non-native speakers who speak better english than native ones??!!

Joe   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 21:02 GMT
Everyone in the United States speaks English with a variation that I guess would be considered slight compared to the ways various people in Britain speak, depending on where they're from. Sure, you may have someone call it pop in the midwest and soda in the northeast, or a Southerner may say y'all, but it's all relatively the same.

I think it's unfair to classify the way we speak as not being proper English. We have a totally different accent. By that account, you would have to accuse Canadians of not speaking proper English either, because the differentiation between a Canadian and American accent, especially one from around Minnesota or Michigan, is very slight. But then accents vary throughout Canada as well.
Nathan Field   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 21:10 GMT

I come from the English Midlands and can assure you that nobody speaks like this: "Ah bay sid im fo'ears."

I am also an English teacher and can assure you that the concept of the standard is still one that very few people seem able to reach a consensus on. None of my colleagues in the teaching profession seem to know what it is, and if you do a little bit of research, you will soon find out that even linguists like Peter Trudgill et al are unsure what standard English means.
AlFA   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 21:35 GMT
"Non-native speakers who speak better english than native ones??!!"

First of all, what do you mean by "Better English"?, well , if you want me to understand you, you'll have to explain me what good English is, and when that happens my friend, you are going to find yourself on the ropes.

Can you define Good english?
Can correctness be measured?

English is somewhat like music,
Can you prove that Steve Vai (famous guitarist) is a better guitarrist than John Petrucci (another famous guitarist) ?No, you can't.

Why? Because you can say Steve is faster, you can say he has more melody, he's more creative , you can say whatever you want , but, there's no possible way you prove me that one is better than the other. Because correctness isn't objective, correctness is subjective , correctness CANNOT BE MEASURED,

Have you ever heard someone say " Red is better than green" or " 3 is more correct than 5"?
No, but you've probably heard, i like red better than green and 3 is less than 5.

The same thing happens with language, you can't tell me that Britons speak better english than Americans, how are you going to prove it?,but on then other hand you do can say that TO YOUR EARS british English sounds more educated and intellectual than american English, but, here's the question,
How is more educated and intellectual better? maybe it is for you, but maybe i want to sound more casual and relax, maybe educated and precise is NOT GOOD for me, maybe sometimes it's even anoying, maybe.

Joe : "Believe what most of us mean is, as native speakers of the language we pick up all the slang and abuses of the language. "

Slang is a important part of any language, so how can you say that picking up the local slang makes you a bad speaker,it doesn't , it makes you NORMAL.

Margaret : "There are two kinds of 'good English': one is when you sound like the BBC, that is, like most of us 'expect' English to be spoken;

Who are "us"?
How do you know the way everybody expects English to be spoken.

"The other is when you say something and your meaning is clear to your listener"

Ok, so , according to you there's no bad English, because someone's english is always going to be understood by the people that share the same city, and most of the time, the same country. I can perfectly understand american English, but i frequently have problems when I listen somebody from U.K. talk, i understand most of the ideas they try to express, but i miss a lot of words, so according to your "theory" brinton English is incorrect.

In my opinion it's well-know that ESL students in many occasions have a better grammar than natives, but you cannot say that because they English is more correct gramatically it's better English.
Crab Bloke   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 22:07 GMT
I used to have a mate called Sam Handwich. He worked in a snack food kiosk and was eaten alive due to a tragic Spoonerism.

I am interested to know if anyone else has had any friends killed due to this kind of linguistic error
AIFA   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 22:28 GMT
No, you're right, I have to agree. Especially when I consider all the people who think Americans speak "bad" English because we don't speak it with an RP accent and use different terminology than British English.

Slang is one of the most interesting parts of language. It's not always something you WANT to learn, but it makes your conversation sound very casual and normal, you're right. Everyone speaks slang in their native language, and maybe in a foreign language if they learned it a certain way.

I think actually what I'm more of a proponent of is written English over spoken English. I speak totally different from how I write. I always enjoyed the difference between speech and written language.

People that talk like how they write scare me. There are some people who talk without using contractions and try and pretend they have no accent, usually to impress people and make them think they're smarter. I say be proud of your accent, it's who you are.

Aside from English, there are so many variations of any language, I think that it's hard to get a standard other than what people consider the most widely understood form. Like Hochdeutsch for German, for example.
Joe   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 22:29 GMT
Oops, I meant to put my name in the above. LOL I wrote that /\

Sorry AIFA, I meant to put your name first in the message as acknowledgement. :)
Peter   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 07:28 GMT
I do come from the Midlands (the Black Country to be precise) and there definitely are people who speak like this - admittedly among the older population. I didn't read about this in a book; I am quoting directly from my Grandmother! This was to make a point. I am not suggesting that everybody speaks like this, but it is blatently obvious that regional variations in Britain are enormous, in aprticualr when compared to France for example, where I now live. Dialects are relatively rare - I lived for a long time in Paris and now live in Nice and for the most part the people speak the same, even though they are 800km apart. In Britain I have lived in the Midlands, Wales and Somerset and the differences are quite enormous, although the geographical distance is far less.

And I don't think anybody anywhere is suggesting that we teach Black Country dialect or Somerset dialect in school or that we hear it spoken on the BBC.

I don't think that any of these dialects are in any way inferior, in the same way that French patois is not. They however have the disadvantage of not being understood outside of relatively small geographical areas.

There exists standard British English, which is different from standard American English and when learning English many make this choice. Nothing wrong with that.

But there have to be standards and norms otherwise teaching and ths learning the langauge becomes impossible. The speaker or writer will be perceived by the educated and non-educated alike as speaking or writing incorrectly. There are of course variations that are allowed, while some are certainly not.

