Britain may be leaving the EU, but English is going nowhere


Andrew Linn, University of Westminster

After Brexit, there are various things that some in the EU hope to see and hear less in the future. One is Nigel Farage. Another is the English language.

In the early hours of June 24, as the referendum outcome was becoming clear, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, left-wing MEP and French presidential candidate, tweeted that “English cannot be the third working language of the European parliament”.

This is not the first time that French and German opinion has weighed in against alleged disproportionate use of English in EU business. In 2012, for example, a similar point was made about key eurozone recommendations from the European Commission being published initially “in a language which [as far as the Euro goes] is only spoken by less than 5m Irish”. With the number of native speakers of English in the EU set to drop from 14% to around 1% of the bloc’s total with the departure of the UK, this point just got a bit sharper.

Translation overload

Official EU language policy is multilingualism with equal rights for all languages used in member states. It recommends that “every European citizen should master two other languages in addition to their mother tongue” – Britain’s abject failure to achieve this should make it skulk away in shame.

The EU recognises 24 “official and working” languages, a number that has mushroomed from the original four (Dutch, French, German and Italian) as more countries have joined. All EU citizens have a right to access EU documents in any of those languages. This calls for a translation team numbering around 2,500, not to mention a further 600 full-time interpreters. In practice most day-to-day business is transacted in either English, French or German and then translated, but it is true that English dominates to a considerable extent.

Lots of work still to do.
Etienne Ansotte/EPA

The preponderance of English has nothing to do with the influence of Britain or even Britain’s membership of the EU. Historically, the expansion of the British empire, the impact of the industrial revolution and the emergence of the US as a world power have embedded English in the language repertoire of speakers across the globe.

Unlike Latin, which outlived the Roman empire as the lingua franca of medieval and renaissance Europe, English of course has native speakers (who may be unfairly advantaged), but it is those who have learned English as a foreign language – “Euro-English” or “English as a lingua franca” – who now constitute the majority of users.

According to the 2012 Special Eurobarometer on Europeans and their Languages, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 of the member states where it is not an official language. Across Europe, 38% of people speak English well enough as a foreign language to have a conversation, compared to 12% speaking French and 11% in German.

The report also found that 67% of Europeans consider English the most useful foreign language, and that the numbers favouring German (17%) or French (16%) have declined. As a result, 79% of Europeans want their children to learn English, compared to 20% for French and German.

Too much invested in English

Huge sums have been invested in English teaching by both national governments and private enterprise. As the demand for learning English has increased, so has the supply. English language learning worldwide was estimated to be worth US$63.3 billion (£47.5 billion) in 2012, and it is expected that this market will rise to US$193.2 billion (£145.6 billion) by 2017. The value of English for speakers of other languages is not going to diminish any time soon. There is simply too much invested in it.

Speakers of English as a second language outnumber first-language English speakers by 2:1 both in Europe and globally. For many Europeans, and especially those employed in the EU, English is a useful piece in a toolbox of languages to be pressed into service when needed – a point which was evident in a recent project on whether the use of English in Europe was an opportunity or a threat. So in the majority of cases using English has precisely nothing to do with the UK or Britishness. The EU needs practical solutions and English provides one.

English is unchallenged as the lingua franca of Europe. It has even been suggested that in some countries of northern Europe it has become a second rather than a foreign language. Jan Paternotte, D66 party leader in Amsterdam, has proposed that English should be decreed the official second language of that city.

English has not always held its current privileged status. French and German have both functioned as common languages for high-profile fields such as philosophy, science and technology, politics and diplomacy, not to mention Church Slavonic, Russian, Portuguese and other languages in different times and places.

We can assume that English will not maintain its privileged position forever. Who benefits now, however, are not the predominantly monolingual British, but European anglocrats whose multilingualism provides them with a key to international education and employment.

Much about the EU may be about to change, but right now an anti-English language policy so dramatically out of step with practice would simply make the post-Brexit hangover more painful.

The Conversation

Andrew Linn, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The importance of the English Language


A language is a systematic means of communication by the use of sounds or conventional symbols. It is the code we all use to express ourselves and communicate to others. It is a communication by word of mouth. It is the mental faculty or power of vocal communication. It is a system for communicating ideas and feelings using sounds, gestures, signs or marks. Any means of communicating ideas, specifically, human speech, the expression of ideas by the voice and sounds articulated by the organs of the throat and mouth is a language. This is a system for communication. A language is the written and spoken methods of combining words to create meaning used by a particular group of people. 

