. British English has different vernacular terms and spellings than American English, so English learners have to understand and differentiate between these two forms of English every time they write and choose vocabulary.
Flexibility and Rigidity
Written English has very rigid syntax rules (e.g., subject before predicate). Textbooks provide examples based on this "proper" form. However, hardly any native English speaker talks the way that he writes. For instance, it's perfectly acceptable in spoken English to say "I wonder what he's up to," ending with a dangling preposition. This duality of rigidity and flexibility can be extremely confusing for ESL students, especially given the extent of English vocabulary. For instance, an ESL student who trusts what he hears everyone say may write improper syntax. Additionally, English teachers may miss these linguistic errors unintentionally, simply because the teachers themselves are used to vernacular syntax misplacement.
As pointed out by Joe Kloc of motherjones.com, languages are dying out around the globe. As more people concentrate on the advantages of English, they may abandon their native tongues, accelerating the loss of additional languages. Kloc goes one step further and associates the loss of language with the loss of culture, since language can provide a sense of authenticity to a people and is part of how people express themselves and their beliefs.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.