Correctness can be measured against conventions that have been built up over time. Without them dictionaries or grammar books would be useless, even impossible to compile. These of course change and linguists study usage to offically recognise changes when they become wide spread. In the meantime, certain usage will give a bad impression to the listener/reader and even worse may lead to confusion, miscomprehension and even tension between those trying to communicate.

Nothing is cut and dried. The debate is open. But not everything goes. A distinction has to be made between private and public use. Most people would not use the same language to write an email as for a formal job application (they certainly wouldn't get a job if they did) and the same applies when discussing privately with friends (although the rules of grammar still apply to a greater or lesser extent) or giving a formal presentation. Nuance is needed when approaching this subject.
Peter   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 07:46 GMT
As for standard English, I take your point, but as a translator, all hell woulod be let loose if I transgressed certain rules. I would have the client on the phone screaming before I could blink. All I am saying is that are certain untouchables, or best avoidables, and other elements are open to debate. I appreciate the job of teaching English is a challenging one, but I am sure that you certain correct things and let other pass. I see no problem with that. But no standard at all is the danger, leading to a breakdown in communication. Like I said, judgement, subtlety and debate. Nothing is static, thankfully: language evolves, but without rules, as you well know, making up a form of standard, no teaching would be possible!
Peter   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 07:48 GMT
And excuse the mistakes !! Not intentional I might add.
Must get back to work and stop chatting away. Happy debating!
vincent   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 08:00 GMT
to peter,
people from nice traditionnally don't speak french but the "niçard" dialect of occitan language and i can assure you that even the french-only speakers from this region have for us - parisians - a strong southern accent, for example they pronounce all the schwas that we drop in northern france and instead o f saying "du pain" they'll pronounce "du païnn'"
Peter   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 08:17 GMT
Le Niçard se parle presque plus, du moins parmi les jeunes. Ils ne le comprendraient même pas à part quelques mots. La plupart des gens, mes collègues, des commerçants n'ont pas un accent très fort. J'habite en France depuis 10 ans et je n'ai pas besoin de leçons ! Si on parlait de Marseille je serais d'accord, mais la plupart des gens ici on très peu d'accent. Faudrait que vous veniez ici pour écouter un peu. Et croyez moi, la différence d'accent (pour la plupart des gens) est minime comparée aux différences qui existent en Grande Bretagne!

Niçard is hardly spoken any more, at least among young people. They would not even understand any more than a few words. Most people, inlcluding my colleagues, shopkeepers and so on have little or no accent. I have been living in France for 10 years and need no lessons on this matter. If, we were speaking about Marseille I would agree, but most people here have very little accent. You should come here and listen for yourself! And believe me, the differences in accent (for most people) are minimal compared to the differences in Britain.
Sanja   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 14:44 GMT
"Because correctness isn't objective, correctness is subjective , correctness CANNOT BE MEASURED"

I disagree. Of course correctness is objective and it can be measured. By the way, in my experience most non-native English speakers are definitely
better at grammar and spelling than the native speakers.
Damian   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 15:55 GMT
<<in my experience most non-native English speakers are definitely better at grammar and spelling than the native speakers.>>


I suspect you don't realise how true that statement is (speaking from a UK viewpoint anyway). Spoken English at base level among us natives is precisely that.....base. Speaking generally of course...some people are worse than all depends on circumstances. I can't deny guilt myself. In here I try to use correct grammar and perfect spelling (any errors are usually due to typing speed and undue other words...utter carelessness. We tend to use different language use in different situations...I would not speak the same way with my friends as I would, say, at a job interview or at any formal occasion.

Double negatives are commonplace, such as: "I don't know nothing" to quote just one example. I'm never guilty of that whatever the situation.

Currently on British TV the Great British Spelling Test is being organised, to test our level of spelling ability in a language with such irregular spelling...nightmarish for many people, even natives judging by the number of fairly commonly used words which are so often mis-spelt eg:
separate receive liaison February embarrass...etc etc

Radio Times quote:

Starting on ITV3 here Wednesday 20 Oct 04 21:00hrs UK time.
In the ultimate test of the nation's spelling power, viewers are encouraged to take part in a live interactive show that pits men against women. During the course of the show, hosts will introduce 50 spelling conundrums. Viewers can play along, and be in with a chance of winning £10,000 by pre-registering (on the first link shown above - spellingtest). As well as literacy tips and handy exercises from the experts, there's also a light-hearted look at embarrassing - and sometimes costly - spelling mistakes, including the lady with the incorrectly spelt Kelly Holmes tattoo and the misprinted Crystal Palace football shirts which cost a fortune to amend! Also the man who boasted on his election literature that he was the people's fiend.
AIFA   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 16:19 GMT
Sanja "I disagree. Of course correctness is objective and it can be measured. By the way, in my experience most non-native English speakers are definitely
better at grammar and spelling than the native speakers."

Correctness is subjective because what's correct for you might not be correct for me. There's no unit of measure for correctness . You might talk about grammatical correctness, which is totally acceptable, but there's no such a thing as objective correctness, here's an example:

"Is it more correct the british pronunciation of the word "MATTER" or the american one?" so i could say either one is and there's no way that you prove me wrong , you can provide me with arguments, opinions, judgments but in the end you won't be able to SCIENTIFICALLY prove me wrong, and that's what matters.

Maybe you aren't that good at logic and it's hard for you to understand its basic concepts.
Sanja   Thursday, October 14, 2004, 17:31 GMT
Of course there is no correct and incorrect accent, but there certainly is correct and incorrect grammar, spelling, usage etc. and that is what I was talking about.