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Non-Native English Speakers and the GMAT

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Ethan Hein is an editor and social media guru at Knewton.

As a non-native speaker of English, you may find the verbal section of the GMAT especially daunting. You’re not alone. English is a particularly difficult language to learn as an adult. It’s a blend of several different older languages that still coexist uneasily in the grammar and vocabulary. The roots of English in German rub uneasily against its roots in Latin in ways that resist intuition. A lot of “wrong” usage by non-native speakers is more logical than correct usage. Knowing some of the back story can hopefully make you feel less frustrated as you try to absorb it all.

England wasn’t even the first home of English. In ancient times the people there spoke indigenous languages that are the precursors to Irish and Welsh. When Germanic tribes invaded, they pushed the indigenous British tongues to the corners of what are now the British Isles. Old English was a blend of German and Scandinavian languages. A few Latin words also entered via the Germanic tribes’ long interaction with the Roman Empire.

When the Norman French invaded and conquered England in the 11th century, they brought their Latin-based language with them. While common people continued to speak their German-based language, the ruling class used the Latin-based vocabulary and grammar of French. Eventually the two blended to form a single language, but divisions remain. German-based English words have a “lower,” more casual connotation, while French-based words sound more formal. Compare the Germanic “sweat” to the Latinate “perspiration,” or Germanic “friendly” with the Latinate “cordial.”

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Written by Knewton

November 2, 2009 at 2:20 PM