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Sunday, June 19, 2016

EwR Speaking - Sayings are Important for Second Language Learners to Use


Sayings (also known as proverbs or maxims) are expressions that are familiar to most people in a given culture, and are often repeated during conversations.  They express a general truth or identify a particular rule of conduct that is common in society.

Native people use sayings all the time during their conversations with others.  They are usually not easy for second language learners to learn; and, in particular, they are difficult to learn how and when to use them. The question here is whether or not second language learners really should learn them.  The answer is "yes".

Sayings are important for second language learners to learn how to use for the following four reasons. Sayings (1) help explain something using very few words, (2) tell truths about human nature, and identify facts and common knowledge about the world that we live in, (3) connect and bring people closer together, and make human communication more interesting, and (4) tell you how people think in a particular culture Let’s examine these four reasons more in depth.

In order to explain the reasons why sayings are so important to learn how to use, consider the following famous saying about how to predict the weather. It’s a very well known fact that the weather is a common everyday topic for most people. This famous saying rhymes, and goes like this. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  Now you will discover the first reason why sayings are so important for non-native speakers of English to learn. 

First of all, it is true that proverbs (or sayings) can help us explain something in very few words. Here’s an example of why this is true. Have you ever been talking to someone who just doesn’t seem to be able to explain their point clearly about something. Imagine that someone tells you the following story in order to convince you that they have a system that will help you predict what the upcoming weather is going to be like. Here is what they say to you.

“I have my own system that really works in order to predict the weather for the same day, or even the next day. Let me tell you about it. If you look out the window at night, just before it gets dark, sometimes you see red and pink colors in the sky when you look out at the horizon. That means that tomorrow is going to be a nice sunny day.

On the other hand, if you look at the horizon early in the morning, just before the sun comes out, you might see a similar reddish pink sky. That means quite the opposite; in fact, it means that later that afternoon on the same day, it will be cloudy and it possibly might even rain. This is how I determine if I need an umbrella, or not, before I leave my house. Try doing this sometime. You’ll find out that this system really works.”

Wow, what a long-winded explanation! After listening to this explanation, you have to think about it, and maybe even ask this person to explain it to you again so that you understand how their weather prediction system really works.  But, what if we use the famous saying above in order to describe how to predict the weather.  It's quick and easy to understand and use.  It clearly communicates all of the description above, but in more concise words.  In fact, instead of using 155 words in the aforementioned description, the famous saying says it in only 14 words.  After you understand this saying, you can use it with others in order to explain to them how they can also predict the weather with it.

Secondly, this famous saying has been used by people, and in particular by sailors, for more than two thousand years in order to forecast the weather.  It has been used for so many years because it accurately identifies what happens just before or after bad weather conditionsIt has become common knowledge based on meterological facts.  The reddish color in the morning or evening sky is caused by clouds connected to storms in the area.   

For example, the reddish visible light in the morning is a reflection of sunlight that comes from clear skies over the horizon to the east.  The light from the clear skies reflects on the bottom of the rain clouds that are coming from the west.  What you see is a red-colored sky in the morning that warns you that clouds are coming your way.  On the contrary, if the reddish visible light is seen in the evening, then the sunlight coming from the west is unobstructed, since there are no clouds coming in from the west.  Hence, westerly winds will bring clear skies for the next day.

Third of all, sayings are fun to use, and they make conversation more interesting.  People feel more connected during a conversation when they use sayings, and that creates an ambiance of intimacy between the speakers.  Sayings are like secret coded messages which you use with someone else when you feel comfortable with them.  If the person that you are talking to doesn't understand your saying, then you explain it to them, so that they feel part of your secret.  From now on, when you speak with that person and use the same saying again, you both have a way of communicating together that is special and unique.  This obviously makes human communication much more interesting.

For example, I use the famous saying above about weather prediction with a lot of people.  It's interesting how they react by smiling or laughing.  Our communication together is much more intimate and interesting.  They begin to use this saying with me in future conversations that we have together.  Using sayings is a good way to build more interesting communication with others.

And finally, the fourth reason why sayings are so important for second language learners to use is based on the following fact.  People within a given culture use sayings a lot.  You can detect how people think in a particular culture by listening to the sayings that they use.  They use certain sayings in order to convey messages that are important to them.

Let's take a look at a personal example of my own.  My father was a merchant marine.  When I was a child, he explained the above-mentioned saying to me about how to predict the weather.  I have been sharing it with others for more than 40 years now, since it accurately predicts the upcoming weather patterns.  This saying is also part of the American culture in the United States.  It tells you something about how they think and communicate weather conditions with each other, especially among sailors traveling at sea.

In summary, it is important for second language learners of English to consider using sayings.  Discover some of the most important ones, and learn how to use them.  They obviously will help you learn how to speak more concisely.  Furthermore, you will learn some common truths about our world.  Your communication will be more stimulating for others, and will help bring you closer to your listeners.  And even more, you will learn something about the culture of the native people who you talk with.

So remember, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  Share this famous saying with others.  Learn other famous sayings too.  Find out how your communication skills will improve and how you will enjoy your conversations in a different way.

Now you can challenge yourself to learn more famous sayings, so that you can also use them in your conversations with others.  Take a look at this webpage in order to learn more of the most famous sayings that are used in the English language.  Don't forget that sayings are also referred to as proverbs or maxims.

I would like to leave you with the following famous Chinese proverb in order to motivate you with your own English language learning.

"To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world." – Chinese proverb.

In Chinese:  学一门语言,就是多一个观察世界的窗户  (xué yì mén yǔyán, jiù shì duō yí ge guānchá shìjiè de chuānghu.)

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