Oh now I feel old! The topic in the textbook was science, and as a filler I showed the students some science-related movie trailers, starting with the ‘based on a true story’ movies Hidden figures, The theory of everything and The right stuff. Then I showed some science fiction, starting with 2001: A space odyssey. I said ‘How many of you remember 2001’? I was expecting a few hands. I don’t know how old my students are, but I would guess late 20s or even early 30s for some of them. (Others are much younger, possibly late teens or early 20s.) No-one (but me) remembers 2001???? At least they could have said ‘Oh, that was the year I started school’ (as indeed one of my nieces said when I posted on Facebook about this later.)
Then I showed them Back to the future 1 & 2, and 1989’s imagining of 2015 made much more sense to them than 1968’s imagining of 2001. (In general, BttF got more right than 2001.) Along the way I found 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Right, 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Wrong and a parody by CollegeHumor made in 2015 with the benefit of nowsight. I also tried to find the American talk/comedy show which snared Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd as guests on 21 October 2015, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t remember whose show it was on. A Facebook friend later told me it was Jimmy Kimmel.
I have occasionally said to people that I’ve taught students from more than 30 countries. I think the list below is accurate, but I might have missed one or two. Overwhelmingly most of my students have been/are from Asian countries (esp PR China, Hong Kong, RO China, Thailand) at my current college, South American countries (esp Colombia, Peru, Brazil) at my previous college, and South Korea in South Korea. I’ve had only one or two students from most of the African, Middle-Eastern and European countries.
Mongolia PR China Hong Kong RO China South Korea Japan
Thailand Cambodia Vietnam Malaysia Singapore Indonesia Fiji
Mexico Colombia Peru Brazil Argentina
Tanzania Kenya Egypt UAE Jordan Israel Lebanon Turkey
The textbook’s section on ‘future forms’ introduced [be] Ving, [be] going to V, will V and shall I/we V? Shall used to be used in statements, the traditional explanation being that I/we shall and you/she/he/it/they will showed a simple intention for the future, while the reverse – I/we will and you/she/it/they shall showed a strong intention. This distinction was probably not ever strictly observed, but throughout the 20th century the use of shall in statements declined. The last remaining holdout is the use of shall in questions of offer or suggestion. Even then, there are many contexts in which I would never use it. One example was (something like) ‘A: Let’s go to the cinema tonight. B: Sure. What shall we see?’. I said to the students that I would never say that, and I can’t imagine that anyone I know would. I would probably say ‘What do you want to see?’, even though that’s much longer and goes against my general principle of ‘keep it short and simple’.
I searched my diary for the two and half years of my first stay in Korea. I used shall twice, both in formulaic expressions. The first was about a night out with colleagues. I left early-ish because I had an early class the next morning, but ‘Most of my colleagues stayed and two (who shall remain nameless) and got falling-down drunk (literally).’ (Google Ngrams shows that shall remain nameless has always been more common than will remain nameless, and grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, against the general decline in shall.) The second was ‘One of the level 4 students said that his dream vacation would be to Andromeda […] He said that a fortune teller had told him that he had previously lived there. i asked how he got to earth, and he said that he had “borrowed” a human body. All .. right … err, let’s stick to the planet earth, shall we?’. He then nominated Peru, which kind of makes sense; maybe the Nazca Lines were made by Andromedans.
In a lesson during my first time in Korea, the textbook had a page about English-language (mostly English) proverbs. As well as struggling with the proverbial meanings, the students also seemed not to understand the whole idea of a proverb. I tried to elicit a Korean proverb, but one student flatly stated that there were no such things. This seemed unlikely in a land of Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, all known for aphoristic teaching, and folk wisdom is pretty much the same the world over.
A few days later, in the middle of a completely different discussion, a student in a higher class said, ‘Well, as we say in Korea: “The ship with a hundred captains ends up in the mountains”’, which of course was exactly what I’d been after. (Obviously, compare ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’.)
Jump ahead eight or nine years to this morning, when I went to a hospital for physio treatment. There was a bookstall, possibly run by the hospital auxiliary. I looked for an easy book in Korean. There was a book about countries of the world, which I thought might be too restricted in its language. Then I saw a pocket-sized book of short paragraphs. I translated the title (via a mobile phone app) as ‘Proverb Dictionary’. Yes, 244 (pocket-sized) pages of Korean proverbs, while I thought I might be able to dip into, and attempt to translate, either with what Korean I know, or with the help of an app or Google Translate. Each entry has the proverb itself and a short explanation. Two start with ‘ship’, but I can’t see the word for ‘mountain’ (unless they use a more formal word).
When I first started teaching ESL in South Korea, I began to notice certain pronunciation patterns in my students’ speech. I won’t call them errors, because the more I learned about Korean, the more I became convinced that they were directly and systematically related to the sounds which exist, or don’t, in Korean. Broadly speaking, and allowing for individual differences in ability, it is possible to distinguish three groups of sounds:
those which are identical or nearly so in Korean and English, which generally cause no problems;
those which are partly similar and partly different, which generally don’t cause problems in some contexts but do in others; and
those which are very different, which generally cause problems in all contexts.
This is supported by evidence including: academic literature on ‘interference’ and ‘learner English’, my personal observations teaching ESL in South Korea, living with Koreans in Australia and socialising with them here and there, a systematic comparison of the sounds systems of Korean and English, and consideration of the way English words are written in hangeul.
One writer says “Interference is the ‘effect of one language on another, producing “instances of deviation from the norms of either language”’’, another “A learner’s English is … likely to carry the signature of his/her mother tongue, by virtue both of what goes wrong and of what does not”. Continue reading →