Someone mentioned teaching their kids about something other than English recently.
Personally, I’m all for it and wondered what other people had to say. My worry is that you always run up against the limitations of the teachers, or people preparing the material you use. They may be great at English, but how much do they know about other stuff?
Example: A student challenged his ‘wrong’ mark in a multiple choice quiz which involved finding the odd one out from several foodstuffs. The book considered mushrooms to be vegetables, the kid knew better. I gave him the point, of course, because I’d just that science book by Bill Bryson, but he still got the ‘wrong’ answer and how many other people have been made aware of that distinction?
Example: An article about the origins of names of foodstuffs featured the story of how the Earl of Sandwich had the revolutionary idea of putting a piece of meat between two pieces of bread. Except that they didn’t use his title, they used his name. The sandwich is named after John Montagu. Er, so why is it called a sandwich? If you’re going to give the origin of a name you have to show some link to the original word.
Example: A quiz (junior high) in which students had to give the English names of countries on a map. Most could give the English translations of the Chinese names when we went through it afterwards, but didn’t actually know where the countries were so they failed the test. All knew the USA, but half didn’t know Canada. You’re too busy teaching English to teach geography, that’s someone else’s job but doesn’t get done.
Example: Teacher offers a bonus point if students can identify the ONE country which has more than one official language. Yeah dude, you’re Canadian aren’t you? Here, have a photo of bilingual road signs in Wales. I’m sure there are others.
I guess the point is that language only has meaning if it’s used in some context. Without being aware what concepts like ‘sunspot’ or ‘England’ it becomes a totally artificial ‘thing to be conquered’. It’s like studying theoretical math but not being able to do basic arithmetic. A lot of language teaching here is done in a vacuum, and a lot of the teachers are not really equipped to fill in the gaps - even if we had the time and were suitably rewarded.
My other pet peeve is people trying to shoehorn idioms into short articles to ‘illustrate’ their use. My most recent favourite: Toilet seats first sprang up in India.