Me English get badder

I’ve been teaching in Taiwan for too long. I’m beginning to loose my natural instinct for what is bad English.

Here’s a couple of things that I’ve heard Taiwanese say so often, but am not sure if they are unnatural or not:

“How’s the weather?
It’s a sunny day.”
I think this is wrong right? it’s just from the way Chinese say "Jintian shi qingtian / yingtian / fengtian etc. Or does anyone think it’s fine to say that. I can’t get the kids I teach to just say "it’s sunny’.

“many” - “there are many stars” etc etc. Can many be used like that or should you say “lots of”. The books I teach with use “many” in ways that seem odd.

This is frustrating. I can’t always tell ‘Good Enlgish’ from ‘Chinglish’ anymore.


What’s bad too is when you’re speaking English and a Chinese word slips out. I’ve had that happen when talking to coworkers…it’ll say ‘ta’ instaed of ‘he’ and ‘ruguo’ instead of ‘it’, etc. They probably think I’m just mummbling something incoherent…

There’s such a thing as “good” English?
Of all the international people I’ve interacted with, I think those educated persons from the subcontinent of India consistently spoke the most grammatically correct form. However, because my ears couldn’t decipher their accents, it was practically unintelligible and I had to ask them to repeat several times. Almost ten years ago, my esteemed advanced grammar professor warped our class into believing that any English produced and comprehended is ok, even if it doesn’t follow prescriptive rules. After reading the latest research on descriptive grammar at the time, we were toast. The guy could’ve gotten me to buy the Brooklyn bridge. He also stumped for Clinton’s election and a myriad of pet liberal causes in class, but I managed to keep my wits about me in that regard.
Anyway, I know I don’t speak prescriptively myself (US Midwestern dialect) and find the response to the question perfectly acceptable because there is no ambiguity to it. Some might say it’s redundant because sunny implies day, but hey, I have a sign in my office that says, “this office will not tolerate redundancy in this office” and lots of English native-speakers don’t get it!
However, if the students need to know the correct prescriptive response to reproduce on some dumb standardized test to get into the best university or their parents will feel eternally humiliated, then I’d get out the cattle prod. Otherwise, I teach what people actually speak in 2002, not what some book written in 1980 says is the way people “should” speak.
And get this, I have no problem saying, “there’s lotsa stars.” How “right” is that?

With all do respect, while we foreigners often speak slang or informal English, I would think that most of us are also capable of speaking formally, as well. If you gave a speech to a group of people (presumably about stars?), you wouldn’t say “There are lots of stars.”. Personally, I think you’re doing those kids a disservice by teaching them slang or informal English, because it’s only going to confuse them, in the long run. After they have a solid grasp of formal English, then it might be appropriate to teach them some slang and/or informal English.

If you’re talking to a potential boss or employer, you’re going to present yourself formally. You’re not teaching them English so they can go make some new friends. You’re teaching them English because it could quite possibly affect the kinds of jobs they’ll get. So please consider that.

BTW, Bu Lai, that should be “lose”, not “loose”. Maybe it’s time for a vacation, eh?

English, notoriously, has no central authority, no Academy to lay down the ground rules of what is correct and what is not. This is why English dictionaries take etymology more seriously than many other languages. The only real guide to what is acceptable is what has been accepted in the past.
A lot of English grammar is pure bullshit and some heavyweight grammarians like Eric Partridge spent a lot of time debunking what people think is correct rather then prescribing correct forms. The English only really started to think about grammar in the 17th century and then they had the idea that Latin provided the perfect grammatical form and a language should follow Latin’s rules as closely as it could. Hence bull about not being able to end a sentence with a preposition and nonsense like that.
So in a way the tedious answer to Bri’s question is, go to Project Gutenburg, download a few novels by respected writers, and do a search in them for “are many” and “are a lot of” and see which is the most commonly used, and in what context.
Mo’joe suggests that “many” is more formal, and I would agree. I would also agree that, if you are teaching, you do your students no favors by teaching them slang, unless their level is already damned high. How many times have we seen Taiwanese use the word “wanna” as if it is acceptable. And how do you explain that “wannabe” is now used in some of the best writing

Hiya Bri, I know what you mean.

I often resort to using broken English… such as using only simple present tense or things like “Your weekend, how was it?” or even worse “This weekend, you, do what?”… Of course, I do try to speak as naturally as possible when teaching, but after trying to clarify so many times, it begins to feel just as natural to use the broken sentences.

Also, after grading lots of papers with the same Chinese English sentence patterns, I begin to compose sentences in my own head following those patterns… “I like there because there is beautiful” and “In regard to my job, I like my job.”

It’s natural to pick up speaking characteristics from others around you. It can be kind of funny sometimes, though.

Originally posted by Mo' Joe: BTW, Bu Lai, that should be "lose", not "loose". Maybe it's time for a vacation, eh?

Yes, Mo’ Joe, but what is “do” respect? Bon voyage, Mo’ Joe!

