Friday, January 13, 2012

My English bad quality

Call me an elitist language school snob,
but I'd probably think twice before sending my kid there (Kaohsiung)

I've been living outside the English-speaking world for more than a year, which really isn't as difficult as it sounds, as a lot of people speak English there anyway. Language barriers haven't presented a problem most of the time either (apart from that one time in Indonesia when I ended up sleeping in a rainy field).

But as I speak less and less to native English speakers, I've been noticing a drop in the quality of my spoken English - what began as well-meaning simplification to make me easier to understand seems to have had the adverse effect of making me forget how sentences actually work.

This became most apparent when I spoke to an American in Thailand in November, and caught myself saying 'tomorrow I stay three nights in Cambodia.' An ambitious plan, albeit chronologically impossible without some sort of Father Christmas-like time-warping ability. But I realised this had become a major problem when I took in the view at Jeju Island, South Korea, and proclaimed: 'I like to be fresh air in my face.'

I'll get right on that (Penang)

I was never the most coherent enunciator in the first place. Someone once picked me up on my habit of dropping prepositions from sentences - like 'I'm gonna go bed' or 'I'm gonna go town.' I minored in English Language for a year at University, so I know that any authentic transcription of real-life conversations is going to contain its share of repetition, hesitation, deviation and nonsensical filler. But as I was talking to a non-native English speaker at the time, and was already in my default cautious mode of choosing words carefully, 'I like to be fresh air in my face' felt like a new low.

This is all the more reason I should never teach English abroad - beyond the other compelling incentives to stick to my writing career, such as the incomparable freedom it gives me, the chance to use the one 'skill' I possess and not having to deal with kids. Luckily for my job and this blog, this deterioration of my spoken English doesn't seem to have affected my ability to write in English at all. My written word still be achieve big stamina.

I like to be fresh air in my face (Jeju)


  1. To continue noting down inconsequential examples of my broken English after the event, I just had my first brief conversation with a native English speaker in several weeks, while making tea and before making my hasty exit.

    GUY: Oh, so there's tea eh?
    DAVE: There's regular free stuff.

    Why did I use those words? That doesn't seem correct, does it? Maybe the solution is to never speak to anyone again, unless I'm using my even more woefully deficient foreign languages. I greeted the hotel owner with a friendly 'annyeung haseyo' this morning and he seemed to find it hilarious.

    1. This cracked me up! :D "I like to be fresh air in my face" Maybe you should carry a white board around and write what you want to say, like a mute? :P

    2. It's actually recommended to write down questions and hand over a pen if you're getting stuck in Korea and some other countries where the level of English reading and writing is generally inferior to speaking and listening (due to lack of practice).

      I sometimes have to point to the name of a foreign place (in English/Roman letters) if someone doesn't recognise the proper name I've just spoken in the correct way, being careful to use the right intonation. They probably just assume I'm speaking English and give up. I understand this and have done the same.

  2. My written work might not have escaped decline after all. I just had to heavily rewrite something that looked like it was written by a seven year old, or someone just getting to grips with the English language through Spot the Dog books. I blame all the time I spend writing carefully simplified emails to foreign girls.

    I probably shouldn't be admitting this stuff on a website my bosses have access to (though I'm still not sure how the British ones apparently know about it). But I am a care-free maverick like that. Please don't fire me.