Language, so far as we know, is something specific to humans, that is to say it is the basic capacity that distinguishes humans from all other living beings. Language therefore remains potentially a communicative medium capable of expressing ideas and concepts as well as moods, feelings and attitudes. 

A set of linguists who based their assumptions of language on psychology made claims that language is nothing but ‘habit formation’. According to them, language is learnt through use, through practice. In their view, ‘the more one is exposed to the use of language, the better one learns’. 

Written languages use symbols (characters) to build words. The entire set of words is the language’s vocabulary. The ways in which the words can be meaningfully combined is defined by the language’s syntax and grammar. The actual meaning of words and combinations of words is defined by the language’s semantics. 

The latest and the most advanced discoveries and inventions in science and technology are being made in the universities located in the United States of America where English language is the means of scientific discourse. 

The historical circumstances of India (having been ruled by the British for over two centuries) have given the Indians an easy access to mastering English language, and innumerable opportunities for advancement in the field of science and technology. Many Indians have become so skilled in English language and have won many international awards for creative and comparative literatures during the last few years. Sometime ago, an Indian author, Arundhati Roy, won the prestigious booker prize for her book “The God of Small Things”. Her book sold lakhs of copies all over the globe. 

Over the years, English language has become one of our principal assets in getting a global leadership for books written by Indian authors and for films made by Indians in English language. A famous Indian movie maker Shekhar Kapoor’s film “Elizabeth” has got several nominations for Oscar Awards. It does not require any further argument to establish the advantage English language has brought to us at the international level. 

English language comes to our aid in our commercial transactions throughout the globe. English is the language of the latest business management in the world and Indian proficiency in English has brought laurels to many Indian business managers. English is a means not only for international commerce; it has become increasingly essential for inter-state commerce and communication. 

In India, people going from North to South for education or business mostly communicate in English, which has become a link language. Keeping this in mind, the Parliament has also recognized English as an official language in addition to Hindi. All the facts of history and developments in present day India underline the continued importance of learning English in addition to vernaculars. 

Some of the states of India are witnessing popular increase in public demand for teaching of English language from the primary classes. Realizing the importance, recently, the Minister of Indian Railways, Laloo Prasad Yadav, demands teaching of English language in schools. The great demand for admission in English medium schools throughout the country is a testimony to the attraction of English to the people of India. Many of the leaders, who denounce English, send their own children to English medium schools. Many of the schools in the country have English as the sole or additional medium of instruction. 

A language attracts people because of the wealth of literature and knowledge enshrined in it. English poses no danger to Indian languages. The Indian languages are vibrant and are developing by the contributions of great minds using them as their vehicle of expression. English is available to us as a historical heritage in addition to our own language. We must make the best use of English to develop ourselves culturally and materially so that we can compete with the best in the world of mind and matter. English language is our window to the world. 

English language is one tool to establish our viewpoint. We can learn from others experience. We can check the theories of foreigners against our experience. We can reject the untenable and accept the tenable. We can also propagate our theories among the international audience and readers. 

We can make use of English to promote our world-view and spiritual heritage throughout the globe. Swami Vivekananda established the greatness of Indian view of religion at the world conference of religions in Chicago in 1893. He addressed the gathering in impressive English. Many spiritual gurus have since converted thousands of English people to our spirituality by expressing their thought and ideas in masterful English. English has thus become an effective means of promoting Indian view of life, and strengthening our cultural identity in the world. 

When William Caxton set up his printing press in London (1477) the new hybrid language (vernacular English mixed with courtly French and scholarly Latin) became increasingly standardized, and by 1611, when the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible was published, the educated English of London had become the core of what is now called Standard English. By the time of Johnson’s dictionary (1755) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776), English was international and recognizable as the language we use today. The Orthography of English was more or less established by 1650 and, in England in particular, a form of standard educated speech, known as Received Pronunciation (RP) spread from the major public schools in the 19th century. This accent was adopted in the early 20th century by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for its announcers and readers, and is variously known as RP, BBC English, Oxford English, and the King’s or Queen’s English. 

