Seven ways French is easier than English

Native English speakers are notoriously poor at learning other languages because by comparison other languages are notoriously more difficult than English. Well, not quite. Some years ago I learned Swahili (the national language of Tanzania), which I found to be embarrassingly easy.

True, few native English speakers are ever likely to want to learn Swahili, but rather German, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and some other European language. Admittedly, in many ways these are more difficult than English. However, by zeroing in on their difficulties, we can lose sight of the numerous aspects where they are in fact easier than English.

I live in Brussels, Belgium. One of the national languages here is French (the others are Dutch and German). I speak French fluently. I won’t say that it was easy to learn. However, I have discovered at least seven ways in which French has English beat hands down.

Actually, this shouldn’t really be so surprising. I would wager that every language, including those as far removed from English as Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Malayan, etc., have aspects about them that are simpler and more logical than in English.

But to make the point, let’s stay with European languages, and notably French.

You may be asking yourself: How can French possibly be easier than English? After all, isn’t French afflicted with genders (masculine and feminine), which English isn’t? Doesn’t it have more conjugated forms than English? More than one way of saying “you” (tu, vous)? Three was of saying “the” (le, la, les)? And a spelling system whose complexity virtually defies imagination (even worse than English)?

All true–and all too obvious. However, if we look at aspects of the language not so obvious, we make some remarkable discoveries. For French, here are seven of them (there are others).

1. No tonic accent

Most people, and certainly those who have yet to master another language, are largely unaware of how seriously difficult their own native language could be to a foreigner. As a native Anglophone, you probably find that English is quite easy to pronounce. But the fact is, French is even easier.

What! With its nasalization, trilled “r” and other difficult sounds? Yes, and I can prove it!

First, it is important to understand that no sounds, in any language, are inherently difficult to pronounce. If they were, they wouldn’t exist because the native speakers never would have accepted them into their language in the first place.

Learning foreign sounds is never easy; French speakers learning English have a terrible time with the “th” sound in words such as “the”, “they”, “through”, “throw”, etc. Because there is no equivalent sound in French, they have great difficulty in mastering it. But it certainly isn’t impossible. Just as it may be difficult, but certainly not impossible, for you to master unfamiliar sounds in French.

Where French pronunciation has an undeniable advantage over English (and most other European languages) is its virtual lack of a “tonic accent”.

Tonic accent simply means that certain syllables in words are given more stress than are others. For example, “difficult” is pronounced “dif-fi-cult”; the first syllable carries the tonic accent. It could just as easily be pronounced dif-fi-cult”, which is what the Spanish prefer (dif-fí-cil). Or even “dif-fi-cult”.

Technically, the tonic accent does exist in French, but it is very hard to hear it. For example, in English we say “un-i-ver-si-ty”. In French, this is “un-i-ver-si-té”, with no apparent stress anywhere (except perhaps very lightly on the last syllable). Likewise with “rest-au-rant”, which in French is “rest-au-rant”. And so on. Thus, you never have to guess where the tonic accent should go, so you can never make a mistake.

As a native Anglophone, you have grown up with the tonic accent, so you might not immediately recognize what a relief this is. However, if you have had any dealings with foreigners speaking English, you know that if they put the tonic accent on the wrong syllable, you might not understand the word at all. By foreigners, I don’t necessarily mean non-native English speakers. If you are British, try conversing with an American or Australian, and you are likely to have the same problem. And vice versa.

I once had a British friend in Brussels. All the native Francophones agreed that he had great mastery of French grammar and vocabulary. The problem was, when he spoke no one understood what he was saying. He simply couldn’t let go of the tonic accent. As a result, the Francophones could hardly grasp a word he said.

2. Gallic Impersonality

A. Use of “on”

For Anglophones, imbued with the idea that French is a very personal language (the so-called “’language of love”), few things are more surprising than the frequent use of the very impersonal “on” (pronounced ohn). By contrast, Francophones learning English are surprised to discover that English has no equivalent of “on”, so they have to search all over the place for substitutes.

Actually, this is not entirely true. English does have an equivalent: “one”. But it is seldom used. The Queen uses it: “One has considered the matter carefully” rather than “I have considered the matter carefully”. Moralists use it: “One should not kill”, “One should be ready to fight for one’s country”, etc. University professors speaking about arcane subjects use it: “One can clearly see this in the fossil record.” In almost all other circumstances, it is studiously avoided.

French uses “on” without the slightest embarrassment. In fact, using it avoids a lot of embarrassment. Familiar habits and patterns of thought are often hard to break, so at the beginning you may find using “on” rather strange, especially in sentences such as “On s’aime beaucoup” (we love each other very much). However, you will not be able to deny its usefulness.

For example, a key problem in English is avoiding “genderism”. English as a language does not have genders, but English speakers do. And they are very aware of it. This is the explanation for the very odd use of the plural pronoun “they” as if it were a singular.
Example: If someone studies hard, they will succeed.

Why do we make this apparently illogical switch from the singular pronoun “someone” and the singular verb “studies” to the plural pronoun “they’? Because otherwise, it would be necessary to say “he will succeed”. However, the sentence clearly is not directed only to males. Alternatively, it would have been necessary to say “he or she will succeed”, or “he/she will succeed”, which are cumbersome. French has no such problem. “Si on étudie bien, on réussira”.

B. Use of possessive adjectives

Here is another example of how Gallic impersonality avoids genderism. Consider the sentence: “Everyone who studies hard will see their effort rapidly rewarded.” In French, this is: “Chacun qui étudie bien verra son effort rapidement récompensé.“

In English, although we start the sentence with a singular subject and verb, we finish it with a plural possessive adjective (“their”). In French, the sentence remains singular all the way through, as it logically should. This is because “son effort” can mean either “his effort” or “her effort”.

