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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?


Sep. 30th, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
This might console one of the more advanced ones. Explains nothing, but they'll know they're not the only ones:


We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England ..
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns
down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And, in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?

I would like to add that if people from Polland are called Poles,
people from Holland should be holes and the Germans Germs.

And my own explanation for the inconsistencies and exceptions in languages (I teach French and Dutch SL) depend on the level of the student: sometimes I really explain how a thing happened diachronistically (if the student would really understand and be interested), and sometimes I explain that exceptions were created so that language teachers may earn their wages.
Sep. 30th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
That poem, TRS, is a bloody *masterpiece*!!! I have printed it out and have posted it on my wall - it just really made my morning. :-D I'll probably pass it out at our next session, too.

Tu es trop formidable, mon amie! Merci beaucoup!
Sep. 30th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
De rien, c'est un vrai plaisir!
Says The Hole (while grinning in a very flattered way at your icon).
Sep. 30th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
You don't think I wrote it, I hope? I got it from an English friend, and spread it to a few dear flisties. So *not worthy* applies to me, if you thought I'm the genius ...