Generally, Standard English today does not depend on accent but rather on shared educational experience, mainly of the printed language. Present-day English is an immensely varied language, having absorbed material from many other tongues. It is spoken by more than 300 million native speakers, and between 400 and 800 million foreign users. It is the official language of air transport and shipping; the leading language of science, technology, computers, and commerce; and a major medium of education, publishing, and international negotiation. For this reason, scholars frequently refer to its latest phase as World English.

When Should I Use Capital Letters in English?

Writing in English can be confusing – particularly if you are writing formal business letters or emails. You want to get it right – the last thing you need is for a customer or boss to think your incapable of producing correctly written correspondence. Here are a few rules on when to use capital letters:


Top 10 ESL English Grammar Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

So, you want to speak English well?

You can start by learning common English idioms.

You can also start speaking naturally by learning some English slang.

But before you do all that, it’s important to make sure that you’re not making basic English grammar mistakes.

Let’s discuss some common English grammar mistakes for ESL learners, and how to overcome them. Once you understand the grammatical rules behind these top 10 ESL English grammar mistakes, you’ll be more likely to use these structures correctly in the future.

May vs. Might

Deciding when to use “may” rather than “might” can be tricky because the difference between these two verbs is quite small.  They both indicate that something is possible, but “might” suggests slightly more uncertainty than “may”.

“I might take a trip to India next year” means that maybe you will go to India, but maybe you won’t. “I may have a slice of cake after dinner” expresses slightly more certainty that you’re going to eat that cake.

Even more confusing is the rule that “may” becomes “might” in the past tense. So, in the present tense, you would say “he may eat the last piece of cake”, but in the past, this sentence becomes “he might have eaten the last piece of cake”.

Fewer vs. Less

This mistake is difficult for both English-language learners and native-English speakers1.

Both “fewer” and “less” describe the opposite of more, but you need to look at the noun in order to decide which word to use. “Fewer” is used for countable nouns, like books, cars, people or cups. Basically, if a number can come before the noun, like 2 books, 10 cars, 100 people, or 5 cups, then the noun is countable.

“Less”, on the other hand, is used for uncountable nouns, like love, water, electricity, or science. If you can’t make the noun plural, then it’s an uncountable noun. For example, you would say “this parking lot is too crowded. I wish there were fewer cars”, but “I wish you would turn off the lights, so we could use less electricity”.

Could, Should, or Would

These 3 similar-sounding verbs also cause problems for many English-language learners.

“Should” is used to give advice” (“That shirt looks great on you. I think youshould buy it” or “You should get vaccinations before traveling overseas”).

“Would” is used to describe unlikely or unreal situations (“I would love to go to Italy, but I don’t have enough money” or “She would come to the party if she didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow”). “Would “ can also be used to make polite offers (“Would you like some tea?”)

Lastly, “could” can be used in 3 different ways: 1) to describe a past ability (“When I was younger, I could run twice as fast”), 2) to describe possibilities in the future (“If we work really hard, I think we could save up enough money for a vacation this year”), and 3) to make polite requests (“Could I have a cup of tea?”)

Since vs. For

The words “since” and “for” are both used when you’re talking about time.

The difference is that “for” is used with a period or duration of time, while “since” is used with a point or exact moment in time. “For” can be used with all tenses, but “since” is most often used with perfect tenses. That means “for” comes before time expressions like “30 minutes”, “6 months” and “10 years”, while “since” comes before time expressions like “Monday”, “January” or “2009”.  You could say, “he jogs for 1 hour everyday” or “he has lived in Bangkok for 10 years”.  Using “since” you would say “he’s been jogging since 7am”, or “he has lived in Bangkok since 2003”.

Bring vs. Take

“Bring” and “take” have almost the same meaning, but they imply different directions. Their relationship is similar to the one between the verbs “come” and “go”.

“Bring” suggests movement towards the speaker, making it similar to “come”: You ask people to bring things to the place where you already are. For example, you could say “bring that book over here”, or “please bring a snack to the party”.

“Take”, on the other hand, suggests movement away from the speaker, making it similar to “go”: You take things to the place where you are going. You could say “don’t forget to take your book to school”, or “please take me home”.

Adjective Order

If you’re using more than one adjective to describe a noun, keep in mind that these adjectives need to go in a certain order in the sentence. This is the reason why “it’s a big red car” is correct, but “it’s a red big car” sounds wrong.

