498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …


Faster than the speed of time

Every new year, most people go through a shorter or longer period of writing the old year after a date in January (and perhaps into February) (some people refer to this as the 13th month of the year). I managed to do the opposite, dating a folder of photos from my photographic outing to a baseball game on Saturday ’30 December 2018′. When another member of the group pointed this out to me, I said ‘I use a fast shutter speed – faster than the speed of time!’.

(The speed of time is, of course 3.6 x 10^3 seconds per hour.)

inning and innings, outing and outings

On  Saturday evening I went for an outing to a baseball game. This is slightly unusual in Australia (there is a baseball competition, but it is almost unknown) and very unusual for me (I would not otherwise go to a baseball game, except …).

Last year I semi-did a course in photography on Coursera (I watched the videos and did the standard quizzes, but didn’t pay money to do the assessment quizzes and submit my photos for peer review). A few weeks ago one of the lecturers (a professor of photography at a university in the USA) emailed people in Australia who’d done the course, saying that he would be in Australia in late Dec-early Jan and was planning a trip to the baseball. (Which makes about as much sense as me travelling to the USA and going to a cricket match, but his son is involved with the baseball team here.) Seven photographers and three hangers-on attended. We had a short session together, then wandered around taking photos before and during the game. After some time, we each had a one-on-one with the lecturer, and he said some seriously nice things about my photos.

Photos first, then language: Continue reading


Yesterday I went to Yarramundi Reserve, a small and frankly not very interesting area at the junction of the Nepean, Grose and Hawkesbury Rivers, north-west of the Sydney metropolitan area. Yarramundi (or Yel-lo-mun-dy, or Yal-lah-mien-di, or Yèl-lo-mun-dee, or Yellomundee, or Yello_mundy, or Yellah_munde) was a leader and healer of the Buruberongal (or Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, or Bu-ru-be-ron-gal, or Bu-ru-be-rong-al, or Boorooberongal, or Buribırȧŋál), a ‘wood tribe’ whose country extended inland from somewhere north-west of Parramatta towards and including the Nepean/Hawkesbury River.

A party of British explorers led by Governor Arthur Phillip met him and several others in April 1791, on an expedition to discover if and how the Hawkesbury (which they had previously explored upstream from its mouth) and the Nepean (which they had encountered after walking overland westward from Parramatta) met. As it turns out, the Nepean/Hawkesbury is essentially one river, but the two names have stuck, and this junction is the arbitrary point at which the names officially change. (The Grose River was named later; Major Francis Grose (later acting governor) did not arrive in the colony until 1792.)

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The Blue Mountains v Blue Mountain

Yesterday I went driving, exploring and photographing in part of what some of my students call Blue Mountain, and what I insist on calling the Blue Mountains. There’s no place in Australia called Blue Mountain, but there are genuine linguistic reasons why some of my students (and, I guess, many others) change the Blue Mountains to Blue Mountain. Many languages do not have the equivalent of English a and the, and many speakers of English as a second language just aren’t used to saying those two English words. Many languages also do not have the equivalent of English plural s (or, as in Korean, it may be optional). English plural s often makes a double, triple or even quadruple consonant cluster with the final consonant(s) – here ns, which many second language speakers find difficult and want to simplify.

The Blue Mountains cover a large area, and people usually go to only a very small part of them. The officially defined geographic area covers 11,400 km2, almost as large as the Sydney metropolitan area (12,367 km2) and larger than 37 sovereign states. The local government area and the state electorate are, respectively, the City of Blue Mountains and the Electoral district of Blue Mountains, respectively.

And they aren’t blue. The sun filtering through evaporated eucalyptus oil gives the scenery a very slightly blueish tinge, but the trees are otherwise green and the rocks brown. I hope tourist books explain that.

The same linguistic issues arose when a student told me that she’d gone to Southern ’Ighland (viz, the Southern Highlands) the previous weekend. This sounded either like Southern Island (there is no Southern Island anywhere in the physical world) or (in my non-rhotic pronunciation) Southern Ireland (ooooh, a lot of Irish history and politics there).

[edit 6 Oct: after I posted on Facebook about another photo-hike to the Blue Mountains, an online friend from Canada told me that there is a Blue Mountain in Ontario (the name of the mountain and a ski resort), as well as nearby town named ‘The Blue Mountains‘.]

past tense, travel, verb phrases, negative polarity questions

There are some mistakes which I can understand, and others which I can’t. In class one day this week, the topic was travel, and there were two readings on ‘My worst holiday’. The grammar focus arising from the reading was past simple, because most travel stories are recounted largely that way. The past simple forms appeared in the stories, but the grammar focus activity gave the plain present forms, which the students had to change to the past simple forms, then check them from the story.

One student gave the past simple form of ‘go’ as ‘goesed’, which I don’t/can’t understand how he produced. He has never encountered that form, and there is no rule in English grammar which allows the addition of two different verb inflections, especially when one of them is a present tense form and the other is a past tense form.* Just possibly, he was thinking that she/he/it needs ‘-es’ always, then added ‘-ed’ to make the past tense form, except that the story was told in first person. Just possibly, we would understand the answer ‘I goesed home’ to the question ‘What did you do after class yesterday?’, but would be at least momentarily flummoxed by it.

Another student wrote ‘gone’ as the past simple form. I can understand that. go-went-gone is probably the second hardest verb paradigm for students to remember (behind ‘be’).  ‘gone’ is visually and aurally more similar to ‘go’; indeed, ‘went’ began as a completely different word.  Certainly, we would understand the answer ‘I gone home’.**

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