Let’s first explore what it means to “learn everything about English”.
Learning everything about any language means:
- Developing a strong vocabulary in the language
- Knowing how to spell words correctly
- Knowing all the grammar rules and understanding when to apply them
- Knowing all the differences between the written and spoken forms of the language
- Knowing how to use punctuation correctly when writing and how to express punctuation when speaking
- Knowing how to pronounce words correctly
Let’s review some of the points above in relation to the English language.
1. Developing a strong vocabulary in the language
A strong English vocabulary can be built through extensive reading. Contrary to popular belief, memorizing a dictionary would generally not help much, because unless a word is seen in the context of a sentence, it would be difficult to remember it and know how to actually use it.
The challenge with English is that some words can mean several different things.
- “Ace” can mean to do something exceptionally well or it can also refer to a specific card in a deck of playing cards.
- “Amber” can refer to a colour or to resin
- “Bomb” can mean an explosive device or it can mean something failed terribly. It can also mean something went extremely well.
- “Boot” can refer to footwear or to a part of a car.
- “Brilliant” can refer to the intensity of light or the intellectual genius of an individual
This list can go on, nearly endlessly.
Authors are coming up with creative ways to use words all the time. Moreover, when used in the right context – words can take on totally unexpected meanings, i.e., “John anchored his job in the company for another 2 years by taking on leadership of the complicated project”
A thesaurus would definitely help, but a reader usually has to glean the intended meanings of the words used from the context of the passage itself.
New words also get invented frequently; often starting out as trending phrases that get adopted into formal use over time. For example, words like “bling” and “bromance” have been finding their way into dictionaries recently.
So can someone develop an exhaustive vocabulary in the English language? Not unless he or she makes a ridiculously great effort to learn all the words in existence first, then continues that ridiculous effort to learn all the new words that get invented over time. He or she would also have to be exceptionally well read in order to know how all those words can be used and what meanings can be attached to them.
2. Knowing how to spell words correctly
The correct spelling of a word can often depend on the kind of English being used.
Oh yes, there are different kinds of English, let me name just a few:
- British English
- American English
- Australian English
- Indian Standard English
- Scottish English
- Canadian English
Like the earlier list, this list also goes on endlessly.
You may have also realized that the spellings of words in the Bible or works by Shakespeare are quite different from what you may see in books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “The Da Vinci Code”.
Can you possibly learn how every word is spelt in every type of English?
Again the answer to this question starts with “Not without ridiculous effort…“.
3. Knowing all the grammar rules and understanding when to apply them
Grammar organizes a language. Since there are so many variations of the English language, it comes as no surprise that each variation of the English language has its own set of grammar rules.
Some good news here is that the grammar rules between American and British English (the two major standards of English) do not vary so much as to cause any significant confusion for speakers of either.
A large majority of native English speakers also speak and write perfectly well, without knowing most grammar rules.
Much like the use of words and their meanings, grammar rules are being re-invented and bent every day by authors who are starting to care less about tradition and more about language evolution.
So how does someone develop an intuitive understanding of what is “correct” grammar?
How does someone also remember the countless exclusions and exceptions attached to nearly every grammar rule in existence?
The answer is simple – extensive exposure to language.
In order for someone to develop an accurate yet intuitive feel for correct grammar, he or she must have spent a considerable amount of time reading and listening to the English language being used. Without this exposure, an intuitive understanding of the grammar of language cannot be developed.
4. Knowing all the differences between the written and spoken forms of the language
Spoken language is known as colloquial language.
There is a reason that the spoken forms of languages have been given that specific label – because there are differences between the written and spoken forms of any language and English is no exception.
In order to learn everything about the English language, someone would have to learn all the spoken forms of the language, understand all the nuances of these spoken forms, make-out the differences between accents and finally learn how to formally and accurately represent colloquial English in written speech, so that the meanings of phrases are not lost.
There are also regional and cultural differences to spoken forms of English that the learner would have to constantly be aware of.
It is precisely because of this reason that an English speaker in Thailand may not be able to fully understand what an English speaker in South Korea is trying to say. Both these individuals may be speaking perfectly acceptable colloquial English in their native countries, but when these versions of English meet, a significant amount of “content” can end up getting lost due to regional and cultural differences between the two individuals and the way they speak.
5. Punctuation & Pronunciation
By this time, it should come as no surprise to you that punctuation and pronunciation can have different norms and rules depending on what kind of English you are trying to teach or learn.
Again, these rules are also changing with the times and being constantly re-invented. So keeping up to date with these changes will require significant effort and passion on the part of the individual who “wants to learn everything” about the English language.
Learning English in all its forms is a full-time effort and an unlikely task that the average man or woman (or child) is likely to succeed in.
Nonetheless, it is very well within the abilities of most people to develop an excellent command of English in at least 2 of its standard forms (whichever 2 you may pick). By at least developing an excellent command of English in the standard form that is native to the region of the learner, the learner will then have a starting point to leverage off learning other forms of English, should the need arise in future. Despite there being so many differences in the various forms of standard English, all speakers of English are usually able to understand each other; although not always at 100%.
As often repeated in this article, the key to mastery of English – is extensive exposure to the language.
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