The normal adjective order is: 1) quantity or number 2) quality or opinion 3) size 4) shape 5) age 6) colour 8) nationality 9) material. Of course, it’s unusual to use more than 3 adjectives to describe one noun, so you’ll rarely need to use all of these at once.

Me vs. Myself

Deciding when to use “me” and when to use “myself” is another common mistake that both native-English speakers and English-language learners make. Many native English-speakers make the mistake of saying “myself” when they should say “me”, because they think “myself” sounds more polite. This is wrong!

“Me” is an object pronoun, so it refers to the person that the action of the verb is being done to. For example, you could say “my parents want me to help with the chores more”, or “please call me if you have any questions”.

“Myself”, however, is a reflexive pronoun, like himself, itself or themselves. It’s generally only used in the same sentence as “I”. For example, you could say “I gave myself a break from studying today”, or “I cleaned the entire house bymyself”. Use “myself” when you are doing the action to “you”.

There, Their, or They’re

All three words are pronounced the same, but they’re used in different ways.

“There” can be used to specify a place (“The book is over there on the table”), or it can be used with the verb “to be” to indicate the existence of something (“There are 5 cafes on this street”).

“Their” is a possessive adjective, like my, your, or his (“that’s their house”).

Lastly, “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”, so it is the subject “they” plus the verb “are”. For example, you could say “they’re going to play soccer with us tonight”.

Its vs. It’s

Just as many people confuse “there”, “their” and “they’re”, many also confuse “it’s” and “its” because both words are pronounced the same way, yet have a different meaning. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is”, so it is the subject “it” plus the verb “is”. For example, you could say “it’s really cold outside today”. “Its”, on the other hand, is the possessive form of “it” (“this city is known for its amazing pasta”).

A vs. The

Many languages don’t use definite and indefinite articles, and if you’re not used to distinguishing between the two, it can be a difficult concept to master.

When you’re talking about one thing in a general way, use the indefinite article “a”; but if you’re talking about something everyone in the conversation is familiar with (or the writer and reader if you’re writing), then use “the”. For example, if I say “let’s watch a movie”, I’m suggesting that we watch anymovie. We don’t know which movie we’re going to watch yet – I just want to watch something, anything. However, if I say “let’s watch the movie”, I’m referring to a specific movie that you and I have already talked about watching together.

Credit to  and

The New Essential Grammar in Use Fourth edition plus Mr Raymond Murphy Interview

           essgram-slider image_43852

The world’s best-selling grammar series for learners of English. Essential Grammar in Use Fourth edition is a self-study reference and practice book for elementary-level learners (A1-B1), used by millions of people around the world. With clear examples and easy-to-follow exercises, it is perfect for independent study, covering all the areas of grammar you will need at this level. This edition includes an eBook which has the same grammar explanations and exercises found in the printed book, plus other great features. You can listen to all of the example sentences from the book, record your answers to exercises, highlight text, bookmark pages and add your own personal notes.

Essential Grammar in Use Fourth edition retains all the key features of clarity and ease-of-use that have made the book so popular with learners and teachers alike.

A fresh new design, with revised and updated examples, makes the book even more accessible. For the first time the printed book is also being made available with an eBook version, ideal for learners who want the flexibility of studying with both print and digital content.

Designed to be flexible, the Fourth edition, is available both with and without answers, making it ideal for self-study, but also suitable for reinforcement work in the classroom.

Buy this book now from BEBC


Watch this video for more information on Essential Grammar in Use Fourth edition

Interview with Raymond Murphy

Raymond MurphyRaymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use is the world’s best-selling grammar book (with sales of over 15 million copies), and has provided millions of students with the tools they need to tackle this thorny area of the English language. Raymond taught EFL for 20 years in Germany and the UK and has concentrated on writing full-time since 1988. His books Essential Grammar in Use, English Grammar in Use, Basic Grammar in Use (US English) and Grammar in Use (US English), have all been published by Cambridge University Press.

This interview was conducted by John Lowe for ELT News in Tokyo on November 3rd 2010.

