People say English is the hardest language in the world to learn. I highly doubt that, given that I came to Canada at six years old and picked it up in about half a year. And that’s aside from the fact that a language being “hard” is mostly bullshit.
German, by contrast, is truly insane.
That said, my brain was a sponge at that age, and no one was testing my ability to properly arrange an eight-string of adjectives. Learning English felt incredibly easy, but I reconsidered my position when I recently stumbled upon a tweet citing a quote from Mark Foryth’s The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase:
Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
— Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonBBC) September 3, 2016
A non-native English speaker has to consider that hierarchy every time they talk about something with more than one descriptor; the order in which adjectives have to be put in front of a noun. I never had to worry about it because, at six, I didn’t use more than one or two adjectives to talk about something.
And you, native speaker, have never had to think twice about why the colour of the wine you’re describing has to be mentioned after how old it is but before where it’s from – the 12-year-old red Spanish – because naturally learning English affords the luxury of being able to accept this rule as just how it is. Any other arrangement would inflict chaos on a sentence; no one would suggest you try the red Spanish 12-year-old.
The ‘opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose’ order is to English what BEDMAS is to math – except we don’t pull our hair out trying to configure it properly. Those learning English in adulthood, though, probably do. Check out how Hungarians are taught this rule:
Remember anything like that from English class? Certainly not.
Just something to keep in mind next time you take describing something in detail for granted.