Travails of English as a second language

For the most part, I can forget that I learned English relatively late, but sometimes it strikes me that I view the language differently from most native speakers.

My son, for a school assignment, wrote that "the tractor had no breaks".  "Do tractors have fuses?", I asked him, before I realized that he meant "brakes".  Because I learned to read and write English before I could speak it, words like "break" and "brake" have no relationship to me. They are completely and totally different. This has advantages -- there is no way I could mix up "their" and "there" in a sentence. Or even "it's" or "its" because I don't tie an English word with its sound.  They are just a sequence of letters. In fact, there are thousands of words that I've never pronounced and the first few years in America, I learned to listen somewhat carefully to figure out the general scheme of pronouncing words and place names. (Incidentally, this listening thing is something that many immigrants never seem to latch on to. I spoke to someone who'd lived in Tulsa for over 15 years who pronounced the name of the town he lived in: "Toolsa".  I didn't have the heart to correct him.). But it has the disadvantage in that misspellings can throw me for a complete loop.

Thus, when a colleague writes, in a blog about a missed forecast of freezing rain, that:
 the freezing drizzle didn't have the dramatic appearance of huge amounts of ice forming that most drivers look for as queues to take action to slow down.
it takes me a long while to realize that he is taking about "cues".  My first thought was that the drivers would slow down only if there was a queue of hitchhikers in an ice storm and only when that mental image didn't make sense did I finally puzzle out the intended meaning. Meanwhile, you probably read through the sentence and had to go re-read it to see that he'd used "queues" instead of "cues".


  1. I think a lot of people rely on spell/grammar checks and no program could write every single correction that the English language demands. I've often thought that learning English has to be so hard for this very reason.

  2. >>.. that he is taking about
    should it be
    that he is talking about

  3. yes, "talking" about. Typing correctly, on the other hand, I could use some help on.