Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Something is Fishy

Dear Mrs Church

I have two questions.  I have a nightmare student.  This student continually insists that he is correct and I am wrong.  I am not a native speaker of English but I believe that I am right this time.  Please help me.  My nightmare student recently used an expression “The little fishes don’t swim far from the father”.   I understood what he was trying to say – something similar to “like father, like son(s)” I am sure that this is not an idiom in English.   My student swears that it is.  I think he is trying to translate a Portuguese idiom into English: “Fiho de peixe, peixinho e” Secondly, what is the plural of “fish”?  Isn’t it “fish”?  My student says that the English bible uses “fishes”.

J in Maringa

Gentle Reader

First, Ms. Church believes you are correct and your student is trying to fit a Portuguese idiom into English.  In English, there are some idioms similar to “like father, like son”, for example” “The fruit (apple) doesn’t fall far from the tree”.  However, Ms. Church has never heard of one including baby fish swimming near their father.  Students will, of course, at some point encounter English idioms.  Becoming familiar with them will become useful.  However, Ms. Church believes that similar to slang, students should take care when using them themselves. 

Generally, “fish” has an irregular plural form: “fish”.  Other animals that are used for food or hunted follow the same rule: “deer”, “moose” and “sheep” are some that come to Ms. Church’s mind.  Ms. Church believes that most L1 speakers of English usually use this form.  However, if you look in the dictionary (Ms. Church uses Longman), you will find “fishes” as being possible.  Also, there are indeed "fishes" in the (King James) Bible: And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven …
However, Ms. Church leaves it up to you, as to whether the Bible should be the bible for English grammar and usage.

By the way dear, I prefer “Ms” as opposed to “Mrs”.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh (no) Canada!

Dear Ms. Church

I am a native speaker of English and I work at this completely nowhere loser EFL chain school here in Brazil.  I work with some Brazilian “teachers” who when they speak English their accents are so strong I get about 50% of what they say. Whatever, I don’t actually care – more power to them, working and getting the same hourly rate as me.

I also work with two other “native” speakers: 

Rajinder, is American of some kind of South Asian decent married to a Brazilian guy by way of Goa.  I generally have no problem with her or understanding her but the Brazilians sure do.  Once again, I really couldn't care less.  Rajinder, is hilarious – I once heard her trying to explain grammatically what a determiner was – Indian accent now – “Well, you know, I suppose, it would be something that determines.”  She said this all very sarcastically, like "If you had done your homework people you wouldn’t be asking me."

Lisa, is Canadian and I hate her.  Lisa is not an idiot.  She actually has a DELTA like me and a post-grad in something or other, once again married to a Brazilian guy, no kids yet and bored outta her mind I guess.  WhyTF she is working in this zero school is beyond me.  She is not an alcoholic, drug abuser and seems to be without other co-dependency issues.  I’ve tried to give her my old rather lucrative private students and point her in the direction of better paying “business English” vendors but she just keeps hanging around – less recently, but she is just so friggin annoying.  What bothers me the most is that she is always trying to shove Canada down all the students’ throats (although they don’t seem to mind particularly).  “In Canada, hospitals and doctors are free and post-secondary education is affordable and it is illegal to own a gun in Canada, and you should go to Canada because Canada (unlike America) is safe.”  I’m just so F-ing tired of hearing about Canada and how Canada and America are different and Canada is so much better. Im not even American but Lisa and Canada in general now just make me want to hurl.

OK so Ms. Church, I want her outta my life and here is where you can help.  We have a bet that whoever can best actually answer the following question will pick up the all the exam training shifts starting April.  That is all she basically is interested in working so if I win, I get them and she either has to join Rajinder and the Brazys “teaching” the school methodology (AKA entertain em in English) or I am free of her.

A student asked both Lisa and I the following question:

“Why in English do we say the CIA and the FBI but we say MI5 and MI6 (without the article the)?”

My answer:

Because “military” in MI5 and MI6 is an uncountable noun acting as an adjective.  When we have noun – noun combinations and the first noun is uncountable modifying the second noun then no article is required.  Central and Federal in CIA and FBI are adjectives going on to modify a noun so require an article. YES.

Her answer – (can you say WEAK?)

“It’s a British English – American English thing.  North Americans could possibly say the MI5.”

Gentle Reader

Goodness, for your “nowhere loser school”, as you put it, you have some rather astute students.

As for Lisa and her answer, it is not for Ms. Church to comment on those aspects of her personality that trouble you. What Ms. Church would like to comment on is that Lisa’s answer is not just “weak”, it could very well be insulting to her students. If, as teachers we do not know the answer to a question (as Ms. Church suspects is the case with Lisa here), and this is indeed no easy one as far as Ms. Church is concerned, it is far better to be honest and tell your students just that.  A teacher’s duty is to then find out the proper answer after the lesson and be prepared with it first thing in the next lesson.  Just because our students do not share the same ability of English as we do, if they are proficient enough to ask such a question as this, they will easily detect that we are inventing an answer and we will deservedly lose their respect. 

