How To Learn To Speak English-And He She Or They
How to learn to speak English
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Today we will talk about an interesting change to modern English grammar. How an odd part of English grammar, which was falling out of use is now being used to support a modern view of gender.
Grammar is always a tricky English lesson for us. We want you to listen to the lesson several times. Most people automatically tune out because the lesson is about grammar it will automatically “be boring!”
However, if you listen to this English audio lesson, we will help you understand how the UK is changing its view on gender, how UK culture is changing, and if you're a manager or someone who has responsibility over people, then knowing this bit of English grammar can help you provide constructive criticism.
That's not even taking into account about all the English vocabulary you can practice listening to, when you listen to this lesson.
Transcript: How To Learn To Speak English-And He She Or They
Now a topic for you today which encompasses English grammar, some topical issues around gender – and my personal opinion! Ooh – a recipe for an interesting podcast discussion perhaps? So here goes. It starts off talking about grammar, then it moves onto ideas in our society which are connected with this use grammar.
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‘They’ - 3rd person singular
When we talk about the 3rd person plural verb form, what we mean in English is the ‘they’ form of the verb, T-H-E-Y. So ‘they went’, ‘they are eating’, ‘they will have’. 3rd person plural. So this is the sort of thing that you might learn if you’re learning your English verbs on a taught course, on a...in a college, in a formal learning context. 3rd person plural. However, there is another use of this verb form ‘they’ in English, which has been around for a long time. Sometimes we say ‘they’ when we mean an individual, one person, which would normally be 3rd person singular form. So 3rd person singular form sounds like ‘she is eating’’, ‘he will have’. Why do we use this plural form ‘they’ then, to mean a single person? Well we might use ‘they’ if we don’t know the gender of the person. So if someone had dropped a £10 note in the street, and we found it and picked it up, we might say ‘Mmm. That’s a shame, this person – they’ve lost their money’. We might use ‘they’ when we don’t know the gender – so something like..erm ‘There’s someone at the front door! They’ve been knocking for a long time!’ That would be a ‘they’, because you don’t know who it is.
It might just be one person. So you can improve your spoken English by knowing about this form of the personal pronoun - ‘they’ to mean singular when you don’t know who it is, you don’t know the gender of the person. Another traditional use of this form ‘they’ to mean a single person could be when someone is talking about one person within a group and they don’t want to identify that person. So if they said ‘he’ or ‘she’, the person’s gender, would be revealed. It might be easier to guess who it was. Say if you’re the manager of a team of people at work, and one member of staff has made a mistake. You might want to discuss this mistake in the wider team, but you don’t want to say who it was that made the mistake. So you might use ‘this person – they did this, or they did that...’. If you had a team of say, 7 women and 3 men – and you used ‘he’, then it might be much more obvious which ‘he’ you were talking about. So you can use ‘they’ to avoid revealing someone’s identity or their gender. And in case you’re not sure, gender, G-E-N-D-E-R is a noun, which means the state of being male or female. You might be asked on a form, what is your gender?
Unnecessary use of ‘they’?
Now, the pronoun form ‘they’, meaning the singular form is creeping into other areas. As you may know, I’m a psychotherapist – that’s my normal job. And I see clients with – thats people, with psychological difficulties. So I receive what are called referrals, so R-E-F-E-R-R-A-L-S. And a referral means I get sent someone’s names and contact details so that I can offer them sessions. Sometimes these come with a description of the problem, and the details are often written in the ‘they’ form. So this isn’t an actual example, but it gives you an idea, So this is someone’s description, of what someone who might see me for therapy – what their problems are and it might read like this. ‘This person has a lot of anxiety about their work and shares that they feel nauseous and their mood is low.
They live alone so their support network is not wide and they don’t want to burden their family with their troubles’. Now although this is understandable to an English speaker, it can sound a really clumsy grammatical form because we’re not used to it. And in this context, where I’m being sent the details of a person I’m going to meet, there’s little point to using this, to protect or obscure the person’s gender! I’m going to know them, over a period of working with them, so that doesn’t make any sense!
