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Why does English sound like an upper class language for ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, March 28th, 2019)


When it comes to learning English as a second language (ESL), it seems as though it is not only the difficulty of it that creates a barrier for people, but also there seems to be the notion of social class attached to the language, as many people have varying degrees of proficiency and speak in different tones and accents, generating different social impressions, with some considered as more prestigious than others. Even among our own friends and relatives, we may often hear English words inserted within their conversation, as if uttering them can help display a person’s social class and intellect. But for our mother tongue Chinese language, it seems as though the notion of social class is not so conspicuous to the point where people would want to acquire a certain accent in order to achieve a similar effect. So if English is the only language that provides me the opportunity to enter a world of social hierarchy, does that mean I am never able to raise my social class if I am not able to speak English well?

The reality of speaking English is that most people can already tell a lot about you from the way you speak it, such as where you have lived before, what kind of culture you grew up with, or even what kind of house you live in! But for our native language Chinese, it is not as noticeable because unlike English, we do not have vowels that can sound very different, depending on where a person comes from. For example, the vowel ‘a’ in ‘awesome’ sounds very different in American English than it is pronounced in British English. In fact, the vowels in English are the most difficult to master for ESL learners. However, English does allow people to have a lot of room for mistakes or mispronunciation, which is why most people can still understand you if you only have a basic grasp of English.

But isn’t it really awesome that English is so accommodating that we don’t have to make the effort to speak so standardly most of the time? When foreigners learn our mother tongue language Cantonese, it’s so much more difficult for them because it’s either they get the pronunciations correct or incorrect, with almost no room in between for mistakes that are acceptable. Even for people who are living on the same continent as us, such as people from mainland China, Cantonese is still very difficult for them because of the number of tones in Cantonese - nine compared to four in Mandarin. What makes it even more difficult is that Cantonese has these abrupt consonants at the end of a character called stops (入聲) or checked syllables. In essence, it's as if we do not much room for outsiders to learn our language, as mispronunciations in Cantonese, such as pronouncing the tone of a character wrong, can result in words having a different meaning, leading to misunderstandings for the listener. So let us imagine for a while that if English were a language like Cantonese, how much more frustrated would we be when we are learning it?

But after all, once we have grown up and got ourselves to working life, it’s extremely difficult to allocate time to learn something unless we have to. Apart from the major factor of difficulty, learning a language also involves a person’s inclination, such as emotional attachment and cultural preferences, as people often find it much easier to talk comfortably and make jokes in their native tongue than in a foreign language. Moreover, language constitutes a huge part of our identity, and even if there are class differences between languages, we may just find it a lot more natural to talk in a language that belongs to us than any other language. In the end, speaking a language is about being true to who we are at heart, and not trying to speak another language just for the sake of displaying to others your social status. But how shall we nurture the young people of our current generation to survive in this world that is becoming increasingly globalized and multicultural? Perhaps we can take it a step at a time, like climbing a ladder…




Updates


11/4/19

The English Riddles Quiz for ESL Learners! is now LIVE! Enjoy doing English riddles with vivid visual aids!


28/3/19

The Hong Kong Cantonese Order Food Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Learn how to order food in Cantonese using this quiz!


21/3/19

The Hong Kong Taxi Cantonese Phrases Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Learn how to say useful Cantonese phrases while taking a taxi in Hong Kong by doing this quiz!


21/3/19

The Cantonese Tones Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Have a good knowledge of all the tones in Cantonese by doing this quiz!


19/3/19

The Hong Kong Popular Places Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! You may make use of my audio recordings in this quiz if you have trouble getting around in Hong Kong!


12/2/19

The Hong Kong Noodles Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Try this quiz to find out how Chinese characters are put together to form phrases!


5/2/19

The Chinese version for The Cantonese Vocabulary Origin Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! The Cantonese Food Quiz for Foreigners! is now also refurbished with new photos and difficulty adjusted!


4/2/19

The Cantonese Vocabulary Origin Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Enjoy playing and have a great Chinese New Year, everyone!


