Monday, April 21, 2008

Looking down the barrel of a busy week. After a great weekend away in Pipa, Rach and I are back to get stuck into a busy period that doesn't look set to let up until sometime in August. Of course, the big thing is the arrival of baby number 2 in probably less than 1 month. Also, Rach is in the thick of organising a huge conference for all the Directors of all the Cultura Inglesa language schools which will be held here in Natal. Next week is test week for students so I have to write a few tests and give a few tests... More about our weekend away in the next post.

Some further notes from the open diary of how to (and how not to) speak the Portuguese language. Teaching English has helped me learn Portuguese in immeasurable ways. Apart from increasing my knowledge of grammar and how languages are structured and function, teaching English has also given me many ideas on best practice for learning a new language, tips on how to keep going and it has also given me an indication of my level of Portuguese and what I should be concentrating on at that level. For example, if I speak English to a student and find that their English is below my Portuguese (i.e. I know the words they can't find) then I know I'm above them and likewise below others. All in all, I think I am at least Intermediate level Portuguese with probably some aspects higher and others lower on account of not learning in a structured way from a course or book.

One of the chief advantages of teaching English to the people whom you are trying to learn a language from is that their mistakes highlight the make-up of their own language. Let me put that more simply. As Brazilians repeatedly make the same errors in English it teaches me how their langugage works and how they are thinking. Here are some examples:

1) Countable and uncountable nouns. Strange as it may seem, in Portuguese it is possible to count the words research, information, equipment and music. Try putting a number before those words and an "s" on the end in English and it will sound very strange. For all of the above we have to put "a piece of" before the noun to desribe one part of it. Brazilians (sometimes with very high levels) are always getting this wrong saying "I listened to some good musics on my ipod" or "I did three researches for my course" or whatever. Indirectly, I have learned that these are countable in their language and I try not to make the same mistake in reverse.

2) Verbs with similar but not identical meanings. There are countless examples of this, but I'll leave you with just two. In English, we use the verb "miss" in all kinds of strange ways (miss a goal/ miss a bus/ I miss you) and Brazilians don't really have that verb so they tend to use "lose" because in their language they would use the equivelent verb "perder" for some of these things. Consequently, they translate their Portuguese into English and say things like "I lost the taxi" and "Ronaldo lost the goal" which sound very strange in English and have completely different meanings. Either way, as I chuckle away at my students making mistakes I gain some new insight into the workings of Portuguese. Another example is that in England we use the verb to rob to refer to taking something from a person or organisation and the verb to steal to refer to the object being taken. Portuguese makes no such distinction and has just one verb "roubar" which sounds like the first of the English verbs. Students forget which is which and often say things like "The man robbed the car" or "The gang stole the bank" each with slightly different meanings. Again, it's a window into Portuguese for me...

All this is leading up to my final point: wouldn't English be a whole lot easier if it was just a bit more regular, standardised, streamlined and logical? It would certainly make my life easier and my students lives easier too. With this in mind I have written a proposal to alter the English language in 10 small ways to make it easier to teach and learn. I hope you like my ideas. You can read them here.

1 comment:

magicroundabout said...

Hey gringo!

I like the way that you're respectful of the mistakes that your students make. Good on you for spotting that these aren't just amusing anecdotes, but points from which you can learn. I sure we can all learn from your example. Nice work!!

The miss/miss/miss thing reminded me of when I first heard that the word "round" had over seventy...that SEVENTY different meanings/uses. That's gotta make a good pub quiz question.

I wonder how many you can think of?