TEDxOakville – Judy Thompson – Three Secrets You Need to Know About Spoken English


Translator: berat güven
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Hi, my name is Judy Thompson, I teach English as a second language, and I love my job. Today, I’m going to talk about
what everyone needs to know about English. So, English is a tricky language; the letters and the sounds
don’t go together. So no one can read
r-e-d and h-e-a-d and s-a-i-d and guess from the spelling – and guess from the spelling that those words sound the same. So the connection between
letters and sounds in English is so loose native speakers like me,
people whose first language is English, very often have a difficult time
learning how to read, and ESL, people who are learning English, can often read very well and can’t speak. So, I’m going to share
with you three secrets today that 99% of English speakers
don’t know about English. And the first secret is specifically
for people learning English, it’s specifically for ESL. And the second secret
is for native speakers of English to help them communicate better. And the third secret is for everyone. And once you get, once you hear these three secrets
about how English works, it will transform your relationship
to English and your ability to communicate for the rest of your life. So let’s get started. So English is a stress-based language, and this is important for
non-native English speakers to know. It doesn’t mean very much, especially if you come from a language
that is a sound-based language. And most languages are sound-based, where each and every sound is important, and if you miss a sound
or you say something wrong, then the meaning is lost. English isn’t like this;
we don’t care about sounds at all. So if somebody said at work, you know,
“We are having a meeting on Vednesday,” everyone would show up
the day after Tuesday, or if they said, “When is your birfday?” you would just tell them
the day that [you] were born. We have tremendous
flexibility with accents; sounds just aren’t
that important in English. What is important in English is giving specific qualities
to specific syllables. And I will tell you a story. When my children were three and two, it was the first time we took them
to a restaurant for dinner, and the server asked the two-year-old “Honey, what would you like for dinner?” and she said “basghetti.” And the three-year-old,
who wanted the same meal, was incensed with the pronunciation, she says, “it’s not basghetti,”
she says, “it’s spasghetti.” (Laughter) And the waiter smiled, but no meaning was lost. So bas-GHE-tti, spas-GHE-tti, spa-GHE-tti, all mean the same thing
to a native speaker because the center syllable
was pronounced louder, longer and higher than the rest of the syllables. So if you are trying to learn
English as a second language, stop suffering about your accent,
“Oh, I am sorry for my accent,” don’t worry about your accent anymore, don’t worry about grammar anymore, you have one and only one responsibility, and it’s to get the stress right
in important words, and that will carry the day
and people will understand you. So the second point – Oh, wait a second! What town are we in right now? What town is this? (Audience) Oakville. It’s OAK-ville, exactly! “Okvill”? I don’t know what that is; it’s Punjabi or it’s Korean,
but it isn’t English. And “Oak-VILLE,” that would be French. So it is OAK-ville, and this country,
what country is this? (Audience) Canada. It’s CA-nada, exactly! Fantastic! And that’s the way stress works. Secret number two is for native speakers
of English, and it’s “linking,” and native speakers
don’t start words with vowels. We’re going to back up for a minute
because I’m a native speaker of English, and I’m going to tell you something
that I am embarrassed to say. I really – it’s my first language. The world’s business and science,
technology, commerce is all done in English. Learning English is not my problem; it’s their problem. This is what I really thought. I’m embarrassed to say this now,
but that’s what I really thought. Let me show you a picture of English in the world today. So, this is a circle that represents
all speakers of English. And the little blue part in the corner that’s the total
of native English speakers, so that is Australians
and Americans and Canadians, all together we form 350 million people. And as you can see, that’s the vast minority of people
speaking English in the world today. 1.5 billion people speak English
as a second or third or fourth language. And I am still thinking, “So what? That’s my language
that they’re after.” This means most conversations
happen in the world today between two non-native speakers, and they understand each other perfectly. So yes! China buys her coffee
from Colombia in English. And yes, Italy buys – Finland buys marble or water from Italy, and they use English, but it’s not the English
that I am speaking. The pressure of 1.5 billion people
learning this language was – they changed it; they changed it. They changed it so much they can understand each other
and they can’t understand me. So, now I see how it’s my problem that more than 80% of the people
who speak English in the world today can’t understand me. They can’t understand me for two reasons,
and the first one is “linking.” So, linking is the phenomenon of
speaking the easiest way it is to speak. So in most languages, the way human beings
create speech the easiest way is alternating consonants
and vowel sounds, consonant-vowel. So, you know, Germany,
Canada, Mexico, China – “Hm, hm, hm,” that’s how people talk. And many, many languages
are written exactly that way. So they start with consonants,
alternating consonants and vowels. Of course, not English! English, as we already learned,
is spelt any which way. Independently of how it is spelt, people pronounce it
beginning with consonants. So, I am going to need
somebody brave here. This is a normal thing
that somebody would say, some native English speaker,
you’re coming down the hall, it’s breakfast time,
you can smell it cooking, you pop in some toast,
and you say, “Honey” – Who’s gonna be the brave one?
Who’s gonna say this out loud? Just like you would say it.