“Son” is indeed classified as a “masculine” possessive. However, in French the term “masculine” has nothing to do with the nature of “chacun”, but only with the nature of “effort”, which is a “masculine” noun. The sentence could just as easily have been written: “Chacun qui étudie bien verra sa dépense d’effort rapidement récompensée“. Now the possessive adjective “sa“ is “feminine”, which again has nothing to do with the nature of “chacun”, but only with the nature of “dépense”, which is a “feminine” noun.

The inherently impersonal nature of French grammar automatically precludes a lot of “political incorrectness”, whereas in English we can achieve this only through some rather illogical and inelegant grammatical contortions.

3. Use of infinitives

A major problem most foreigners face in English is the correct use of infinitives. As a native speaker, you probably never realized that infinitives could be a problem. After all, an infinitive is just an infinitive.

Well, not quite. English infinitives in fact are very unusual compared to French infinitives and those of most other European languages. This is because French infinitives are unified, while English infinitives are separable. For example:

1. French: manger

2. English: to eat

The English infinitive can be used with both parts (“to eat”), which grammarians call the “complete infinitive”, or only the second part (“eat”), which grammarians call the “incomplete infinitive”.

The problem is, in many cases this is not optional, but required. For example: “I need to eat something” (complete infinitive), but “I must eat something” (incomplete infinitive). So what’s the difference? Why in the first example is the “to” necessary and in the second not only isn’t it necessary, using it would be incorrect?

In French this problem never arises. “J’ai besoin de manger quelque chose” and “Je dois manger quelque chose”. Simple, isn’t it. Just imagine if French worked like English. You would constantly be making choices about which form of the infinitive to use—and in many cases you would be wrong.

4. Use of definite articles

Use of the definite article (“the”) in English presents pretty much the same problem as use of the infinitive (see above). In other words, you constantly have to be making choices about when to use it and when not to use it. French is much simpler.

Really! Doesn’t French have three definitive articles (le, la, les) compared to only one in English?

Absolutely! But the problem is not deciding which definite article to use. Rather, it is deciding whether or not to use any definitive article at all.

In French, you retain the definite article much more frequently than you do in English. Thus, you have considerably fewer decisions to make, and therefore considerably fewer opportunities to make mistakes.


1. “I like cats” (cats in general)

2. “I like the cats” (specific cats, not necessarily all cats)

In French, both statements are rendered “J’aime les chats”, so no decision about whether or not to use the definite article. You distinguish their meanings via the context in which they are used.

5. No distinction between “a” and “one”

The words “a” and “one” are the equivalent of “un” in French. Fundamentally, these two words mean the same thing; however, “one” is more precise, so it adds emphasis. For example:

 I have eaten in a Japanese restaurant
(at least one, perhaps more)

 I have eaten in one Japanese restaurant
(only one, no more)

Both of these sentences are rendered in French as “J’ai mangé dans un restaurant japonais.” As with the definite article, you distinguish the meaning from the context, or by purposely adding intensifying words such as “ne . . . . que” or “seulement une fois”.

 Je n’ai mangé qu’une fois dans un restaurant japonais.

 J’ai mangé seulement une fois dans un restaurant japonais.

Many Francophones speaking English frequently make the mistake of saying ”I have eaten in one Japanese restaurant” when they really mean ”I have eaten in a Japanese restaurant”. As an Anglophone speaking French, you will never make this mistake, because it is simply not possible!

6. Simple and progressive (continuous) tenses

English makes frequent use of progressive (continuous) verb tenses, whilst French almost never does.

The progressive tenses are formed by two verbs: the helper (auxiliary) “to be” and the “present participle” (-ing form) of the other one.
Examples: she is eating / elle mange; we are talking / nous parlons; they are running / ils courrent.

English uses progressive tenses to distinguish between the general time period when an action takes place and the exact moment that the action takes place. French generally does not make this distinction, but rather leaves the interpretation to context.

In English, if you say “I eat” when you mean “I am eating”, or say “I am eating” when you mean “I eat”, you are committing a serious error. Although progressive tenses technically exist in French, you can largely ignore them. In short, no such error is possible!

7. Converting verbs into nouns

Because of its fondness for progressive verb tenses, English has a characteristic way of converting verbs into nouns, i.e. using a verb as the subject or the object of a sentence.

In French, and many other languages, you simply use the infinitive: Marcher est bon pour la santé. You can do the same thing in English: To walk is good for health. However, the preferred form is: Walking is good for health. To Anglophone ears, “walking” is more dynamic than “to walk”, i.e. it seems to give a better picture of what is happening.

This may very well be the case—in English. But there is no such distinction in French.

The grammatical term for the -ing form of a verb when used as a noun is “gerund”. The “gérondif” also exists in French, i.e. “marchant”, but it is virtually never used to replace an infinitive. So you have no choice. The correct form is “marcher”, because it is the only form. Simple, isn’t it?

Halt! Enough!

Do you feel that that all this talk about the “simplicities” of French is beginning to look like camouflage for its manifest difficulties? To a certain extent, you are right. However, the purpose here is not to hide French’s difficulties. But to minimize them by highlighting those aspects of French that are not so difficult—and are in fact really quite easy.

By rejoicing in French’s simplicities rather than focusing on its complexities, learning the language can be made more rapid and more enjoyable than you might have expected. The same is true of other languages.

I don’t mean that by focusing on the simplicities, learning languages will suddenly become easy. Learning a language is never easy, French or otherwise. But it can certainly be made rather less difficult.