Could you tell us something about your career background?
Raymond Murphy:

I started teaching English in language schools in Germany in 1971, and taught there for about 3 years. Then I moved back to the UK, and continued teaching in the UK, again, in a language school in Oxford

I was born in Plymouth, in Devon, but have lived in Oxford since 1976 – so for 34 years. I taught there until 1990, so my teaching career lasted approximately 20 years, and that’s where I wrote the books ‘English Grammar in Use’ and ‘Essential Grammar in Use’. They were written while I was teaching at the Swan School of English in Oxford, and were published in 1985 and 1990.

Was their publication as a result of accumulated teaching materials you had developed?
Raymond Murphy:

The books developed out of worksheets that I wrote as teaching materials for self-access in the school. Teaching in the UK, of course, you are teaching multilingual classes – people with different language backgrounds, different educational backgrounds and different needs, and I wanted a way of dealing with grammar outside the classroom. So, I started preparing worksheets, covering the topics that students were asking me about. The things that they wanted to know about, which I wasn’t able to cover in the class – so I built up a collection of these worksheets and they were kept in the library at the school – a sort of self-access facility. And so, if a student had a problem with, say, articles or something, they could go to the self-access centre, look up a card index, find an appropriate worksheet, if there was one – and do the exercises attached to it, and then check the answer key which was separate. If there was any problem they didn’t understand – they could get back to the teacher. And as these worksheets proved to be popular, I thought I’d try and get them published.

So I wrote off to three publishers. Two weren’t interested, but Cambridge University Press was, and they published my grammar book. Within a year it began to be pretty successful, and so we decided to produce an elementary version – ‘Essential Grammar in Use,’ which I wrote in the late 80s, while I was still teaching, and that was published in 1990. For various reasons around that time, I gradually withdrew from teaching. This was partly because I could afford to financially, and also for various personal and family reasons that suited me to have the flexibility of working independently from home. And since then, I have been a fulltime writer of new editions and adaptations.

Your grammar series are a kind of an industry, aren’t they? Did you have an inkling of the success they were going to have when you were writing them?
Raymond Murphy:
Absolutely none, and as I have said before, my main fear in writing the first book was that nobody would buy it anywhere. So when a few thousand copies were sold, I was very relieved.
Where were the initial sales?
Raymond Murphy:
I remember in 86, it was sold in Italy and then throughout Europe. And as there was a very early Korean translation in about 1990, it was also sold in Korea. It did spread fairly quickly, and then we prepared the American editions which were about 3 years behind the British ones. I learned a lot about American English when working in collaboration with an American writer.
Did CUP expect such a runaway success with your grammar books?
Raymond Murphy:
I don’t remember exactly what Cambridge’s expectations were. I don’t think I ever asked, how many copies do you expect to sell? They must have been reasonably confident because you don’t take on a project unless you think it’s going to be successful. I do remember a reviewer writing that he thought it would be a best-seller, even though he was very critical of it.
Have the books always been used for self-access, or have they been used as classroom texts as well?
Raymond Murphy:

9780521189392 English Grammar in Use

I wrote the books for self-study, but they are also used as classroom texts. They could be used in all sorts of ways, but I would say from my point of view that it’s totally up to the user how they use the books. Because once you write something, it’s out of your hands; it’s up to the person who has bought the book to use it in whatever way that seems right for them. So, I don’t have a view on how other people should use the books, only on how I intended them to be used.

In the books, there are introductions; the main one for the student and an additional one for the teacher. In the teacher’s introduction there are suggestions how the book might be used in connection with classroom work, as homework or as revision.

Are you pleased that you have always been associated with grammar books or would you have liked to have written other books as well?
Raymond Murphy:
No, they’re the only books that I ever wanted to write. If I hadn’t been successful, of course, if I was looking around for other ways of making a living then I might well have sort of seriously looked at other possibilities. But there’s nothing inside me saying, oh, I would love to do that – writing another ELT book, no.
How does it feel to be so well-known?
Raymond Murphy:

Well, I’m well known in a very limited world. It’s not like being really well known. It’s a very limited fame. But to be associated with grammar is ironic because I am not particularly interested in grammar. I am interested in presenting it, or helping people to understand it. Actually I think I might have been good at writing instruction manuals for washing machines or something like that – making things clear and simple. That’s what interests me.

Grammar is interesting so far as it is something that you have to acquire when learning a foreign language, if you are teaching in a conventional way somewhere along the line, it has to be studied to some extent, but I am not madly interested in grammar as a subject.

