Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

China: Vocabulary List

Today, as I was laying out my things, I saw, on the desk of one of my
students a list of phrases that they had been given to learn. It ran
to about 150 phrases and, from idle curiosity I picked it up and took
a glance. Remember that students are not required to understand the
appropriate use of the phrases or even the meanings of the phrases,
simply to memorize them for a test.
It was a curious document.
It started innocuously enough with a few phrases like "Hello, how are
you?", "It's good to meet you:, "I haven't seen you for ages" and so
on. Some of them were a little more colloquial - "How are you doing",
"Hi, what's happening?", "I llike your style.". Others were more
unlikely, at least they were unlikely to be of frequent use, for
example "Please say 'hello' to your mother, for me."
Things got a little weirder as it moved on to phrases of endearment. I
suppose, "I love you guys" might come in handy but in what
circumstances is someone learning English in China likely to need, "I
adore you with all of my heart" or "I'm simply crazy about you"?
I always thought vocabulary lists were supposed to teach you common
words and phrases.
Or indeed useful idioms. Is "money will come and money will go" really
a useful idiom? Or for that matter an idiom at all? Similarly, even
after I had inserted the missing word 'free' in the middle of it,
would anyone say, "There is no free supper in the word" instead of the
much more common (though strangely absent from the list) "there's no
such thing as a free lunch"? Personally I also have doubts about
whether or not "tough job, tough day" is actually an idiom or of the
slightest bit of use to them.
It get's stranger though as you move further down the list.
Number 80 was "Zip your fly" which seems an unlikely inclusion but
number 89 stopped me dead and prompted me to instruct them that it's
really rather offensive and they shouldn't even consider using it.
Why, exactly, would anyone consider "that's just bullshit" a suitable
phrase for this kind of list?
Unless it was actually meant as a description of the list itself.