29/12/18

The Cantonese Street Food Quiz for Foreigners! is now refurbished to fit the mobile platform.


28/12/18

Some language quizzes for foreigners are now translated into Chinese for the Chinese audience! Feel free to go to the Chinese version of this website!


17/12/18

你熟悉多少英文慣用語呢? is now LIVE! Have fun trying out this Chinese version of the English Idioms Quiz for ESL Learners!


17/12/18

The English Idioms Quiz for ESL Learners! is now LIVE! You may now enjoy becoming familiar with common English idioms!


9/12/18

This website has now transitioned into a blog! Stay tuned for English-learning blog entries!


16/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 4 is now LIVE! Check them out at the Utilities section!


9/6/18

All the presentation slides for The Fake ABC Book Club are now moved to the Utilities section!!! Descriptions are also added for those who missed any week's slides!!


8/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 3 is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


2/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 2 is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


28/5/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


18/5/18

How different is Ready Player One in the novel? is now LIVE!!! People who haven't read the book but still want to read the book should do this quiz!


11/5/18

Mega Explorer is back!!! The Games page is now remade in image grid view with captions for people who are new to them! Also, the quiz How Hong Kong are you? is now LIVE!!! Image source links are now included not only due to copyright, but also for people who want to know where the images came from! Enjoy browsing those links where you can read many interesting news articles!


31/1/18

Newly added Videos Section!!! It is still under construction, but there should be many videos for people to watch soon.


16/1/18

How fast is your Cantonese? is now LIVE!!! Cantonese people are also welcome to look at this quiz!


15/1/18

The Face Matcher (beta) (15/1/18) is now LIVE!!! However, accounts and passwords are only given out in private.


9/1/18

你是什麼思想的人? is now LIVE!!! Check out the number of votes for each famous person at the end of the quiz!!!


14/12/17

你到底是個廣東人嗎? II is now LIVE!!! More challenge for native Cantonese speakers!!!


22/11/17

你到底是個廣東人嗎? is now LIVE!!! Native Cantonese speakers can now challenge themselves by playing this game!!!


22/11/17

Added Comments section for Mega Explorer. You may now go there to leave your comments on this website!!!


21/11/17

The Korean Hangman Game for FOB's!!! and The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Foreigners II !!! are now LIVE!!!


18/11/17

The Cantonese Numbers Quiz for FOB's!!! is now LIVE!!!


11/11/17

"The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Intermediate Foreigners" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out!


20/10/17

"The Multifaceted Jukebox (beta)" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out or find it in the tutorials section!!!


15/10/17

"The Ultimate Face Manipulator" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out!!!


11/10/17

"The Anonymous Freedom Chatroom" is now LIVE!! Click here to check them out!!!


8/10/17

"The Classic API Tester is now LIVE!! Click here to check it out now!


4/10/17

"The Golden Data Retriever is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out now!


19/9/17

"The Ultimate Dragonball Text Battle: Goku vs Cell" and "The Unreal Monster Killing" are now LIVE! Head to the Games section here to check them out!


17/9/17

"The Ultimate Testing Machine for Javascript Methods" is now LIVE! Click here to check it!


6/9/17

"The Articles section is now updated with my work of art! Click here to play it or find it in the Games section right now!


5/8/17

"The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Foreigners!!!" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or find it in the Games section right now!


26/7/17

"How High Class Are You?" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or find it there in the Games section!


19/7/17

"The Asian Food Quiz for Experts!!!" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or head to the Games section to find it now!


10/7/17

My About Me page is now done! Click here or use the navigation above to check it out! It should now give people a better idea of what this website is about. Different levels are also added in the Games Section, but the content is still empty from Level 1 to 4.


26/3/17

"The Cantonese Street Food Quiz for Foreigners!" is now LIVE! Click here or find it in the Games section!


21/2/17

"你是否一位電車男?" is now LIVE! Click here or check it out in the Games section!


2/1/17

"The Cantonese Food Quiz for Foreigners!!!" is now LIVE! Click here or go to the Games section to play it.



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