Philip Yaffe is a former writer with The Wall Street Journal and international marketing communication consultant. He now teaches courses in persuasive communication in Brussels, Belgium. Because his clients use English as a second or third language, his approach to writing and public speaking is somewhat different from other communication coaches. He is the author of In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing and Speaking (Almost) like a Professional, available from the publisher ( and Amazon ( Contact:,

Posted in Articles | Tagged , | Comments Off

The Full History of Sign Language

The history of sign language is littered with shocking events. At several points in history, some not long ago, deaf people were strongly oppressed. At one point, they were even denied their basic rights. How their language, sign language, was treated during these oppressive times is directly related to why the deaf place such a high value on sign language today.

The first person to make a claim about deaf people was Aristotle. He theorized that people are only able to learn by hearing spoken words. Deaf people, then, were seen as unable to be educated.

Deaf people were denied their basic rights because of this claim. They weren’t allowed to marry or own property. The law actually labeled them as “non-persons.”

During the Renaissance in Europe, the claim was finally challenged. After 2,000 years of believing that deaf people couldn’t be educated, scholars made their first attempts to educate deaf people. This point in the Deaf history was the beginning of signed language development.

The Beginning of Deaf Education

An Italian Physician named Geronimo Cardano recognized that to learn, you do not have to hear. He found that by using the written word, deaf people could be educated.

In Spain, Pedro Ponce de Leon around the same time was educating deaf children. He was a Benedictine monk and was successful with his methods of teaching.

Juan Pablo de Bonet was inspired by Pedro Ponce de Leon’s success and used his own methods to teach the deaf. He was a Spanish monk and used earlier methods of teaching the deaf that included writing, reading, speechreading, and his own manual alphabet. Juan Pablo de Bonet’s manual alphabet represented the different speech sounds and was the first known manual alphabet system in the history of sign language.

Until the 1750’s, organized education of deaf people did not exist. Established in Paris by Abbé Charles Michel de L’Epée, a French priest, was the first social and religious association for the deaf.

There is a popular story that has been retold throughout Deaf history about Abbé de L’Epée. The story claims that while L’Epée was visiting a poor part of Paris, he met two deaf sisters. The mother had wanted them educated in religion, and she wanted L’Epée to teach them. L’Epée was inspired to educate them after he discovered their deafness. Soon after this encounter, he devoted his life completely to the education of the deaf.

In 1771, Abbé de L’Epée founded the first public school for the deaf. The name of the school was the Institut National des Jeune Sourds-Muets (National Institute for Deaf-Mutes). Children travelled from all over the country to attend this school. The children who attended the institute had been signing at home and creating a sort of “home sign language” with their families. Abbé de L’Epée learned these home signs and used them to teach the children French.

The signs L’Epée learned from his students formed the standard sign language that L’Epée taught. More schools for the deaf were established and the children were bringing this standard language home to their communities. This standard language became the first standard signed language in Deaf history and is now known as Old French Sign Language. More and more deaf students were becoming educated so this standard language spread widely throughout Europe.

Abbé de L’Epée established twenty-one schools for the deaf and is known today as the “Father of Sign Language and Deaf Education.”

Abbé de L’Epée is also often credited with being the inventor of sign language. This is inaccurate. Sign language was invented by deaf people. Even before they were formally educated, deaf children were signing with their families using home made signs. However, Abbé de L’Epée was the first to bring together these signs and create a standard sign language to educate the deaf.

Abbé de L’Epée claimed that sign language was the natural language of the deaf. However, a German educator named Samuel Heinicke thought different. He supported the oral method of educating deaf children. Oralism is the term used for educating the deaf using a system of speech and speechreading instead of sign language and fingerspelling. Samuel Heinicke taught his students how to speak, not sign. While he spoke, he had his students feel the vibrations of his throat.

Oralism was the first major roadblock after all of the positive advancements with the history of sign language. Abbé de L’Epée is known as the “Father of Sign Language” and Samuel Heinicke is known as the “Father of Oralism.”

American Sign Language

American Sign Language is traced back to 1814. Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a minister from Hartford, Connecticut, had a neighbor named Mason Fitch Cogswell. Cogswell had a nine-year-old daughter named Alice who was deaf. Gallaudet met Alice and Gallaudet wanted to teach her how to communicate.

Gallaudet did not really know anything about educating a deaf child. So, he raised enough money to travel to Europe to learn their methods of deaf education.

Gallaudet met Abbé Roche Ambroise Sicard who was Abbé de L’Epée’s successor and the head of the National Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris. Gallaudet also met Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc, two accomplished teachers of the deaf from the same institution.

Gallaudet attended classes with Sicard, Massieu, and Clerc at the Institute. He studied their methods of teaching and took private lessons from Clerc.

Preparing to return to America, Gallaudet asked Clerc to join him. He knew that Clerc would be instrumental in starting a school for the deaf in the United States. Clerc agreed to travel with him back to America.

The American Asylum for Deaf-Mutes (now known as the American School for the Deaf) was established in 1817 in Hartford, Connecticut. This was the first public school for the deaf in America.

Deaf people from all over the U.S. travelled to attend the school. Just like at Abbé de L’Epée’s school in Paris, children brought signs they learned at home with them. From these signs and the signs from French Sign Language that Gallaudet learned, American Sign Language was created.

A Deaf College

In 1851, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet died. However, his two sons, Thomas Gallaudet and Edward Miner Gallaudet succeeded him and continued work in deaf education.

Edward wanted to establish a college for the deaf, but the funding always stopped him. In 1857, though, Amos Kendall donated acres of land to establish a residential school in Washington, D.C. called the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind and wanted Edward to be the superintendent of the school.

Edward accepted the offer, but still wanted to start a college for the deaf. So, he presented his idea for a deaf college to Congress and Congress passed legislation in 1864 allowing the Columbia Institute to grant college degrees.

The Columbia Institute’s college division (the National Deaf-Mute College) opened in 1864. In all of Deaf history, this was the first college for the deaf.

The National Deaf-Mute College was renamed in 1893 and again in 1986 to the name it still has today-Gallaudet University. Gallaudet University was the first and is still the only liberal arts university for the deaf in the world.