Go ahead, say it! What does it say? (Audience) Can I have a bit of egg? Sure. Say it again! (Audience) Can I have a bit of egg? Can I have a bit of egg? Exactly! It isn’t slang, it isn’t sloppy, “Can ni ha va bi da vegg” is what we say. “Can I have a bit of egg?” Yeah, and this is why
1.5 billion people can’t understand us. Because they can’t reconcile the words that they’ve learned
and the words they’ve studied with the words that they’re hearing. God bless when they
look for “vegg” in the dictionary. (Laughter) Yeah, It’s just not right. So secret number three, the other reason that people can’t understand
what native speakers say is collocations. So collocations is another name
for expressions, really, small groups of words
that come together for no reason, that create an image. So an expression
like “fall in love, fall in love” creates an image of romance or something. But this small group of words is fixed, so there is no “fall to love” or
“fall between love” or “fall near love,” that isn’t English,
and it doesn’t mean anything at all. So these expressions are carved in … ? That’s right: not soap,
they’re carved in stone. They’re not carved in soap.
They’re not carved in sand. And thousands and thousands
of these expressions is how native speakers
really communicate with each other, not grammar. So people study grammar for –
well, they can study it their whole life, and they can not sound like
native speakers because native speakers’ expressions
run English, not grammar. So here’s an example. Honestly, if a student of mine
wrote this paragraph, I would be ecstatic. [Last night we ate dinner at home. I cooked chicken. After dinner, my husband
washed the dishes.] The grammar is perfect,
nothing wrong there. But no native speaker
would talk like that. Because we don’t eat meals, we have them, and we don’t cook food, we make it, and we don’t wash dishes, we do them: “do” collocates with “dishes”
for no reason, and this is how native speakers speak. I’m going to put the final nail
in the grammar coffin right here. So, there are 208, actually,
208 grammar rules, so the global English
that the 1.5 billion people are speaking, they use 10, 10 grammar rules. We use 208. And here is one that we use:
adjectives describe nouns. Everybody knows that. What’s an adjective?
Adjectives describe nouns. Actually, that’s not really true. And here is a list
of very good adjectives right here. Another tricky thing about English is we have so many words
that mean the pretty much the same thing. So there is a bunch of adjectives
that mean pretty much the same thing, but one and only one collocates,
goes together with Christmas, there is no such thing
as “Gleeful Christmas,” there is no such thing
as “Glad Christmas,” that isn’t English. And there is no “Merry New Year,”
and there is no “Merry birthday,” that isn’t English. So there is about, I don’t know,
half a dozen things maybe that go together naturally with “merry,” so you can have “merry men”
and “eat, drink and be merry” and “merry go round,” “the merry widow.” That’s it. So “merry” is an adjective;
“wall” is a noun, there’s no “merry wall.” Grammatically, it’s correct.
There is no “merry floor.” So they – they, the pink guys –
1.5 billion people can’t understand us because we use so many expressions, and they don’t use any at all. So grammar is linear, English is abstract, it’s an idiomatic language. Collocations is the secret
to native speaking, not grammar at all – we’re going to get
a few calls about that, I’ll tell you. So here we go, not only do they not –
the vast majority of English speakers – not use expressions, here’s a picture of what they do use. So, the diagram on the right,
you’ve already seen that, that’s, you know, the people
speaking English in the world. The one on the left represents
all the words in English. So there’s more than a million words
commonly used in English. So anyone here, anybody listening has instant access to about 500,000 words. We have too many words. You see that little pink dot in there,
the little pink dot with the arrow? Yeah, 2000 words, that’s how many words all the 1.5 billion people use. And this is not a new list. So, in 1930, David Ogden developed
the “Basic English Word List,” 850 words, and he took it to India,
China, around the world. And then by 1958, The Voice of America
added 700 words to that and has been transmitting
the news of the world to the Third World using 1500 words, since 1958. Native speakers lose. We use so many expressions
we can’t even understand each other. My son’s eighteen years old;
he eats all the time. So when we get to the end of my meal,
and there is a potato or something there, he looks over at my plate and he goes, “You finished with that?” What is he saying? “Can I have your potato?”
that’s what he said. And I say, “Sure, eat my potato.” So he’s eating my potato,
and then he looks up and goes, “Mom, what are you doing tonight?” What does he want? He doesn’t care what I am doing tonight! (Laughter) He wants the car. It’s that abstract, there’s no connection in words
between what we’re saying and what we mean. These guys can’t get that,
nobody can make that leap, so we are not invited
to international business meetings: we are excluded because the person they can’t understand
at the meeting is us and the meeting goes much better
when we’re not there. (Laughter) So he is 18 years old,
he is on the phone talking to his friends, you know, it’s like, “Gnarly dude, awesome!
You scored a ThinkPad? That’s sick!” “Sick!” I know that this is a good thing. I don’t know what my doctor’s saying; I don’t know what my mechanic
or what my son’s saying; my husband’s an engineer,
I don’t know what he’s saying either. So English is so exclusive
because of our overuse of expressions we don’t know what each other’s saying, and 80+% of the world
doesn’t know what we’re saying either. So the three secrets that native speakers
don’t know about speaking English are stress – English is a stress-based language – linking and the process
of speaking how it is easiest to speak independently of how English is written, and collocations or expressions rule, not grammar. So here’s an idea worth sharing. I am a native English speaker, I teach English, I am an expert in a language that is
almost past its best before date. And there it is in white and black.