Use of ‘they’ to be accommodating
One of the reasons why the ‘they’ form is increasingly being used is because people who define themselves as non-binary are adopting this form. Non-binary, so non NON- means ‘not’ and binary, B-I-N-A-R-Y is an adjective used where there are two possibilities. So you might say something is ‘binary’, it’s black or white, there’s no in-between. So when people talk about themselves as being ‘non-binary’ it means they prefer not to be identified as either male or female. They may see their gender as something different. They may dress in a way which suggests they’re neither male nor female and may choose not to be categorized in this way. In this country, people may identify with a wide range of gender identities, not simply ‘male’ and ‘female’. Now depending upon where in the world you come from, this may be a completely familiar idea or maybe something completely new and different.
But in the US and the UK, this is something that you come across more frequently, so it’s good to be familiar with it. People may live as a different gender from their birth gender or they may be transgender, so they’ve transitioned between genders. So sometimes people who are non-binary ask to be known by the pronoun ‘they’. If someone feels strongly enough about this to request that you refer to them as ‘they’, then probably it’s polite to make an effort to do so. You’ll might forget or make mistakes, because we’re not used to using ‘they’. We’re used to using ‘he’ or ‘she’ as pronouns and it can feel clumsy at first. But if it’s important to them, if it really matters, I don’t find that a problem.
Should we keep ‘he’ and ‘she’?
However, what I do find a bit more problematic is the idea that everybody should be using ‘they’ all the time and we should abandon ‘he’ and ‘she’. It‘s been argued that if we all used this ‘gender neutral language’ the ‘they’ form in other words, there would be less discrimination. Discrimination – D-I-S-C-R-I-M-I-N-A-T-I-O-N, so also there’s the verb ‘to discriminate’ - you discriminate against someone. ‘Discrimination’ means the act of treating someone differently, unfairly on account of some aspect like their gender or their race. So usually I would support something that was anti-discriminatory. So that’s an adjective and it means that it’s...an action which goes against what discriminates. Anti-discriimatory. However, I find to promote the universal use of the non-gender pronoun, ‘they’ doesn’t feel right. To many people, their gender is important – and they like and prefer being called ‘he’ or ‘she’. That’s the majority of people. I would say that of myself – I love being female, I love being a woman and I like being called ‘she’. And if you’re a trans-woman – it means you’ve changed gender from male to female, you’ve had to fight really hard for your gender. So you probably don’t want someone to neutralise it and call you ‘they’!
For most people, whether they’re male or female is a huge part of their identity and something that they really like and feel comfortable with. So ‘he’ and ‘she’ is good for the vast majority. Let’s not insist on changing it to ‘they’ for everyone. My daughter would call that ‘the tyranny of the majority’, but for me that sounds right.
There are languages which don’t use gendered pronouns - Bengali, Japanese, Turkish for example – please tell us if any of these are your languages and that’s incorrect though! But it is what I’ve read. Yet there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s less discrimination and more equality where these languages are spoken because there’s a gender neutral pronoun. So it’s not clear that the argument holds water either. But it’s just my opinion – maybe it’s different in your country? Maybe it sounds crazy to you that we even worry about these things. Send us your opinion, send us your comments!
So there’s some Adept English Rule Six – the Helping Hand - if you notice that sometimes people say ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or she’ - this is why. That’s the context. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say ‘Rule Six, the Helping Hand of Adept English, then you obviously haven’t yet subscribed for our [free course] http://7rules.adeptenglish.com/, the Seven Rules of Adept English. If you want to know how to learn to speak English and speak English fluently without hesitation then our Seven Rules of Adept English Course has all the answers! How to learn English quickly – or more quickly – this course tells you the secrets! If you’re an English language learner and you haven’t yet signed up for this, then you’re missing out! You could be making much better use of the podcasts! And yes, The Seven Rules of Adept English is entirely free! We give this course away no charge, you don’t have to pay! So go to our website at adeptenglish.com, and you can sign up for it straight away and answer that question - how to learn to speak English. Speak English more fluently and confidently in 7 steps.
PS: Podcast Download Bundles
I thought I would take a few minutes to explain what the difference is between a podcast download bundle is and the podcasts you can download for free from the website.
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If your time is valuable and you want hours of English audio listening quickly, then the bundles is the best option. If you cannot afford the small fee we charge for the bundles, then you can still take advantage of the back catalogue lessons, it’s just going to take you longer to get them all.
Regardless of which route you take once you have hours of English listening on your mobile phone you can create playlists that tackle the areas of your English learning you need to focus on. It means you can listen without an Internet connection. It’s a good way to go.