Well, Mo’ Joe:

Sweetie, having never met me, you don’t know how I would speak in a given situation. Also, you assume that I teach kids, which I don’t currently. But that aside, I could counter by saying that usually grammar and formal speech are not what many schools have difficulty teaching. Presumably a school would hire me because I have the knowledge their non-native English speaking teachers don’t; that is, the living, breathing language of the day. Non-native speakers want to hang around me because I can teach them how to understand the things they thought they learned but don’t understand because it doesn’t follow the “rules.” Every single non-native speaker I’ve communicated with here in my lovely hometown and abroad complains that they are full of book knowlege but the real language they run into every day makes their heads spin.

You could be right about going for a job interview; however, my 24 year old niece’s boyfriend had an interview a while back with a small computer firm and he was laughing because one guy referred to him as “Dude”! By the way, he got the job and his official title now is “Dumb-ass Three”.

So my dear, I beg to differ with you. It all depends on the teaching assignment. If I teach business English, I’m gonna research the common language of that environment and incorporate whatever variations I find. If I’m the sole provider of instruction to little kids, of course they need the basics, but that won’t preclude me from introducing some slang phrases for our enjoyment (well mostly mine, there’s nothing cuter than a 6 year old greeting me with “WAAASUP”?!)

I don’t imagine most schools hire native-speaking English teachers for their “knowledge of the day” in English, but rather for what they perceive will be fluency and accuracy in standard English. What they actually get, on the other hand, can vary. And what the kids are tested on throughout the Taiwan system is yet another thing.

I think a learner of a second language needs a pretty considerable level of competence before he or she should begin using slang (at least in situations that are not strictly with friends or practicing or stuff like that). If there is the least error or if there is a strong accent present, as likely as not a native speaker who has little experience with foreign speakers will assume the foreign speaker is making a mistake (this goes double for things like puns!) or does not know the appropriate formal or standard form. I mean, you can’t get much respect or command much fear or whatever by calling someone a “son of a beach”. It’s merely laughable.


Ha ha, that’s right. Or a Korean giving a presentation and telling the participants to look at their “shits”.

I remember watching ‘cops’ (its an American show where they follow cops around) and there was this Indian immigrant who had a nervous breakdown after all his neighbors kept blasting rap. So he was trying to speak how he thought they spoke and he kept yelling “You mother bitch! You mother bitch!” It would have been funny if they weren’t hauling him off to a mental institution or where ever.

Oh, that would never happen here! Our cops have all had “sensitivity” training…

you guys are fuxin hilarious LOL!

Oh boy, I can’t wait to get to Taiwan to teach Engrish.

Being a native speaker, I admit, I don’t speak English that well myself - and I sure as hell don’t know the grammatical rules! Like, what’s a proposition? All I know is, its anywhere a cat can get into. LOL.

Oh gawd, this is gonna be a trip for me…

So…anyone got any good links to sites that detail grammer structures and the like?

I’m sure after a few months in Taiwan you’ll find out what a proposition is…!

oops. see?! I meant preposition kekeke

well. what can i say…
Our poor english affect your good english. Well, I’ve been teaching Chinese for years, and sometimes I found my chinese is getting worse and worse. I doubt my sentence, and i don’t want to teach my students the “wrong” sentence, so I will stand there and think about it for a while, and say…hmm…I think this is right. (that’s really bad, I hate it when it happened, it makes me look not professional)
But good for you, foreigners, because most of your students are “kids”, they don’t really “think” or “complain”, don’t even think “this teacher is good or bad”, they don’t really care about the grammar or others as long as the teacher is “foreigner”. But for us, chinese teacher, our students are all adult (at least 95%), some bad teachers might just give the wrong sentence, and doesnt’ care about it. (most of them will be considered of “Professional”, because they can speak with no doubt). and some teachers with responsibility will think about the sentences (I bet it happened to someone that you doubt your own sentences sometimes) just don’t wanna teach the wrong thing. (and they’re considered of “UNprofessional”) Isn’t that fair?
I wonder what will happen if a chinese who is affected with the bad chinese is teaching the foreigner who is easy to be affected…will the foreigner keep his/her good english, just because they learn the bad chinese ?

I find that my self doubt about my language has increased a lot. I work as a translator/editor and unfortunately I work in a situation where all translations have to go through at least two often three rounds of discussion with a Taiwanese who’s under the false impression that his english is better than mine and can’t see the forest for the trees. Anyway, after editing lots of bad translations (more work, more time, and less fun than just doing it myself) and hundreds of wheel spinning conversations with my co-worker, I often can’t tell if a phrasing sounds native or not. It just all gets mushed together, like trying to think of one song while listening to another.

Do English speakers in North America tend to write “wanna” and “gonna” instead of “want to” and “going to”?

Originally posted by sandman: Do English speakers in North America tend to write "wanna" and "gonna" instead of "want to" and "going to"?

Only if they are 14 years old or have no education.

Hmmmm, that’s what I thought. Maybe I’m not as old as I thought I was!

How about valley girls, though? I bet they keep using it 'til they’re well into their 40s.