Learning a foreign language has been common in American high schools for quite some time. I had always been drawn to the Spanish language. But then again, I’m drawn to all languages as well as the concept of language itself.
When I was in middle school, many of my fellow students did not see the value in learning a foreign language. We were suburban, middle-class Americans in the Midwest, specifically, suburban Detroit. There was zero need for Spanish. And while Canada was so close that we’d forget it was foreign country, Québec was too far away for French to be of any value. So, people flipped a coin to decide if they should take two years of French or two years of Spanish. But little did they know that among the “bonjour”s and “hola”s, they would end up learning about their own native American English.
That’s right; I’ve learned more about my own native language by studying a foreign language. The first thing that smacked me over the head was tenses. I thought there were three: past, present and future. Turns out there are actually about 15 of the them and those so-called helping verbs and modals (could, would, should…) are actually changing the tense. I had no idea just how many irregular, past tense verbs we had in English until one student complained of having to memorize 15 irregulars and the teacher demonstrated that English had over 200.
Plurals! Spanish has two rules either add an “s” to a consonant or add an “es” to vowels. This is the opposite of English. English also has 8 or so rules, and rarely do they make any sense.
American English is a hybrid language. We’ve stolen words from other languages. We’ve changed the spelling or meaning of stolen words. We’ve applied our own plural rules. We’ve kept their plural rules. We don’t pluralize “fish”. The plural of box is boxes; however, the plural of ox is oxen. Media and data are actually plural words— the singular forms are medium and datum. And don’t even get me started on pronunciation…
How in the world do you even begin to explain this insanely complicated language to someone who can maybe sing along to the latest pop song or can watch a Hollywood movie in the theater with subtitles? You can’t, at least, not without help.
Enter in Master the Basics: English (For students of English as a Second Language). Although the term English as a Second Language (ESL) has become out-of-date in favor of the more accurate English Language Learner (ELL), the book will work for anyone studying English. English is my native language and I still find it helpful. Master the Basics: English is written by Jean Yates and published by Barron’s. It retails for $14.99. It is also available on Google Books for free.
I could go on and on about how well-written it is for ELL learners. Several tutoring students I’ve taught who were at varying degrees of English proficiency could read and understand this book. It is simplistic. There aren’t colorful, distracting boxes and pictures competing for your attention. There is one accent color—red—to aid in comprehension. There are two tests, a pre-and post-test that are aligned with section numbers and skills to help the student know what particular grammar areas need to be focused on.
What I really, really love about this book is how helpful it can be to struggling students who natively speak English. Master the Basics is a reference guide. Pages 30-31 have all 8 plural rules together in a quick reference format. There is a list of why the rules are what they are and how to apply them. The book has a lot of why explanations. Many students who struggle in school don’t struggle because they do not know how do something, rather they don’t know why. Some people need that “why?” answer in order to engage certain sections of their brain.
The book’s preposition section contains graphical representations for common prepositions. How do you explain what “behind” means? The book shows the explanation with two simple chairs, ABC labels and arrows. It also writes a sentence next to the graphic to help further understanding. There are pages and pages of definitions for verbs with prepositions. For example, what is the difference between “listening to” and “listening with?” This book can explain that.
What is the difference between “say” and “tell?” How do you know when you use “say” and when you use “tell”? For many native English speakers, the answer is, “I just know.” What’s even more problematic is that many native speakers cannot explain the difference to an ELL student. For example, when Pedro says, “…and he says me…” and his new friend Johnny corrects him, “No no, it’s ‘..and he tells me’…”. Pedro wants to know why he made the mistake. Unfortunately, Johnny has no idea why it’s “tell” instead of “say”. He just knows it’s wrong.
This book gives native speakers the quick answers to explain to ELL friends why their grammar is wrong. This book gives teachers quick answers to explain to their diverse learners (thus, increasing classroom efficiency). This book is cost-effective. This book doesn’t look like an English textbook, nor does it look like English for Dummies®. It’s a quick-reference, to-the-point, English essentials book that will teach anyone something he or she did not know about English.
If you haven’t guessed already, I HIGHLY recommend this book.