Have you ever gone down the academic research route, or is that something that doesn’t interest you?
Raymond Murphy:
I am interested in language, and I am interested in languages – things like etymology, the history of languages. I am not tempted to do an M.A in linguistics but I do like reading books by authors like Steven Pinker. But actually doing research, being an academic has never appealed to me. I like teaching and I enjoy writing, but I have never wanted to get into the academic side of linguistics.
Do you go to lot of ELT conferences around the world?
Raymond Murphy:
Very few. I do go to events, such as the events that I’m doing in Japan, organized by the publishers. Other people who are more academic might be doing presentations at conferences, but I do relatively little of that; the odd one, yes, but not very often.
Why is grammar such a controversial topic?
Raymond Murphy:

It’s something to do with the fact that grammar is most obvious bit of knowledge within the language, and it’s a system – and there is a lot of knowledge and cleverness involved. It is controversial, and people do get very upset, even angry about it, arguing whether we should teach grammar or not. And how to teach grammar – natural grammar, discovery grammar, fun grammar, you know, all that sort of stuff.

I certainly don’t get angry with people who say, you shouldn’t teach grammar, although I don’t like fanatics, one way or the other – people who see things in absolute black and white, and my instinct is not to be 100% one way or the other.

Did you write your grammar books as a reaction to the communicative approach of the 80s?
Raymond Murphy:
When I was teaching, students did ask if I could recommend a grammar book. I think this was partly because grammar wasn’t covered very overtly or clearly in books and students were looking for other materials. So, yes, that’s how it related to the background of times, but it was the demand of students.
Do your grammar books concentrate solely on ‘form’, and not on ‘meaning’ and ‘use’?
Raymond Murphy:

I just look at a problem area. For example ‘had better’ which is followed by an infinitive without ‘to’ rather than infinitive with ‘to’. Secondly I think what exactly does it mean? Also, how does it overlap with ‘should.’ So, I identify those issues – some to do with ‘form’, some concerned with ‘meaning’ and ‘use’. I am not quite sure what the difference is sometimes, and I think, okay, so, I will show that. Explain is not the right word. So I present the structure, and say ‘look at that’ and ‘notice that’.

I don’t take ‘form’, and ‘meaning’ like some books do. I don’t want to classify things, all the same, anyway. When I focus on the meaning, I ask why is ‘had better’ different from ‘should’, or what exactly does it mean, how can you paraphrase it? For the exercise we practice the form in context, such as “it’s late now, we’d better go”.

I think that’s a valid way to practice as the student can make further examples confirming and adding to the presented examples on the left hand page of the book. And then perhaps add a sentence completion exercise which compares ‘had better’ and ‘should’. Explanations are not always enough, and the example itself is not always enough. Put them together, with exercises to reinforce the structure and the student starts to learn how to use ‘had better’.

My approach is to think ‘what is the student’s problem?’ How can a student use ‘had better?’ Does that make sense?

Thank you, yes. Do you think it’s important for EFL teachers to know about grammar and grammar rules?
Raymond Murphy:

I think it is. It’s important to know your subject as well as you possibly can. Now, with a language, it’s a bit more complicated, because the aim is not knowing about the language but using the language. It’s about learning the language and acquiring the language. I think a teacher ought to inform him or herself as much as possible, not just about the grammar, but for example, about phonology, which I personally don’t feel 100% confident about at all.

Teachers should know what a past participle is, and yes, they should be aware of terminology, like the third person singular. It gets a bit mad though, I think, once you get into more modern terminology. My favorite hate is things like zero-conditional and zero-article. When do we use the zero-article? What an amazing invention that is! And I think by using terms such as these, that you are just pretending to be an academic and giving yourself a sort of extra mystique.

You only need to know grammar rules if you talk about grammar. So, the first thing is that when you talk about grammar, you reduce terminology usage as much as possible. So, I wouldn’t use terms like ‘continuous’ and ‘simple’, and ‘gerund’ in the classroom if I was teaching – certainly not gerund.

