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‘Actual English’ Helps Foreign Learners Think like a Native Speaker
Language learning depends on thinking like a native speaker. Many grammar books ignore this fact. Actual English, by a multilingual journalist (Wall Street Journal) puts thinking like a native speaker right up front where it belongs.
By: Philip A. Yaffe
“The problem is, most grammar books are written by grammarians for grammarians. They concentrate on how the language works rather than on how native speaker think about language when they actually use it. This makes the already difficult task of learning another language much more difficult than it really needs to be,” says Philip A. Yaffe.
His new book Actual English: English Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use It seeks to remedy the problem.
Philip Yaffe is a multilingual American living in Brussels, Belgium. During his 40-year career, he has been as a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, a teacher of journalism, and marketing communication director for the European subsidiaries of two major industrial companies. He is also the author of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional and its companion volume The Gettysburg Collection.
“English is objectively one of the easiest of the world’s major languages to learn because it lacks many of the complications common in many other languages. Nevertheless, even I sometimes shudder at the sight of an English grammar book, wondering how anyone could possibly master it all,” he says.
To ease the way, Actual English looks at grammar from an entirely new point of view by dividing it into three distinct categories.
• Foundational Grammar examines the very essence of how words go together to expand meaning.
• “Explicative Grammar” examines how different types of words (the parts of speech) can be used to refine meaning.
• “Decorative Grammar” explores the aspects of grammar that characterize a language, but which add nothing to meaning, such as noun genders, concordance of articles and adjectives, redundant plurals, odd spellings, homophones, etc.
“This tripartheid way of looking at grammar is designed to help the learner set priorities in order to concentrate on those aspects of the language that are crucial, leaving aspects of lesser importance for later in the process,” Mr. Yaffe explains.
Another thing conventional grammar books do is to enunciate a rule, then list 5-10 exceptions that must be memorized. However, looked at properly, many of these so-called exceptions do follow the rule, or come closer to following it than their formal grammatical description might suggest,” Mr. Yaffe says.
Exceptions are a principal factor that makes learning a language difficult. Therefore, the book is liberally sprinkled with sections separating false exceptions from real ones, thereby making make the task considerably easier.
The fourth chapter Actual English is devoted to Particularities, i.e. things that make English distinctively different from most other European languages.
For example in the sentence “If someone studies hard, they will succeed,” the word “someone” is singular while “they” is clearly plural, which seems illogical.
“We do this in English to avoid genderism, i.e. saying “he” when we mean both male and female, or constantly saying he and she. We also use the plural possessive adjective their when we mean both male and female in order to avoid using the gender-tinged single possessive his. Due to their basic structure, in many other languages, the problem of simple does not exist,” Mr. Yaffe explains.
The final chapter of the book is a Ready Reference which offers a brief glossary of grammatical terms, some basic principles of punctuation, formation of the principal tenses of regular verbs, some common irregular verbs, and other helpful hints.
“Actual English makes no pretence at replacing more formal English grammars,” Mr. Yaffe insists. “For one thing, it is nowhere as near complete and detailed. Rather, it serves as an introduction to these more formal grammars by helping the learner better get into the mind of a native speaker.
“It is only when you truly begin to think like an English speaker that many of its apparently arcane rules begin to make sense, and so become easier to remember and use,” he concludes.
Actual English is available in digital form for use on electronic readers from Amazon and partner websites.
Philip Yaffe was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles. In 1965 he graduated in mathematics from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), where he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA's daily student newspaper.
Mr. Yaffe has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. Contact: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Philip Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal and an international marketing communication consultant living in Brussels, Belgium. He is the author of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional and The Gettysburg Collection. His latest book is Actual English: English Grammar as Native Speakers Really Use it.