Saw Thor

The topic in the textbook was emotions and one of the questions was ‘Do you enjoy horror movies?’. One student said yes, so I asked for an example. He said ‘Saw’. Another student said ‘But that’s an action movie’. He and I looked puzzled. He quickly searched for an image of that movie and showed it to her. She said ‘Oh, I thought you said /sɔ/’, then quickly searched and showed us an image of Thor.

/θ/ is one of the last phonemes which native English speaking children acquire (indeed, some don’t acquire it (and /ð/) at all – dis, dat, tick and tin are part of several established varieties of English), and it is probably the hardest phoneme for second language learners (/ð/ is at least far more common, in higher-frequency words like this, that, these, those, there, then, mother, father, brother).

I’m surprised that this misunderstanding happened this way around. I would far more expect the first student to mispronounce /θɔ/ as /sɔ/. Anyway, the misunderstanding was cleared up, and I was able to give them a brief explanation.

Unexplained and puzzling usage advice

I have posted before about unexplained and puzzling advice on language-related websites. This kind of advice is given in terms of ‘that is wrong, this is right’. I stumbled across a website which gives generally correct and useful advice on English vocabulary, grammar and usage for second-language learners. But on one page, among 13 pieces of unexceptional advice, are three pieces of unexplained and puzzling advice on word usage. I won’t identify the website, because I don’t want to name and shame; this person has obviously put a lot of time and effort into the site and the advice is generally correct and useful. The name and photo indicate someone from a major English-speaking country, one sentence uses the spelling center, many of the mistakes sound typical of Indian English, and one sentence mentions Chennai, so draw your own conclusions from that.

The website has a page of ‘Common mistakes in the use of nouns’. Only one piece of advice comes with an explanation:

Incorrect: I am learning a new poetry.
Correct: I am learning a new poem.
Poetry means poems collectively.

The three puzzling pieces of advice are:

(1) Incorrect: He enquired about your state of health.
(2) Correct: He enquired about the state of your health.
(3) Incorrect: My English is very weak.
(4) Correct: I am very weak in English.
(5) Incorrect: Why are you standing in the center of the street?
(6) Correct: Why are you standing in the middle of the street? [my numbering]

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