Do you think that grammar learning is more organic – growing a garden rather than a building a wall?
Raymond Murphy:
We’ve been talking largely about artificial learning, and we haven’t really talked about natural learning yet. So, everything we have talked about is artificial anyway, in that we are not really harnessing our language learning powers at all. Yes, surely learning is organic. I think with students, at some point natural learning cuts in, and they continue to learn grammar, or vocabulary or pronunciation without actively studying it, or being taught it. Once natural learning cuts in, which I think, it does in most people’s situations even though there’s a form or base for it, then that becomes the real learning. It’s knowing about things – how they work, which can be useful, but then you’ve got to get into the real business of learning, which we can do even as adults. If people have enough practice and enough exposure, they will learn.
So do you think that people learn languages in different ways, and your grammar books are just one of the tools that people use to learn English?
Raymond Murphy:

Yes, I mean you could even say it isn’t actually a direct tool either. It’s something essentially on the side of the main learning process because the main learning process has got to be connected with using the language and doing things – so, speaking and listening, primarily, and lots of communicative activity. If you are learning naturally, not in a formal way, you’d be doing that all the time, and that’s for me that is real learning.

I don’t know if anyone has really ever learnt a language just by formal study. They might say they have, but I imagine it’s the informal bit, the natural bits that take over. That’s the real learning part and I see the grammar book, dictionary, reference book as slightly to the side of real learning.

I like to use the analogy of a lay-by. When you are driving, you get off the road for a bit – the main road of learning and onto the lay-by, to do your bit of grammar, whatever it is, and say, “so that how it works!” “I had never quite understood ‘had better’ even though I’d heard it many times”. So, you look at that up, and you add to your natural learning a little drop of formal learning, and that’s how it should work, and how it’s intended to work.

How do you sequence the grammar structures in your books? By frequency of use? Difficulty?
Raymond Murphy:

No, it’s an arbitrary grammatical organization – verbs, articles, adjectives, prepositions. So, that’s how it is divided up. It could have been nouns at the beginning and verbs halfway. I chose verbs at beginning because I figured that most people have most problems with verbs, so I put them at the beginning, as it felt the right thing to do.

Secondly, there is no progression in the book. Unit 1 isn’t necessarily easier than unit 58. So, unit 58 might be a very basic thing, for example, comparison of adjectives, or something you would learn quite early. Whereas a unit long before that would be the past perfect continuous – which you probably haven’t learnt at all. So, it’s not at all progressive, and one of the main problems I’ve had when talking to teachers and students – is that they sometimes think the units are progressive. There are little bits of progression, like three or four units together might represent a progression where a couple of subjects are very complicated – a particular topic, like present perfect, or something such as articles. But generally speaking, that isn’t the idea. If the student says, I don’t understand ‘had better,’ they look up the index contents, and go to the ‘had better’ unit.

So, a student should be jumping around the book in a not dissimilar way that you jump around a dictionary, which is organized from A to Z. This is another arbitrary classification of language terms.

Can I ask you about the grammar differences between British and American English? Did you need an American editor or co-writer – I mean how different are the grammar systems?
Raymond Murphy:

They’re not very different really. The differences between British English and American English have very much to do, I think, with pronunciation, vocabulary and style. The nitty-gritty of grammar, if you are talking about standard British and standard American, is not so different. Things like ‘have’ – ‘I have something, ‘I have a car’ rather than ‘I have got a car’, but ‘have got a car’ works in American English – ‘I have a car’ works in British English. So, I think the British are not using ‘have got’ as much as we used to – it’s one of those things – changing a bit probably with American influence – I think I tend to say ‘do you have’ rather than ‘have you got’, for example.

The present perfect is a bit funny and very difficult to explain. The present perfect, ‘I have lost my book,’ or something – single action present perfect. In American English, they tend to use the past simple – whereas in British English we use the present perfect. So, there are some things like that. They tend to be differences of emphasis rather than anything seriously different.

I am much more aware of these differences now, but I certainly wasn’t when the first American edition was done. My first visit to the States was actually when the American edition of the book was being prepared. So it was adapted by an American writer – no, I couldn’t have done it without assistance. I still discover differences, but it’s not so much the grammar, more the vocabulary and the style.

Everywhere you go you hear that standards of grammar are in decline. Does research bear this out?
Raymond Murphy:

I don’t think so. I am talking here very anecdotally. I like to eavesdrop and listen to people talking, if I am on a bus, or in a café, if I am by myself, I like to listen, especially to younger people because I don’t have that much contact with younger people, and the language has changed. Younger people do speak considerably differently to the older generation. Again, it’s pronunciation that tends to change rather than grammar. I find when I listen to grammar, I think ‘is that in my book?’

