Monday, February 22, 2010

Teaching English

While I now find myself teaching English as my line of work, I was never very good at the rules of grammar, etc. behind the English language. I certainly never got formal training in teaching English. But I've got a pretty good ear for what's correct. More important for my job prospects, I am a US-born native speaker – with a valid work permit. Somewhat rare here.

I get a chuckle when I see things in the English text books or on the walls in the classroom that are incorrect, in my humble opinion.

For example - there is a list of basic phrases taped to the wall in every classroom at FISK. Among them is the ever popular "Can I drink water?" Huh? I like to tease the students when they ask this and say "I don't know, CAN you? Are you able to drink?" Teachable moment...

I especially like it when I see errors in the advertisements for English language schools. Check out this billboard.

It appears the little girl has lips. I assume they function properly. She probably CAN give the boy a kiss, but will she?

The other one that drives me nuts is the use of the phrase: “Do you have any doubts?” or “Teacher, I have a doubt.” Questions – do you have any questions? The professional educators at the highest levels of FISK use this expression. It’s more a literal translation from Portuguese, I think, or maybe it’s British English. Don’t know. But I point out to students and colleagues that through 19 years of school in the States I never once had a teacher ask me if I had any doubts (unless it was in a religion or philosophy class).


TexasHeather said...

Oh, so true! And we have the same billboard near us. What cracks me up -- advertising by putting up a phrase in English that prospective students probably can't read yet anyway. Oh well!

You are right on the doubts/duvidas; that is just how they phrase it here, for whatever reason. Good for you working to correct them!

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this billboard, but I'm enjoying the one of the Brazilian making out with the American girl the entire time and she says, "I'm in love" and he says (in Portuguese) "How am I going to stop kissing her when I can't say even one word in English?!" <--To my knowledge, no errors but amusing nonetheless.

Fabio Bossard said...

Hahahahaa. Loved it!! I'm an English with a good level of English but sometimes Portuguese insists on getting the way. I was corrected on my blog about this doubt/question problem this week. Oddly enough is that I knew the difference. Again Portuguese influence. About "can I drink some water?" isn't 'can' used for permission as well? At least that's how we learn it.

Jim said...

Fabio - it is certainly common usage to use 'can' to seek permission, but I always take the opportunity to point out that it is more correct to use 'may' -- at least in my humble opinion. Using 'can' generally won't lead to being misunderstood, but it won't get you a perfect score on your English essay exam.

But again - I am trusting my native speaker ear as my guide (and the little voice in my head of my third grade teacher who always corrected me.)

**I really enjoy your blog.

Fabio Bossard said...

I'm glad you like my blog and thanks for the explanation. Now I won't forget.

Else said...

Dear Jim

If I may venture a comment regarding the question, "Can I drink some water." I believe it is not so much that L1 English speakers interpret the "can" here as denoting ability rather than permission, it is more that English L1 speakers usually avoid using some verbs when asking permission. I would venture to say that these verbs would include, for example:"drink" "eat" and "live".

Even if we substitute "may" for "could" - "May I drink some water?" I believe this is still an unnatural construction. I believe an L1 speaker would naturally utter something like "Can I have some water". Same as I believe "Can/May I eat some Feijoada" would probably be recast as "May/Can I have some Feijoada".

Kind regards