Now, as for your response:  Ms. Church believes that you are indeed getting near the crux of it but Ms. Church believes you could be a little more succinct in your explanation.  Also, it is a little more complex then it at first appears.

Indeed we are dealing with noun + noun compounds here.  The basic rule is that articles belonging to the first (modifying) noun are dropped.

Let’s look at some examples:

Military Intelligence (The Intelligence of the Military).  Here the belongs with military so it can be dropped.

Noun + noun combinations can contain more than two nouns:

Military Intelligence Five (The Fifth {section} of the Intelligence of the Military)

Let’ look at the CIA.  For sake of argument, let’s drop the adjective central and imagine it is just called IA – Intelligence Agency.  (we would normally keep the because it belongs with Agency, the second noun). We are really saying The Agency of Intelligence. However, if we imagine that inside the IA there was its own intelligence unit called AI (Agency Intelligence) then we could drop the because what we are really saying is Intelligence of the Agency.  Here the belongs to Agency, the first noun.

At the risk of becoming overly pedantic, it is probably even more complex.  It would seem to Ms. Church that once organizations have titles involving four (sometimes three) or more words and we use their acronyms we normally drop the.  For example:

The United Nations – the UN (we usually keep the)

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund – UNICEF (we normally drop the)

So if we go back to the CIA and we imagine the CIA had a northern bureau known as The Central Intelligence Agency North, also known as CIAN, we would then normally drop the and just refer to it as CIAN. 

Finally, Ms. Church does in fact feel that traditions and regional differences could come into to play here.  So, before we are too harsh on Lisa, she could also have a point.  But of course, I do still feel her response was lacking.

I will leave it up to you and Lisa to decide the result regarding the April shifts and while Ms. Church is no expert in Freudian psychology, she does ponder whether you could be in fact Canadian yourself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Made in USA but name made in Brazil

Dear Ms. Church

I am a volunteer EFL teacher here in Brazil and I have a little problem.  My problem involves the pronunciation of Brazilian names.  I recenlty took on a new class, even though the class is voluntary, at the start of the class I create a register to help me remember the students names (these registers are pretty fluid, students leaving and joining over the course of a couple of weeks).

We started the class with introductions as I normally do and me writing the student names down on the register.  There were the usual Marcios, Evertons, Cybelles (pron SI - BELL - EE, 3 syllables), Clebersons etc. Until I got to a girl called: Madeinusa (pron: MA - DE - IN - US - A, 5 syllables).  Once  I had practiced the pronunciation, she helped me spell it and I wrote in down on the register - to my somewhat horror,  I realized that her name was "Made in USA".

My question is this.  Should I pronounce her name as a Brazilian would or should I pronounce her name as an American would if he/she read her name from a list.  If she ever went to the US, that is what people would call her

Gentle Reader

Of course you should pronounce her name as a Brazilian would.  You are in Brazil.  Yes, you are teaching English but names are very personal and part of our identity.  The spelling of her name may be amusing to English speakers and I see nothing wrong with pointing this out to her but I believe it would serve no purpose to refer to her as "Made in USA" during your lessons.  Can you imagine: "Let's work in pairs, Cleberson, can you work with Made in USA, please?"

Once when Ms. Church was working in Japan she remebers having a student named Nobohiro who insisted on everyone in the class calling him "Nob".  Ms. Church, is not British, but she is keenly aware that in British English a "knob" (same pronunciation as Nob) is slang for a, uhhhhum, penis.  Ms. Church went along with the nickname until it became known that the class would be doing a homestay in England and then decided that it was her duty to (quite uncomfortably) inform the student of the slang meaning. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Correct my English: A Bitch is not a Puta

Dear Ms. Church

My friends believe that the Portuguese word "puta" translates as "bitch" in English.  I dont think this is true.  I think that "puta" means "whore" in English.

Gentle Reader

While Ms. Church usually does not answer questions related to translation, she will in this case, as this is a common misconception among Brazilians new to speaking English.  You are inded correct and your friends are misguided.  The word "bitch" in English slang has generally no sexual connotation.  It is used in a derogatory sense to refer to a woman.  For example, "Yo, get away from my bitch." It has also (more recently) taken on the meaning of one in a supporting or subservient role, male or female:  "John got promoted so I guess I now gotta be his bitch".  The adjectival term "bitchy" is also common and usually refers to someone (usually female) in an ill tempered mood. Yes, I would agree that a "puta" would be better translated as a "whore" or "slut".

Do you have a question about English?   Ask Ms. Church.