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Automatic English For The People

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Casual English

It is well known that spoken Japanese has many different styles-- often roughly divided into a "polite-formal style" (-mas/desu) and a "casual" style.

But textbooks and teachers rarely discuss the same division in English. Schools almost never talk about the very different styles of spoken English-- yet the same division exists.

In fact, the more I have taught, the more I've realized that the difference between everyday spoken English (casual English) and formal English is big. Its a very big difference.

Textbooks and schools teach formal English. In fact, they often teach a written style of English. Students learn to speak "written English". They learn to pronounce English as if they were reading. When we read, we usually pronounce every word separately and clearly. When we read, we are often using a quite formal style of English.

But in everyday speech, we use a totally different kind of language. First, we do not pronounce every word separately. We speak in phrases--- groups of words are pushed together and pronounced as one.

I'll give you one example. My friend Wat was talking to an American customer and the customer asked him "You beer?" Wat was confused... he said, "What?". The customer said, "Tomorrow... you beer?" Finally I helped Wat and said slowly, "Tomorrow, will you be here?" Wat understood me because I pronounced every word separately.. but in fact, we almost never do that in normal conversation.

Our vocabulary choice is also different in normal conversation. We tend to use a lot of "phrasal verbs" when speaking. "Phrasal verbs" are two (or more) word verbs. We often say, "I messed up"... instead of "I made a mistake". We often say, "I bumped into Jane yesterday",... instead of "I met Jane yesterday".

This is not slang. For a native speaker, this is basic spoken English. An American child understands and uses this vocabulary and pronunciation.

So why aren't schools and textbooks teaching it? I have always wondered why they try to make students fly before they can crawl. In my opinion, the first step is to understand basic conversational English. The next step is to be able to use basic conversational English.

Only after a learner can do this should they worry about the TOEFL exam, writing super-complicated essays, and reading difficult research papers.

The spoken language is the base. Learn the fundamentals first. Master the fundamentals first. Then you will find that advanced English is much easier to understand and use.



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