Monday, 4 May 2009

The Ways of Their Errors

A Japanese friend once told me that he could study English just listening to my Japanese. I was hurt at the time -- I was trying so hard! -- but I know what he meant: some of my students come up with English that is so convoluted and over-the-top bizarre, it might as well be Turkish. Sometimes they come up with unintentionally hilarious misuses of English, which is something I've done my share of in Japanese. But teaching has made me look beyond the surface errors to separate the grain from the chaff, and I am as grateful for this as I am for the amusement their errors provide. And speaking as a language learner who has entertained and bewildered others, I am pleased to offer you some of my students' mistakes.

Mehmet is very friendly, shy, talkative, handsome, hardworking, agrassif, serous, and very joker. Some might say that this is inconsistent. And yet, Mehmet may be all of these things. Sometimes I feel friendly and sometimes I feel shy; sometimes I feel very serious and sometimes I like to clown around. Let's give Mehmet and his friend the benefit of the doubt.

I can't do anythink because always you in my mind. Sheer poetry, with a slightly Slavic ring to it.

He hat his father becaus his father is very bad person. All this kid needs is a few more Es and the odd article. And another review of third person singular.

Ahmet has got yellow blue eyes he is not tall or short, he is normal. he is blan. he has got blan hair. Girls were falling in love his hair and me to long hair and brow eyes. I'm guessing that Ahmet's yellow blue eyes are actually green, but what a lovely image. And at least the writer's consistent with the misspelling of blonde.

My apartment door was open and I am be very affired Yes, I know this is wrong, but I still think that affired is a more evocative way of expressing fearfulness than afraid.

Istanbul very fantastic and beautiful city. So I have historical and enjoy. My students suffer terribly from adjective abuse and overuse. But how can I tell them that enjoy always takes an object when 90% of the waiters in America don't know this?

My room small but very sweety. You can see where this one came from when you think about adjectives like funny, silly, chatty, dopey, and sleepy. My heart goes out to my students, grappling daily with the nightmare of English adjectives.

I cannot come class for to take lessons. Because I was illy. Same as above.

He's smilish, he hardly ever be angry Well why not, considering 'stylish', 'British', and 'churlish'?

He's intelligent, romantic same as Don Juan Extra points for the cultural reference and correct spelling of 'romantic'.

In the way, I saw nice view So how is a beginning student of English supposed to know that 'in the way' refers to an obstacle? You can see a nice view from the window, so why not in the way?

I ate food cake drank cola Say this to yourself a couple of times and tell me the rhythm isn't compelling.

Dance was fantastic. While I was watching danced persons boy came near me. That boy very handsome. True, we need to work on the difference between -ed and -ing adjectives, and a lot of non-native speakers struggle with articles. But one line into this girl's composition and I'm already hooked. And she's nailed the past continuous with simple past construction.

I love my childhood friends because she is angle and funny girlfriend's. I'm not defending anything here, but if my local greengrocer's in Scotland can put up a sign reading Fresh Raspberry's, then my Turkish students ought to be allowed. I'm betting they've had fewer opportunities to hone their English punctuation than my greengrocer.

He looks like smallish weak and thin but he's very stronger person and sometimes pessimistic Yay, he got the third person singular S right and used look like in a personal description! We'll work on the appropriate use of comparatives and separating physical and personality descriptions later.

My world love only man friend. Because man only very trust. Uh oh: someone's had his heart broken by his girlfriend, hasn't he? I'll cut him some slack.

My mother's cock is delicious. Proving once and for all the importance of correct spelling (two Os in cook) and careful attention to grammar (cook is only a noun when we're talking about a person; if we're talking about what a cook prepares, we have to add an -ing.)

I'll never be able to explain this error to the shy, quiet girl who made it. But I'm grateful to her all the same.


Charles Gramlich said...

So true, that some errors are so bad they might as well be in the native language. Never thought about it that way.

adrienne said...

Some of those examples are poetic.
I like the idea of having a nice view in the way.

angryparsnip said...

