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ESL Follies

 One of the many things I do in RL is run a class in English as a 2nd language for our post-docs, graduate students and (occasionally) new staff at the research institute where I am on the faculty.  The class had its very first meeting today, and it was pretty amusing.  I have seven 'students', 5 Chinese (from 4 different areas of China), one Indian from Bengal and one Georgian (the former Soviet Republic, not our southern State).  ::gratuitous cracks about how they don't speak English there either will be dealt with by the loss of House Points and detention with Flich::  :-)   I am to help them with their comprehension and pronunciation, and help them delve the mysteries of English grammar.  In order to be able to attend, their spoken English must be judged as 'poor' by their P.I. or the Office of Education.  Keep in mind that these people all passed their TOEFL exam.

And how did I end up doing this, well you may ask, as I am (to paraphrase Dr. McCoy) dammit Jim, a scientist, not an English professor?   No good deed goes unpunished, apparently.  I'm chair of our departmental post-doc seminar committee (that sounds impressive, but it's one of those jobs that gets given to the jr. staff because it's a pain), and I have made a habit of having a debriefing after each person's talk, going over what worked, what didn't and how the presentation could be improved.  I've also been known to do the same for post-docs about to go out and give a job seminar.  For foreign post-docs (which, sadly, now comprise the majority), this includes help with their English.  News of this filtered up the food chain, and the Institute Chair (who happens to have someone in his lab who is now taking the course)  thought it would be a grand idea to offer help with English to the wider Institute community, and, since I was already doing this (sort of) for my department, and since I'm not teaching this year otherwise (having been given a sabbatical because of my illness),  wouldn't I consider doing this while they decide whether it would be a good idea to hire an actual teacher of English (and oh, BTW isn't it time for your mid-term review soon)?  Yep, that's right: blackmail.  Academia - what's not to like?  ::snort::

So here are these poor people, expecting someone who actually knows how to teach English and getting someone who has a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject, but no clue how to start.  I spent a lot of time going over ESL websites, combing the library for ideas and working feverishly to try to put something together that seems coherent and won't be a waste of anyone's time, but still feels as if it's been thrown together from five feet away.  Ugh.  Class seemed to go OK today, but then the Georgian student threw me for a loop (note to self: add 'threw me for a loop' to list of idiomatic expressions).  "Something I am confused over," he said.  "If plural of mouse is mice and plural of louse is lice, why is not plural of house hice?"  Ideas, anyone?
 

Comments

rexluscus
Sep. 30th, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)
The short answer is that Old English was an inflected language with gendered nouns, so you formed the plurals differently depending on what declension and gender the noun belonged to. OE declension is really complicated and I don't get it at all, but I looked these words up, and 'mouse' and 'louse' are both feminine while 'house' is neuter, so that might explain it. This book is also telling me that that the 'mouse/mice' formation is due to i-mutation, but I don't know the conditions under which that happens.

In general, these sorts of incoherencies are usually caused by words that look similar superficially actually deriving from words from different languages, and bringing remnants of that language's morphology along with them. But even then, you get cases where a word is borrowed from some other language but then inflected by analogy with a pre-existing English word - so you can't count on the borrowed words to behave in a uniform fashion either.

Short answer: English vocabulary contains so many borrowed words and English grammar itself has been so transformed by its infusion by other languages that it no longer has a regular morphology - irregularity is the rule, as it were. So, as Delphi said, words are like that just because. :)
albalark
Sep. 30th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
OMG, Rex - you didn't have to go hunting for me, but bless you for doing so!! All of this stuff I *don't* know, just makes it increasingly clear to me that I'm about as qualified to do this as I am to do surgery (though one hopes the outcome of English Teaching Without A License will be less gory ::g::). Thanks again for coming to the rescue! ::smishes::