Oralism versus Sign Language

Sign language was spreading widely and was used by both deaf and hearing people. However, supporters of oralism believe that deaf people need to learn how to speak to be able to function in society.

The Institution for the Improved Instruction of Deaf-Mutes was founded in New York in 1867 and the Clarke Institution for Deaf-Mutes was founded in Northampton, Massachusetts. These schools began educating deaf children using oralism only. If that wasn’t bad enough, these schools encouraged all deaf schools to use only the oralism approach as well. The oralist methods of teaching speech, listening, and speechreading spread quickly to schools across the nation.

Alexander Graham Bell was one of the strongest supporters of oralism. In 1872, he established a school in Boston. This school trained teachers to use oralism to teach deaf children.

Bell established the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, Inc. in 1890. This association is now called the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

From 1880 to 1990, the sign language versus oralism debate intensified. Meeting in Milan, Italy in 1880, the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf met to address this issue. Many leaders in education attended this conference that is now known as the Milan Conference.

Oralism won the debate at this conference and Congress then passed a declaration stating “the incontestable superiority of speech over sign for integrating the deaf-mute into society and for giving him better command of the language.”

Because of this conference, the use of sign language in deaf education declined drastically over the next decade. Some oralism activists wanted to eradicate sign language completely.

By 1920, 80% of deaf children were taught using the oral method. Teachers of deaf children were once 40% deaf and 60% hearing. By the 1860’s, only 15% of teachers of the deaf were deaf.

Outside of the classroom, however, sign language was still widely used. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was established in the U.S. and supported the sign language method of deaf education. The NAD argued against oralism saying that it is not the right choice for the education of many deaf people. They gained support and kept the use of sign language alive during this time.

Amid this great debate, William Stokoe, a hearing Gallaudet College professor, published his claim that proved American Sign Language is a real language. He proved that ASL is a language separate from English and that it has its own grammar and syntax.

American Sign Language was then finally seen as an important national language.

Congress issued the Babbidge Report in 1964 on oral deaf education that stated oral education was a “dismal failure.” This quote dismissed the decision that was made in Milan.

In 1970, a movement began that did not choose between signed or oral education. The movement was called Total Communication and attempted to mix several methods of deaf education. Total Communication gave deaf people the right to information through all possible ways. This method of teaching can include speech, sign language, fingerspelling, lipreading, pantomime, computers, pictures, facial expressions, gestures, writing, hearing aid devices, and reading.

The changes that have occurred throughout the history of sign language makes sign language and the lives of deaf people what they are today. Deaf people have experienced great hardships as well as great achievements to bring sign language, the language of the Deaf, the respect that it deserves.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Learn English 101

English competency is very important not only to excel in school, but also to succeed in business. Effective English communication is very much valued by companies and businesses, although few people can really maximize their use of English.

Learning English is not just about expanding your vocabulary or making flowery sentences filled with metaphor and poetic statements. The English language may be one of the first things you learned as a kid, but mastering the language takes a lot of practice and commitment. Every now and then, you have to brush up on your English skills to use the language clearly and effectively.

Studying Grammar

Proper grammar is the backbone of effective English. Many people tend to expand their vocabulary without learning how to use words properly, and arrange them together to create a coherent thought. It may embarrass some people to learn the basics of the English language all over again, but the best writers and speakers always brush up on the essential elements of English. When studying grammar, always keep the following pointers in mind:

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Fastest Way to Learn Chinese

Learning Chinese fast is all about learning the language as quickly as possible, while maintaining proper grammatical understanding. This means that in order to truly Learn Chinese in the quickest time possible, you really need to have access to the best resources and the best tools available so you don’t waste any time when you’re in the learning zone.

We are firm believers in a three step plan which is a very basic outline to Learning Chinese (you can see step 1 above). Basically, the three step plan is an extremely streamlined process for the learning of Chinese which works exceedingly well. Here is the three step plan for your reference:

1. Use a quality Chinese course to learn a solid foundation of knowledge. Use the proven techniques and experience of Chinese course teachers to learn a strong base of knowledge. This will allow you to learn the basics of the language enough to be able to Speak Chinese confidently after just a few weeks.

2. Get out and talk to fluent Chinese speakers to get the most real world practice. To build both confidence and knowledge, it is vitally important to actually talk to fluent Chinese speakers as much as you can. This will give you more experience and knowledge than a Chinese course ever could.

3. Keep speaking Chinese for at least 30 minutes every day. To keep improving on what you’ve learned, make sure you practice your Chinese every single day. As a little rule of thumb, make sure you practice for at least 30 minutes.

Now, using this for Learning Chinese fast is pretty easy. Because this plan is all about giving you the correct knowledge and information exactly when you need it, it not only builds your knowledge exponentially, it also means that you learn in sequence. In essence, your learning is streamlined because you don’t have to go back and repeat things. It’s all laid out on a plate for you, which means you’ve just got to go through it properly in order to Learn Chinese quickly.

In order to use this plan to Learn Chinese in the fastest way possible, here are some pointers which you should utilize:

•Make your Chinese practice into a routine which you perform every single day. This routine should mean that you use your Chinese course at around the same time every day and/or practice your Chinese at the same time every day as well. This will help your learning because not only does it provide consistency, it also helps you to remember what you learned previously, hence stopping the need to go back and repeat lessons.

•Take everything the course says as truth and work through it like a robot. The more you question what the course says, the more sidetracked you get, which means the longer it will take you to Learn Chinese. Everything in Chinese courses has been put there for a reason, by qualified professionals, which means it must be true. Just remember that and power through the course as fast as you can!

•Practice any Chinese you learn with real people. This may sound obvious to some, but you really need to get out there and start talking with people in Chinese if you’re going to make any sort of headway with your learning. Doing this will not only build your confidence but will also help you learn some fun slang and colloquial phrases, too.

