Why you shouldn't focus on the differences between words and phrases.
People really seem to like it when I point out differences between words or phrases. This morning I sent out a Twitter message about my recent post, "I'll just be glad when it's over." The message I sent out got a lot of response - people re-tweeted it and wrote back about it, and about twice as many people clicked on it as usual. Here's the Tweet:
And the same thing happened earlier in the week when I posted this message:
It seems that people really like to read about the differences between similar things. OK, great! I've found a great way to get more people to come visit my site! Except I have a problem with this, because I don't think this sort of information is very useful.
Just look at the examples above. "Happy" and "glad" are nearly the same in meaning. In fact, they're so similar that you might wonder why both of them are needed in the English language. In reality, they're both used in slightly different circumstances, but if you were learning English and somehow missed learning the meaning of "glad", you could still easily express yourself and communicate with people.
It's the same with "take the train" and "ride the train". English speakers use them a little bit differently, but if you only used one of them you'd be able to communicate 99% of the time.
If you start to think and worry about these small differences too much, it might actually make you less fluent in English. You'll hesitate and worry about whether to use "take" or "ride" instead of focusing on what you're trying to say. There's a saying in English: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."
In general, I think English learners should pay less attention to trying to speak English "correctly", and put more effort into trying to learn new English words and phrases. Here's the reason: whenever you learn something new, you expand the amount of English that you're able to understand. Once you know what "get around to it" means, you will start to notice people using it in your conversations, in movies, on Twitter, in novels, etc. (You are exposing yourself to lots of real, natural English, right?) And you'll naturally start to use it more accurately the more times you hear and read it. I've written about this idea before (in a more complicated way).
I'm not going to stop writing about differences between phrases, because I think they can be interesting and educational in small amounts. And I'm going to continue to Tweet about them because I want more people to visit the site! But I hope that readers aren't giving too much thought to these points.
Am I wrong? Do you think that learning the differences between phrases is really important? Let me know in the comments!Print this Article