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是什么阻碍了你攀登英语语言学习高峰的追求

2018-06-28 18:02

来源:经济学人

作者:

  When I taught English in the Greek port of Piraeus, a colleague and I used to spend idle time in the staff room speculating on what the hardest language in the world might look like. Perhaps there would be different verb endings for each day of the week. Or possibly the form of address might vary according to the height of the person you were talking to.

  在希腊港口城市比雷埃夫斯(Piraeus)教英语时,我和一位同事常在办公室里闲聊,猜测世界上最难的语言会难在哪里。这种语言也许一周里每天的动词词尾都不同。又或者称谓会因谈话对象的身份高低而变化。

  The idea of a hardest language is, of course, nonsense. How difficult a language is depends on your starting point. As Guy Deutscher wrote in his stimulating book Through the Language Glass: “Swedish is a doddle — if you happen to be Norwegian, and so is Spanish if you are Italian.” Both Swedish and Spanish are harder for English speakers, although not nearly as hard as Arabic, which, in turn, is less difficult if your mother tongue is Hebrew, as Deutscher’s is.

  当然,所谓“最难语言”的想法是无稽之谈。语言的难度取决于你的起点。盖伊多伊彻(Guy Deutscher)在他有趣的著作《话/镜:世界因语言而不同》(Through the Language Glass)中写道:“瑞典语很简单——如果你正巧是挪威人,同样,如果你是意大利人那西班牙语也不难学。”对讲英语的人来说,瑞典语和西班牙语都很难,虽然比不上阿拉伯语那么难。但如果和多伊彻一样,你的母语是希伯来语,那阿拉伯语也不难学。

  How complex is English? The thought arose after watching French president Emmanuel Macron fielding questions during his joint press conference with Donald Trump and after reading the Economist interview with Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman.

  英语有多难?在看了法国总统埃马纽埃尔马克龙(Emmanuel Macron)在与唐纳德特朗普(Donald Trump)联合召开的记者会上回答提问的环节、以及英国《经济学人》对英国石油(BP)董事长思文凯(Carl-Henric Svanberg)的采访后,我想到了这个问题。

  Mr Macron’s answers to the US press corps in English were hugely impressive. With no script, he skilfully evaded any diplomatic foul-ups. Mr Svanberg, who is Swedish, recalled, on the other hand, how a White House encounter went wrong. Speaking to journalists after a meeting with Barack Obama during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010, Mr Svanberg had the press pack yelling in fury after he said of BP: “We care about the small people.”

  马克龙用英语回答美国记者的提问令人印象深刻。没有稿子,他巧妙地避开了一切外交上的疏漏。另一方面,瑞典人思文凯回忆起在白宫的一次记者会如何出了问题。2010年,在深水地平线钻井平台(Deepwater Horizon)泄油事故期间,思文凯与巴拉克奥巴马(Barack Obama)会晤后对记者们发表讲话。在他谈完英国石油公司后,记者们纷纷怒喊:“我们关心的是老百姓。”

  “I was supposed to take a couple of questions but ended up taking six and it was the last one which got me,” Mr Svanberg said, reflecting on the perils of speaking in a second language.

  “我本来只要回答两三个问题,但最后一共答了6个,还被最后一个问题问住了,“思文凯说,他反思了用一门外语说话的危险。

  If it is challenging for a Swede to speak English, how much harder must it be for a speaker of an unrelated language such as Japanese or Turkish?

  如果让一个瑞典人说英语很有挑战性,那么对于一个讲日语或土耳其语这样和英语毫不相关的语言的人来说,让他讲英语又要比瑞典人难多少呢?

  At first glance, English looks an easy language to learn. Anything that is not obviously male or female is “it”. There is no need to worry about the gender of “phone” or “stapler” or “stupidity”.

  乍一看,学英语似乎比较容易。任何没有明显性别的事物都可以用“it”指代。没必要考虑“电话(phone)”、“订书机(stapler)”或“愚蠢(stupidity)”的性别。

  Adjectives remain the same regardless of the gender of the associated noun: a brave woman, a brave man, a brave new world. Apart from the -s in the third person singular present tense (“she sings”), verbs do not change, no matter what their subject is (“he ran”, “they ran”).

  不论所要形容的名词的性别是什么,形容词都没有变化:一个勇敢的女人、一个勇敢的男人、一个勇敢的新世界。除了现在时中的第三人称单数要加“s”之外(“她唱歌”(she sings)),动词也没有变化,不管主语是什么(“他跑”(he ran)、“他们跑”(they ran))。

  The word “friend” remains the same whether you say “he’s my friend”, “hello, my friend”, “I kicked my friend” or “it’s the house of my friend”. In Greek, as I discovered in my Piraeus days, these require an array of noun endings, which differ depending on the gender of the friend.

  无论你说“他是我的朋友”、“你好,我的朋友”、“我踢了我的朋友”、还是“这是我朋友的家”,“朋友”这个词都没有变化。在希腊语中,正如我在比雷埃夫斯时发现的那样,根据朋友性别的不同,这些句子中名词结尾都需要变化。

  But there are aspects of English that are devilishly complex. The spelling fails to provide consistent guidance to pronunciation. Consider “cough”, “through”, “bough”, “though” and “hiccough”.

  但英语有些方面非常复杂。拼写并不能为发音提供一致的指导。想想这些词:“咳嗽(cough)”、“通过(through)”、“树枝(bough)”、“尽管(though)”和“打嗝(hiccough)”。

  There are the irregular past tenses: arose, became, fell, swore, and many more.

  还有不规则动词的过去时态:出现(arose)、变成(became)、倒下(fell)、咒骂(swore)等等。

  There are also phrasal verbs — verbs followed by prepositions, with wild swings in meaning. Learners have every right to feel put out when they put up someone for the night, only to discover that they can’t put up with them. They may want to put off learning English for another time.

  还有动词短语——动词跟介词搭配,能变化出广泛的意义。在留宿(put up)某位朋友后,发现自己根本受不了(put up with)对方,这时学习者完全有理由感到厌烦(put out)。他们可能会将学英语的计划推迟(put off)。

  Some researchers have found that native speakers of Germanic languages, which also have phrasal verbs, find the English versions easier to master, but that Chinese learners of English do everything they can to avoid them.

  一些研究人员发现,由于德语中也有动词短语,所以母语为德语的人会觉得英语中的动词短语比较容易掌握,但中国的英语学习者们则对动词短语唯恐避之不及。

  As English is the unchallenged language of business and politics, those who want to rise to the top jobs have no choice but to overcome these obstacles. If, as a non-native speaker, you manage to read the Economist or FT, you are among the most impressive of the lot — and will have your own views on what makes English easy or hard.

  由于英语在商业与政治领域的地位毋庸置疑,所以那些想要走上事业巅峰的人唯有攻克学习它的障碍。如果你的母语不是英语,却能读英国《金融时报》或者《经济学人》,那你的英语水平在同类人中已经很了不起了——而且对于英语的难易之处你也会有自己的见解。

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