•Don’t be afraid to try new things. Learning Chinese is something that takes time and dedication. We’ve given you a simple blueprint of what we would do to Learn Chinese, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with trying new techniques or methods!

The general motto of this article is basically the fact that you can seriously improve the speed by which you Learn Chinese, simply by sticking to your guns and focusing on getting to where you want to be in the quickest time possible.

The main thing is to get started with a Chinese course and get learning the basics before anything else. If you want to constantly improve and progress, you’ll want to get a foundation of Chinese knowledge and skills all sorted out in your mind before you try and build on that knowledge.

To begin Learning Chinese, why not take a look at our Chinese course reviews to find the best Chinese course for you?

We’ll assume the fact that you’re reading this article means you have some interest in Speaking Chinese and we’ll further assume that you’re prepared to put some effort into it because Learning Chinese requires some work. It can be fun, it can be easier and faster than you probably thought, but if you want to learn to speak Chinese fluently you’re going to have to give it some time.

How much time? Well that really depends on you. The popular approach now – which is successful for good reason – is the immersion technique. Get a Chinese book, go to Chinese classes, and get some kind of Chinese Learning CD or MP3 so you can study on the move. Some even suggest osmosis – learning while you sleep – by playing Chinese Language audio programs through an earpiece.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

The road to a perfect international language

by Philip Yaffe

Some time ago, a friend and I decided to try to establish guidelines for building a “perfect language” that ultimately could be adopted as the world’s common language. We did not intend to create such a language. We just wanted to lay down standards against which any candidates for this high office (living, dead or artificial) could be objectively judged.

Our primary criterion was that it should be easy to learn.

We started from what we called the Facility Principle: What you don’t have to do is always easier than what you do have to do. We wanted to find out what is really basic to language, i.e. what elements are fundamental, what felements are secondary, and what elements are entirely unnecessary. This we would use to judge how close existing languages came, or how to create an artificial language that virtually everyone could rapidly learn and use.

Our method was to identify what elements could be removed without fundamentally damaging a language’s capacity to communicate. To ensure that we would not “over-intellectualize”, we decided to test our ideas by finding at least one language, living or dead, that did not possess the element we thought could be safely deleted. If we found such a language, we would know that this feature truly wasn’t absolutely essential. Between the two us, we were fluent in or had working knowledge of Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swahili, so these were our reference points.

We started with irregularities. Few people would argue that irregular verbs are fundamentally necessary in order to communicate, so our perfect language should have no irregular verbs. Does such a language exist? Yes, Swahili has no irregular verbs. If you can conjugate one verb in that language, you can conjugate them all, and in all tenses.

We also looked at irregular spellings. Clearly, a phonetically spelled language would be easier to learn than a non-phonetic one. Just consider all the endless hours French-speaking school children spend with their “dictées” and English-speaking children spend with their “spelling bees”. Although they are disguised as games and competitions, their real purpose is to help children master the thoroughly chaotic misuse of the alphabet in their native tongues.

Does a phonetic language in fact exist? German comes very close, and so do Italian and Spanish. Swahili, however, is fully phonetic. If you can say a word in that language, you can spell it, and if you can read it, you can say it.

We also immediately dismissed noun genders; English lives without them very nicely. What about pronouns? They too are not fundamental; in Italian and Spanish they are hardly ever used.

We even discovered languages that make no distinction between singular and plural. At first, we had difficulty accepting this because singulars and plurals just seemed to be so basic. However, eliminating them makes perfect sense.

Why should a language constantly distinguish between one of a thing and two to infinity? To say “I see a dog” clearly means that I see only one of them. But to say “I see dogs” is undefined. It could be two, ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand, a million, etc. Some languages define “singular” not as one, but one, two or three. “Plural” then means anything from four to infinity.

By establishing this set of considerations, did we create an ideal blueprint for producing a clear, concise, easy-to-learn universal language? Actually no. We thought we did; however, it turns out that the Facility Principle has a fatal flaw.

When we consulted a linguist during our investigations, he pointed out that it may be possible to eliminate a grammatical feature in a language only because it contains another feature that compensates. But this would not be true of all languages. Thus, eliminating something from Language A because it adds nothing to communication could be crucially important in Language B, where its absence would damage communication.

We were not discouraged, but we decided to change direction. Despite the flaw of the Facility Principle, we still felt that irregular spellings had little to recommend them. However, since we could not necessarily eliminate them based solely on the Facility Principle, we looked around for another principle that would allow us to exclude them. This we called the “Comprehension Principle”.

The Comprehension Principle states: What is not important for communication in the spoken language should be even less important in the written language.

This is only common sense. When we are in a conversation, we must understand what the other person is saying instantaneously, and vice versa. We cannot stop every couple of seconds to have something repeated to be certain that we have correctly grasped its meaning. If we did, conversation would be impossible.

When we read, if we have a problem understanding something, we can always look at it again and study it, which is not the case when we speak. It therefore seems logical that the written language should be simpler and more straightforward than the spoken language.

In English, French and some other languages, it is just the opposite. The written language is very much more complex than the spoken language. According to the Comprehension Principle, all of the things in the written language that are not in the spoken language are not necessary for communication. Therefore, they can be considered merely decorative and expendable.

This brings us back to phonetic spelling.

If a word is not written the way it is pronounced, what purpose does it serve? Very little; in fact it is counterproductive. As argued by no less an authority than Voltaire (1771): “Writing is the portrait of the voice; the more they resemble each other, the better (L’ecriture est la peinture de la voix; plus elle est resemblante, mieux elle est.)”