21 Responses

  1. Lubna Alzaidi says:

    An excellent video thank you

  2. Davit Tskhomelidze says:

    Now I am trying to convert my broken English into native speakers like, because I will get more pleasure for myself after that, but not everyone think about it looks like me. Really I like when it `s going on good relationship between different languages, but all of languages need some changes too. When it exists competition between languages evolution is going on better inside each lan

  3. Muhammad Ilyas Khan says:

    Whatever she's trying to convey, applies to almost any language in the world.

  4. lunarcentauri says:

    Did she seriously miss out Britain when she listed the countries that are native English speakers!?

  5. Vivi Sea brasil says:

    nada a ver, essa mulher é uma comédia. Pois é claro que se eu tenho um filho que come muito e ele termina o prato antes que eu e me pergunta mãe você ainda quer comer suas batatas fritas? e olha para meu prato … Claro que vou entender que ele quer dizer " você se importaria se eu comesse o resto de suas batatas fritas" Gente isso não é questão de língua, isso é questão de entendimento.

  6. Yue Wong says:

    Thank you。

  7. Geremilson Souza says:

    Naum intendi nada

  8. arthurios hbb says:

    pior vídeo que eu já assisti

  9. Christopher Horn says:

    "Happy Christmas" is not that uncommon.

  10. daaus chennel says:

    Can I get someone native speaker linking with me

  11. Stephen Brown says:

    Does anyone have an email address for Judy Thomson?

  12. Thiago Augusto says:

    There's no doubt that English is a tricky language but It's one of the most beautiful languages in the world.

  13. 고양시지방시 says:

    Hey. I can say to you almost same things about Korean. Especially, the last part was very rude. We are not chimpanzees and can read other people's mind.

  14. ayahuasca ayahuasca says:

    Collocations exist in all languages.
    Linking or other characteristics making languages hard to understand when heard exist in most languages. (If she's actually a "learner of French", how come she finds linking more noteworthy than the "liaison"? Seriously…)
    Several languages have stress (including Spanish, which has more native speakers than English), and many have way "worse" characteristics to learn (tones, actual vowel length)
    Most educated native speakers only know up to 15.000-20.000 words and mainly use around 5.000 of them.

  15. Wayne Brehaut says:

    At 10:31, I suspect she doesn't know that in The Queen's English (the U.K.) one still often says "Happy Christmas" rather than "Merry Christmas" (as we do exclusively in "English-speaking North America")?

  16. محمود صلاح الدين says:

    Thank you a lot

  17. Gabriel Tripode says:

    Everything I heard is normal in all languages.

  18. Huaixing Su says:

    I have a question. If stress is important, British and American are almost two languages, even they share the same spelling? since many words are pronounced different.

  19. Vy Nguyễn Vũ Tường says:

    I loved this video so much. And thank you Ms. Judy for your sharing.

  20. dolfin gamez says:

    I could've listened to another 3 hours of how weird English is

  21. Dylan V. says:

    7:45 This is the reason why I can't improve my listening in English. I speak spanish, I want some advices please. Thank you =)

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