One of the major challenges for non-English speaking people who enter Australia is, obviously, their struggle with the language. This creates significant barriers in their social interaction with others, prospects for employment, access to social and business services, and their continuing education. Hundreds of thousands of people in this situation have taken up this challenge, learning English and in many cases, being able to write and speak it better than many native-born Australians. This isn’t an easy feat, as English is widely recognised as being one of the most difficult languages to learn. There are so many rules and exceptions to those rules, that just when a learner thinks they have it right, it changes.
The reason for this goes back into the origins of the English language. This language as we know it today evolved through early invasions of the British Isles, then through the later British expansions when they colonised over a quarter of the world. The languages of all these different races combined to create the English language familiar to us. It is still adapting and changing, which makes it difficult for people who offer tutoring services, as they must also keep learning.
A widespread observation of English, given that it is a composite of numerous other languages, is that there is so much room for error in grammar, syntax, spelling and word use. Word use is particularly frustrating for learners, who not only have to learn a new word, for example, “which” then find that by changing a couple of letters it becomes “witch,” a completely different word with a completely different meaning. These words are known as homophones.
There are hundreds of homophones in the English language, but there are a few that are the most often misused. “It’s” and “its” are often written interchangeably when they are not. “It’s” is a contraction (the apostrophe is a substitute for either “is” or “has”). A quick way to check is to say it as two words i.e. it is or it has. If it then doesn’t make sense, the correct word is simply “its.”
As if trying to choose between two words isn’t difficult enough for a learner, sometimes the choice is out of three! Take “to, too or two,” for example. “Two” is the easier one to eliminate, because it is the word for the number 2. “Too” means excessively or additionally i.e. “the bag was too heavy.” For every other use, “to” is correct.
“Whose” and “who’s” also cause problems for the unwary. “Who’s” is a contraction with the apostrophe substituting for the letter “i” as in “who is”. “Whose” is a possessive pronoun indicating ownership i.e. “Whose key is this?” These few examples illustrate the struggles new learners have with English. To succeed academically and in the higher levels of employment, engaging a personal tutor is the best investment a person can make to get a solid command of both spoken and written English.
These were only a few examples. There are hundreds more, and along with correct spelling, grammar and the ability to use words in their correct context, are key indicators to the skill level of a person using the English language. Assistance is available from personal tutors, to speak and write English to the level required for success in the workplace and community.