Nevertheless, it is amazing how ferociously some people will defend chaotic spellings. One of the principal arguments is that current spelling is a “conveyor belt of culture”. Thus, we spell “pharmacy” with “ph” to remind us that the word is derived from Greek, and we spell “farmer” with an “f” to remind us that this word isn’t. But why should the way we write a word reflect its origin? Language is for communication; it should avoid useless complications such as non-phonetic spelling. “Phonetic” itself should be spelled with an “f” as it is in Dutch, Italian and Spanish. Its Greek origin is of interest mainly to linguists but it shouldn’t be imposed on the rest of us.

When the written language loses touch with the spoken language, it also loses touch with reality. Even the august Academie Française now permits elimination of the “accent circumflex” (the little hat) in many words where it serves only to remind us that in Old French there used to be an “s” in the word which is no longer there. It is also introducing numerous other reforms to make the language more consistent and less of a barrier to clear communication.

One article I read opposing spelling reform in English concluded with the startling statement: “Spelling is beautiful. Believe it”.

Spelling is not beautiful; it is a tool. As with any tool, loading it with useless complications can only reduce its effectiveness, not enhance it. In writing, the only thing that is beautiful is a well-structured, well-crafted text. Judging writing by how well the author masters chaotic spelling is like judging a painting by how well the artist works with defective brushes.

If the language-proud French can reform their spelling, surely we English-speakers can do likewise. And the sooner, the better.

Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches a course in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium. His recently published book In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple Secrets of Writing and Speaking (Almost) like a Professional is available from Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium ( and Amazon (

For further information, contact:

Philip Yaffe
Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)2 660 0405

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Why Learn German – 8 Benefits of Learning German Language That You Just Cannot Ignore

A global career: Knowledge of German increases your career opportunities with German and foreign companies in your own country and abroad. The proficiency helps you to function productively for an employer with global business connections. For example, learning german in mumbai is an essential requirement for all employees – right from staff to managers to senior executives of German and multi-national corporations with operations in mumbai and India. A Basic requirement for promotion and growth in many such companies, especially heavy industries, is that one atleast learns to speak german.

An invaluable skill for business executives, IT professionals and entrepreneurs: Knowing the language of your German clients or business partners improves your relations and therefore your chances for effective communication and success.
· India’s IT professionals are increasingly finding projects/assignments in Germany where comfort with the local language is a key success factor. Thus a major career move for business executives, IT professionals and managers is to learn german language.
· Get comfortable in Europe: German is among the most popular language in Europe. In many of the countries neighboring Europe as also in greater distances, German has and continues to be a popular spoken language. Thus, Benefits of learning German extend way beyond Germany or German corporations/companies!

Opportunities to study/work in Germany: Germany awards a generous number of scholarships and other support for studies in Germany. Working holiday visas are available for young foreigners from a range of countries, and special visas are offered to skilled workers and professionals. Learning German thus opens up yet another opportunity for advancement in career. In fact, a number of German study abroad programs reward applicants significantly if the applicant is well-versed or has working knowledge of German. At our
German language courses in mumbai. an increasing proportion of students have been students seeking a career through German education. This is just the beginning of the career benefits of learning German.

Opportunities for exchange: A wide range of german exchange programs exists for both school and university students between Germany and many countries in the world. Thus, you could gain an easy cutting edge over others who have not learnt German!
German is the second most commonly used scientific language: Germany is the third largest contributor to research and development and offers research fellowships to scientists from abroad. Thus learning German will open you vistas for you in the area of science and technology too. The need for scientific, technological and engineering talent with german language skills has been growing steadily across the years.

Communication: Developments in media, information and communication technology require multilingual communicators. One in ten books is published in German, and a wide range of important websites are in German. Knowledge of German therefore offers you extended access to information.

Tourism and hospitality industry: Tourists from German-speaking countries travel wide and far, and are the world’s biggest spenders when on holiday. They appreciate to be looked after by German-speaking staff and tour guides. This is yet one of the benefits of learning german! At our
German language classes in mumbai, we bring in hands-on exercises to train you the mastering german and knowing the German culture. German Books, novels, CD and movies are used to make the classes entertaining and well as learning filled.

On a lighter and interesting note: German is the language of Goethe, Kafka, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Indulge in reading and/or listening to their works in their original language. Learning German provides you with an insight into the way of life, and the hopes and dreams of people in German speaking countries, broadening your horizon.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The Importance of Ear/Vocal Training While Learning English Pronunciation.

Language is a system of systems operating simultaneously. English pronunciation involves meaning-differentiating sounds, meaningful sub-word pieces (e.g., prefixes and suffixes), words, phrases, and entire interrelated chains of ideas, as well as the speaker’s emotions and attitudes — all being signaled at the same time.

The goal of the second-language learner must be to produce this complex, simultaneous interaction of systems, moment by moment, and the best way to do that is to hear it all actually happening and then, provided that you have good ear/vocal feedback, you can train your muscles to articulate the right sounds, ever more closely approximating the entire language performance of a native speaker.

Sounds: Systematic repetition training is crucial in identifying the English sounds that differ from those in one’s own native language (or identifying those that are simply not in the first-language inventory) and in focusing particular attention on the differences. If, instead of the English pronunciation of certain sounds, the learner substitutes a similar sound from his/her native language, he/she can completely obscure the meaning or confuse the native-speaker listener. Further refinement of an accent consists in learning to hear and reproduce the actual English pronunciation instead of substituting the most similar one from one’s native language.

Contractions: Native speakers plunge ahead so rapidly that English pronunciation typically contracts certain sounds (not just the traditional written contractions), and the non-native listener must be alert to these. He/she must be able to immediately hear them and identify them with the uncontracted versions.

Again, the familiarity is a matter of hearing the likely contractions and understanding them in context.

Interference: There’s so much noise that accompanies speech that you would be surprised at how little of what someone else is saying actually reaches your ears. That’s why simply hearing common collocations of words, especially idioms, will enable you to understand and reproduce the “noise-free” versions.