And of course, there are things like using ‘them’ rather than ‘those’ or ‘you was’ rather than ‘you were’. But I think that’s always been the case and isn’t just a recent thing.

But does that suddenly become Standard English if these examples are in widespread use? Would you put that in the fourth edition?
Raymond Murphy:

Yes. I mean – an example of that is the use of ‘like’ as a conjunction. When I first wrote the book, I presented a distinction between ‘as’ and ‘like’. For example, ‘I do it like this’, but ‘do it as I’ve showed you’. So, that’s how I presented. I didn’t say it was wrong to use ‘like’ in the second sentence, but that’s how I presented it. That was in 1980 and people were already using ‘like’ as a conjunction, ‘do it like showed you’. But I felt at that time that you could call that non-standard. I certainly don’t feel that now and certainly this is one of the educating factors of doing the American edition as they were absolutely clear that it wasn’t wrong.

Anyway, in the current editions of my book, that is an alternative. So you can say ‘like I say’ or ‘as I say’; ‘like you said,’ ‘as you said’.

So, that’s an example of how I have changed a particular thing. ‘Less’ and ‘fewer’ is another one. It doesn’t actually feature in the book, so I don’t have to change anything, but that’s something that has changed. I don’t mean the usage has changed, but some people say ‘less cars’, ‘less tables’, ‘less people’.

So, ‘Grammar in Use’ is not static, it’s constantly evolving.
Raymond Murphy:
It’s one of the convenient things with the new edition. With grammar, I have to say there isn’t too much change, but, nevertheless, if there is, then I certainly look at things that I have said, and if I feel that it’s too black and white, it isn’t that way anymore, then I will try and find a way of dealing with it.
Do you speak any foreign languages?
Raymond Murphy:
German was the language I have learnt the best, sort of middle to high intermediate level, I would say. Others, I have dabbled in, and at present, I am learning Thai.
Oh really.
Raymond Murphy:

Yes – using the natural approach. In the last 2 years, I have spent a total of 5 weeks in Bangkok, not all in one go. I am going there next week actually.

I go to AUA – a large language school. They have courses in English teaching, business mainly, but they also have a Thai language program in which they use the natural approach, so we don’t speak for 800 hours.

That’s interesting. The ‘Grammar in Use’ guru uses a natural approach to learn a language, with grammar on the side.
Raymond Murphy:
Well, there isn’t too much grammar at the beginning that you need in Thai, but it’s informed me a lot on just how to think about learning. So, it’s just listening at this stage – speaking later – just the same as with children. So, you don’t rush things. You wait till you are ready.
Why did you choose to study Thai?
Raymond Murphy:
I wanted to try an Asian language and I’d been to Thailand twice and liked it. The obvious choice would have been to study Chinese but I thought Thai would be easier if I wanted to read and write. It’s still interesting with a different alphabet but at least it’s a phonetic alphabet and also easy to get around.
Raymond Murphy, thank you very much for giving so much of your time.
Raymond Murphy:
Thank you.
This interview was conducted by John Lowe for ELT News in Tokyo on November 3rd 2010.

Congratulations to Raymond Murphy on his honourary MA degree

We’re delighted to hear that Cambridge University has awarded Raymond Murphy, author of English Grammar In Use and Essential Grammar In Use, with an honourary MA degree . We would also like to offer our congratulations.

This recognition comes twenty seven years after Murphy wrote English Grammar in Use, a textbook that has since been used by over 100 million learners of English, according to an article in The Guardian.

At the same time as this news reached us, we received stock of English Grammar In Use 4th Edition and it looks super! According to the publisher, the 4th edition retains all the key features of clarity and accessibility that made the book popular with millions of learners and teachers around the world.

For a limited period, BEBC is offering the 4th Edition of English Grammar in Use Book + Answers (ISBN 9780521189064) at £13.90 (usually £18.90) – a saving of £5! Click here to get your copy at the reduced price.

Photograph from The Guardian - Raymond Murphy, left, receives his honorary MA degree from Cambridge University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. Photograph: Nigel Lukhurst/Cambridge University