This was fun to read on a Monday morning and I too have a nice view in the way.

Robin said...

I loved every one of those. You're right! These kids are all budding poets in the e.e.cummings style of verse.

I really enjoyed your explanation of why they're making certain errors. "Smilish" makes a lot of sense in that light.

kara said...

i wish english really worked that way. i'd enjoy it so much more.

note that correct usage! woohoo!

Eryl Shields said...

I loved these, and some of them are very philosophical: why do we have to separate physical from mental characteristics?

debra said...

These are wonderful, Mary. English is a tough language to learn.

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- Whenever I find students who struggle with the whole subject-verb-object structure, I'm usually right in assuming that they'll do a lot of direct translating. Too bad my Turkish isn't far enough along for this to be useful to me...

Adrienne -- I agree: there's a lot of poetry in non-native errors. In a hundred years, I'm sure I couldn't come up with some of the interesting phrasing they concoct so effortlessly.

AP -- I'll bet your view beats mine: right now I've got a library's worth of students in my way.

Robin -- Every time I think of a rule to give my students, there's an exception in the way. I looked at 'smilish' and immediately my heart sank.

Kara -- My students heartily agree. They can't get over how stupid English is and how wrong it is they have to learn all those pesky rules.

Eryl -- Believe me, if you could have seen the rest: 'He is calm, fat, pessimistic, big, tall, brown eyes, shyly person...' -- hang on, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Or have I just been doing this job a little too long?

Debra -- It is, it is! And (whimper) it's a tough one to teach right now too.

Kim Ayres said...

Maybe her mother's cock is delicious. Perhaps she's got a great recipe for old male birds...

Charlie said...

I'm ashamed to say this, Mary, but I don't understand half of the English rules you're talking about. It's a good thing I'm a native speaker (of sorts) or I'd be in the same boat as your students.

Perhaps hieroglyphics would be an easier language to teach and learn.

Lily Cate said...

This is like listening to preschoolers trying to form descriptive sentences. The earnest ones are really charming.
And the last one made me think of all the "Japanese" and "Chinese" tatoos people my age like to get- that probably say something like this!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I didn't really appreciate how difficult English is to learn until I listened to my 5 y/o granddaughter speak. "Mom gived-ed me a cupcake", or "Melissa putted her tongue out at me". I can correct her, but I can't really give her any clear rules by which she can guide herself as she learns to elocute.

Yet when I was trying to learn Spanish I was introduced to the strange idea that certain nouns had "gender"! How am I supposed to know whether a bicycle is male or female? And why would that be important? - Je ne sais pas!

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I seriously doubt that. After I'd wiped up the coffee I spilled, I read further: 'spigeti, kebap and salad' followed.

Charlie -- Most of us native English speaking teachers tell our students this -- that it's a good thing we learned this the easy way. As for the rules I'm talking about, it would take you two hours, tops, to learn the lot of them. Maybe that's the sort of book I should be trying to write: an 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' exclusively for English Grammar. Bet it'd go over like a lead balloon.

Lily -- Oh, don't get me started on those stupid tattoos! I've read ones which were administered backwards, mirror-writing style, and upside down. On a bedspread in a store in Scotland, I once saw the Chinese characters -- upside down, in mirror writing -- for 'keep right side free'. I'll bet someone gets a kick out of the stuff they can pass off as aesthetically pleasing Asian wisdom. I would...

Robert -- Moi non plus, but it certainly does matter to the French and Spanish. I tend to be awful at genders and I've earned myself a lot of titters for my mix-ups. Japanese, I'm happy to say, has virtually no irregular verbs and NO gender. Even the title 'san' you tack onto every name is unisexual.

Eryl Shields said...

There is an award for you to pick up over at my place.

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you!! I'll be right over to claim it.

Barbara Martin said...

I'm here to catch up on the posts I have missed.

This one reminded me of the times I helped my mother grade english papers for her grade 4 students. Where I had to be generous with young students learning to compose sentences.

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