Phrases and Pauses: Along with the English pronunciation of individual sounds and sound sequences (and their contracted versions), the learner should pay careful attention to the way native speakers group words into phrases, for, e.g., grammatical reasons, emphasis, or place in a conversation. Repeatedly listening to frequent word groupings and patterns of word groupings, as they’re actually articulated, will teach the second-language learner where to expect pauses, how to use them, and the kinds of words-groups are typically included between pauses.

Accentuation and Intonation: The relative loudness/softness of each syllable in the English pronunciation of a word — so easily, rapidly, and intuitively articulated by native speakers — must be learned and, to the extent possible, duplicated by the astute second-language learner. It’s not that the accentuation of a word changes its meaning — rather, the accentuation pattern of the word is determined in part by its structure, and the absolute loudness or softness of one syllable or another is further influenced by emphasis and intonation patterns in the larger sentence. Rather than memorize complex rules, the easiest path to reproducing the native speaker’s performance is listening and repetition.

The same applies to the longer intonation patterns that identify statements, questions, requests, and all manner of speaker implications and emotions. These are simultaneous with the word-level accentuation patterns mentioned above and, once again, must be heard in context in order to be successfully duplicated — and finally learned to the point of replication.

Language is a lot of things going on at the same time. And the best way to learn them is to hear them and to develop the ear/vocal connections that enable the second-language learner (or even the dialect speaker) to replicate them all, the way native speakers do.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , | Comments Off

Learn German Software Review

Although not everyone immediately thinks of German when they think about learning a second language, you would be surprised how useful it is, especially in Europe. It is spoken in Germany of course, which is one of the largest countries in Europe in terms of population. It is also spoken in Austria and a large part of Switzerland. You will also find that many people in the nations that surround Germany to the east, like the Czech Republic spreading to the Balkans, speak a bit of German.

It is a good language to have if you want to travel to any of these countries and not resort to speaking English when you get there. It is also a good language to have for business as Germany is an important trading partner with many countries throughout the world, especially in the automobile industry, IT and financial services. Speaking the language can open doors in terms of a career opportunity or potential business partner.

Can using a learn German software package really be the best way for learning a second language? When one considers that thousands of people all over the world today choose to take their language learning education with multimedia programs and online resources, the answer is an obvious yes. Just look at what such a learning experience has to offer; multimedia resources such as audio and video for learning cultural lessons and developing your pronunciation skills, tests and quizzes to check your progress, verb conjugation exercises, and more.

Computer software has revolutionised the way people learn languages. Most software can be instantly downloaded to the computer immediately after purchase. These software packages often include audio, video, flash cards, and other useful components. Many are designed so the buyer can learn in as little as 8 weeks!

Some software chooses to simply tell you what to do without explaining how it is done. The idea behind this is that we pick up languages intuitively and by hearing a language enough it will start to sink in.

In effect this is like the immersion process of learning a language. Immersion is basically about living in a country that only speaks the language. You are motivated to learn it to get by and you are constantly exposed to it so it will eventually sink in.

This is good in theory and most people agree that immersion is the best way to learn. So the software that tries to replicate this process is a good idea but it falls down because the person learning has to be self motivated. They have to use the software often to be suitably immersed in the language. And even if they are fairly self motivated, it is impossible to cut off your ‘real’ life that entails speaking in English.

Other courses are more traditional in the sense that they tell you what to say and then explain why or how this works. So they will tell you what to say in a situation and then explain the rules or grammar of what was said or the meaning of the vocabulary. Grammar may seem completely arbitrary as is the vocabulary. In some cases you just have to learn it or get the basics of it and then you can start being more practical by speaking to people.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

The Hmong People

Who are the Hmong? The Hmong are an ethnic group in Asia, numbering several million people. For at least 2,000 years they populated the mountainous regions of southern China, and, since the 18th century, have spread further south into Indo-China: northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma.

The initial “H” in “Hmong” is how the word is pronounced in one dialect. It is spelled without the “H” in the other, as in “Mong.” The history of the Hmong is filled with persecution, privation and exile. First they suffered at the hands of the Han Chinese, and then became refugees on several occasions as they shuttled from area to area, looking for land to till and a place to settle. Some of the clans fought against the Pathet Lao during the “Secret War” waged by the CIA against the Pathet Lao in the early 1970’s. When that communist-nationalist faction eventually took control of the government, the Hmong were slaughtered by the thousands. Many fled to Thailand, where even today many thousands still live. The decade of the 1970’s saw the Hmong dispersed to Australia, Canada, France, French Guiana and the United States. It took the United States 25 years to admit its involvement in the “Secret War,” and even today some of America’s former allies among the Hmong are classified as terrorists because of their work in the “armed conflict” in Laos. (There is no exception for CIA-sponsored “counter-terrorism” in the law.) Thus, they remain unwelcome in the United States.

The “White Hmong,” called Hmong Der, and the “Green” or “Green/Blue Hmong,” (called the Mong Leng) are the two largest subgroups of the Hmong, and their manners of speaking are sufficiently distinct that they are considered separate dialects, though they are intelligible one to the other. The initial “H” in “Hmong” is how the “White Hmong” say it; the lack of the “h” is how the “Green Mong” say it. A number of smaller ethnic and linguistic variations also exist.

China has classified as “Miao” one of the official Chinese minority groups (one of 55), which includes the Hmong and a several related ethnic groups. The Miao live in the south: Yunan, Sichuan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan. Extrapolating from census figures, it is estimated that about 3 million people speak Hmong/Mong in China. Historically, “Miao” referred to the native peoples of China’s southwestern border regions. This Chinese term and words derived from it historically connoted barbarism, and are considered insulting to the Hmong, even though in China the term is regarded as a neutral one.

