LiBeL Column

Eazy English

Columns from The Nation newspaper

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My private students seem to enjoy telling me bits of gossip usually it’s nothing worth mentioning here but this weeks in an exception. The subject of favouritism, appeared to be pissing off a few of them big style.

Final year B.A. students have just had their English speaking tests. The examiner was a farang who seemed to female students over male students. The tests consisted of describing a cartoon strip, making up a story about what was happening in a particular scene and then asking and answering a few general questions. It was also tape recorded so no verbal help could be given.

However, according to girls who were recipients of the teacher’s kindness, errors were silently pointed out and a helpful finger pointed to indicate when more description of the set picture was required. The complaints were, rather surprisingly, coming from girls who passed who felt that they received an unfair advantage when they talked about the exam with their friends afterwards.

I know one guy who speaks excellent English who failed whilst his girlfriend, whose English skills could be summed up as ‘borderline OK’, passed with a little help from the friendly ajarn. I told her that God would even things out, so she should be grateful for passing. In the future she’d work hard, get a Master’s degree only to find that the only job she could get would be as a secretary for a guy who got his job because he is the bosses nephew.

Anyway, over to you ABAC.

Another piece of semi-recent news was the startling revelation that some English textbooks include errors! This may not be particularly earth shattering to the majority of readers. But to those of you without a multitude of better things to do, I can imagine that the notion that a stringbean being incorrectly classified as fruit, in the ‘Easy English’ textbook, is pretty darn horrific.

Numerous other errors were reported to include ‘enjoy’ being labeled as an adjective, ‘sleeping’ being mentioned as a national sport and ‘cockroaches’ being categorized as both a household pest and a food. A spokesman for the publishers, Thai Wattana Panich, reassured schools that all defective books could be replaced with newer versions from the extensive stocks in its gleaming, undestructable new warehouse.

Pretty piffling stuff, what’s probably worth spending more time thinking about is why, seeing as the textbooks were first printed in 1996, did it take 5 years for someone to notice that anything was wrong. Thank heavens for eagle eyed English teachers you’re probably thinking, however it was someone from the publishing company who noticed the errors and somehow managed to get their boss to fess up.

In a totally unrelated news story the Thai Wattana Panich warehouse burned down a few days later. No headlines along the lines of ‘cooking the books’ were seen – which was almost as disappointing as reading that the entire stock of ‘Easy English’ books was now polluting the skies over downtown Bangkok. A fitting end.

The sad thing is that the vast majority of Thai written textbooks contain more errors and erroneous entries than a bar tab after a payday binge in a Patpong ‘entertainment’ venue. (The bill apparently being based on the notion all farangs are the same so it doesn’t really matter who pays for a drink so long as someone does.)

The Ministry of Education has neatly sidestepped the issue by using the well-worn method of displaced blame. You’ll remember this from your youth ” It wasn’t my fault, he did it.” This may well have worked well when, as a three year old, you were trying to explain where the puddle on the floor came from. But as a government minister dismissing your responsibilities regarding the education of the youth of your country it doesn’t work quite as effectively or convincingly.

At this point I know a few people are going to point out the number of grammatical errors that creep into this column on a regular basis. In keeping with the ‘When in Rome . .’ proverb, I can only say that there is no-one to blame other than the Education Editor – the buck stops with him.

So, I’m hardly in a position to criticize the linguistic failings of others – but I will anyway. Why? Because I can.

Last week I was in a foreign – owned bank, waiting for my class to start and there were two leaflets on the table, in English and Thai, promoting their banking services. They both contained pretty basic errors, errors which my Pre-intermediate students could find without any difficulty. If you’re in this Yank bank, keep an eye out for blue wall clocks on every floor – the faces of which proudly proclaim, ” We can’t spell s_uccess without U” I mentioned to my students that it might be better cutting their losses and, instead of scrapping the clocks, altering the slogan to ” We can’t spell s_uccess.”

You have to sympathise with companies such as this, the only alternative is to hire someone to proofread anything churned out in English. ” There was someone with a Master’s degree, but they resigned last year.” one of the students added helpfully when I enquired if anyone did actually check anything before thousands of baht was spent on public displays of English inability.