Learning any language is often fraught with difficulties. Native English speakers may have trouble with the concepts of gender in most European languages. In French, a pen takes on femine forms, as it also does in Spanish. In German, a man is of course masculine. However, when discussing the concept of manhood, the femine forms are used. Hebrew and Arabic verbs have no vowels in their infinitive form. The classical forms of both Hebrew and Arabic are verb-subject-object rather than the subject-verb-object forms of most (though not all) European languages. Slavic languages still have noun cases, as does German and some other Germanic languages. Korean students of English face some difficulties in learning English. First, the syntax, or word-order, is totally different from Korean. Secondly, while Korean does have irregular verbs, Korean irregular verbs do not, by and large, misbehave in the nearly psychedelic manner of English verbs.
One area in which my students struggle greatly involves English past tense verbs. English past tense verbs misbehave on a level unknown to many other languages. The Israeli-born linguist Guy Deutscher, in his book The Unfolding of Language, captures these frustrations particularly well in a poem he wrote while still learning English.
The teacher claimed it was so plain,
I only had to use my brain.
She said the past of throw was threw,
The past of grow – of course – was grew,
So flew must be the past of fly,
And now, my boy, your turn to try.
But when I trew,
I had no clue,
If mow was mew
Like know and knew.
(Or is it knowed
Like snow and snowed?)
The teacher frowned at me and said
The past of feed was – plainly – fed.
Fed up, I knew then what I ned:
I took a break, and out I snoke,
She shook and quook (or quaked? or quoke?)
With raging anger out she broke:
Your ignorance you want to hide?
Tell me the past form of collide!
But how on earth should I decide
If it’s collid
(Like hide and hid),
Or else – from all that I surmose,
The past of rise was simply rose,
And that of ride was surely rode,
So of collide must be collode?
Oh damn these English verbs, I thought
The whole thing absolutely stought!
Of English I have had enough,
These verbs of yours are far too tough.
Bolt upright in my chair I sat,
And said to her ‘that’s that’ – I quat.