Today, about 150,000 Hmong live in Thailand, 500,000 in Laos, and almost 1 million in Vietnam. Some also are resident in Myanmar, but no one knows for sure how many they are.

After the diaspora of the Hmong/Mong peoples in 1975, many settled in the United States and Canada, where legislation was adopted for their benefit as victims of ethnic cleansing and as refugees from a violent and cruel war. The trend was to refer to this people as “Hmong,” meaning all of that community, both “white” and “green.” The “Green Mong” eventually succeeded in having their spelling used as well, so that in the United States, at least, it is common to see their ethnic group described as “Hmong/Mong.”

Evidence continues to come out to indicate that the Hmong continue to be the targets of persecution and ethnic cleansing in Laos and Vietnam. The 2006 film, Hunted Like Animals, documents Laotian extermination policies against those who were repatriated from Thailand under a controversial program of the United Nations. Resettlement is still being discussed between the US, Australia, the EU and Canada on the one hand, and Thailand on the other. Access to the refugees, still in the camps of Thailand has been difficult to arrange through the Thai government.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Learning Chinese Tips for Children, including Pre-schoolers and Toddlers

First things first: Which Chinese to Learn?

Mandarin is the official language of China and Taiwan. It is the dialect of the majority in Mainland China and the Chinese overseas. Cantonese is not as commonly used since Britain’s turnover of Hong Kong to China. It may become a dialect that is used among family and friends.or business purposes, Mandarin is more practical to learn. ChildBook has also carried Cantonese products in the past that took forever to sell.

Learning Chinese at Home

A great way to start your children in learning the Chinese Language is through Learn Chinese DVDs and videos and audio CDs. These DVDs are specially designed to optimally expose your child to the tones of Chinese with fun things to watch. The learning pace in DVDs are carefully programmed to help your child remember the words and phrases. Chinese songs on CDs on the other hand, are great to use while travelling or during your child’s relaxation time. For bigger children, Chinese stories on CDs can be played to expose them further to more Chinese vocabulary and sentence construction.

If one parent speaks Chinese, arrangements can be made that 1 parent will speak to the children in Chinese and the other will speak to them in English. Kids have an amazing ability to keep up with each parent’s language.

Exposing Children to Native Chinese Speakers

• Chinese tutors are available to teach children and even the entire family to speak Chinese. Check online or newspaper ads for available tutors.
• Play dates with children who are learning or already know Chinese is a fantastic way to expose your kids.
• Another option is to hire Chinese-speaking baby sitters. Local universities often have students who are half-Chinese or spouses of Chinese. This can be an option you can try.
• Other families get au pairs from China.
• Some families hire Chinese nannies to ensure the children grow up hearing the native Chinese tones. Be careful in the hiring though. Truth to be told, there is a large number of people in the US from China who don’t have the necessary papers but are working as nannies. Nannies also take care of your children, so picking the right person is extremely important, especially if they live with you. Friends of ours have gone through multiple nannies and it was not a good experience.

Learning Chinese Online

There are online Chinese programs available for adult English speakers. So far, ChildBook is not aware if there are any online programs available for English speaking children.

Chinese Private Schools

Traditionally, non-public Chinese schools teach a child the Chinese language when the child is old enough to sit still and copy characters. Most schools still use the method of rote teaching used in China and Taiwan. Children in the US are very independent, therefore the rote method may not be the best way for children to learn the words and characters. Instead, the Montessori or ESL method may be used to interest the kids to learn Chinese. These methods place emphasis on using Chinese in conversation . Other programs that teach using a lot of singing and other fun activities will definitely make children learn Chinese easier.

Summer Camps

Chinese summer camps expose the child to full immersion of the Chinese language. Summer camps may be a weekend trip in the US, a full boarding school stay, or travelling to live for several weeks to China or Taiwan. ChildBook produces the largest list of Chinese summer camps available so stay tuned for updates.

Learn-Chinese Materials

There are a lot of products available in the market to help children learn Chinese. Books, videos, audio CDs/ cassettes and software can be used at home to learn Chinese. These materials not only expose the child to vocabulary or tones, but also show the beauty of Chinese culture. These materials can also be used for parents and children to spend time together.


A big challenge to teaching Chinese from books is that one parent/ adult should know how to read it. For families who are starting to learn from scratch together, bi-lingual books are a big help. Story books that can be read along with audio CDs are useful to learn the proper pronunciation. A great introductory book to reading and writing Chinese characters is Long is the Dragon. For smaller children, I Won’t Bite is a very interesting material. Kids will be able to touch and feel the different types of animal skin textures.


Videos teach through engaging visuals, songs, and repetitive vocabulary. Viewers will also be exposed to how different places and persons look like. In 1 DVD of the Follow Jade series, Teacher Jade goes to a Chinese Kindergarten. Children will be able to compare how their own school and classmates look like. The Bao Bei series has 5 enjoyable videos that teach Chinese vocabulary of a lot of common words. Bao Bei is a panda puppet that children will like to study Chinese words.

Audio CDs

Chinese CDs can be grouped into 2:
• 100% Chinese songs and stories. Some do not have printed guides, others include a book/ booklet
• Learn-Chinese CDs specifically designed for those learning Chinese as a second language. These CDs usually include books, booklets with Chinese, English and Pinyin. Songs are sung in both Chinese and English, or booklets show the English translations. For example, the songs in Teach Me Chinese Book and CD are popular and sung in both English and Chinese. Parents can also learn songs to sing for their children, such as Happy Birthday. This series also comes with a Teacher Guide. Other Learn-Chinese Book and CD series such as Sing and Learn Chinese Series and Let’s Sing Chinese also engages its listeners with interesting songs.


So far, ChildBook is still waiting for a very highly recommended software that is easy for learners to use.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off