A rant!

I am going to take a minute to do something different. I’m going to write a “rant.” A rant is when people write or talk about something in an angry way. Usually, they talk about something that bothers them personally. They don’t just yell and scream. They explain why they are upset.

Here is something that really bothers me: Books, websites, and Twitter accounts that teach totally useless or incorrect English.

It’s OK if it’s funny, and the learner knows it’s funny. But when it’s mixed in with normal English, how can you tell?

Here are some phrases that I have seen on “English-teaching” Twitter accounts recently:

  • It just eats up electricity and frosts up really quickly. (I guess it’s about a refrigerator. When would you need to say this, though?)
  • I could make a glitter ball out of tinfoil. (Why?!)
  • I dreamt you chucked me. (What? I’m not even sure what this means.)
  • He was in the true sense of the word culture. (This is just wrong. The correct sentence would be very formal, anyway.)
  • I had my wife die. (Not impossible, but extremely strange and rarely used.)
  • I don’t know both of them. (We don’t say this. It sounds very, very strange. I contacted the account that posted this and asked them about it. They didn’t answer me.)

I guess some of these accounts are using lists of phrases that come from very old books or dictionaries. Some of these sentences might have been OK 100 years ago. They’re not OK now. Other phrases have mistakes in them. I think somebody who’s really fluent in English should check the phrases to make sure they’re correct. It should be someone who has really used English a lot. It shouldn’t be someone who’s just learned English from a book. If you’ve just learned English from books (or Japanese from anime, etc.), then you can’t judge what is OK, realistic, old-fashioned, etc. EDIT: Idiom guides are particularly bad, even ones written in the US or UK. Many of them teach idioms that are almost never used in modern English. Why waste your time trying to memorize them?

I’m not upset about just a couple of mistakes or strange phrases. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I’ve probably made mistakes somewhere in this post. I also don’t mean mistakes in #twinglish users’ accounts or English-learners’ accounts or blogs. I am talking about blogs, Twitter accounts, and books are supposed to help you learn English, but that have lots of serious errors or strange phrases that no modern English-speaker would say or write.

I have a travel phrase book from JAL that is full of strange phrases. When I look at English books at Kinokuniya, I see lots of mistakes and strange phrases, too. Some of my Japanese and Taiwanese friends have dozens of books that are totally useless! They must have spent a lot of money on those books. (And yes, that’s true for books about Japanese and so on in America, too! One popular book on Japanese slang is full of words from the 80s!)

This sort of thing drives me crazy (makes me annoyed/angry) because learners often can’t tell what’s useful and what is completely strange or wrong. These writers, bloggers, and tweeters are supposed to be helping you. However, they are actually giving you useless information that wastes your time. These people are taking your time or money, but giving you something bad in return. It’s like they’re selling you rotten food, but you can’t smell it or see it.

Don’t just go to the bookstore or use things you find online. If you can, get a fluent friend to check it out first. Read Amazon.com reviews very carefully. (Reviews that just say “It’s great!” are not helpful. Look for details.) If you have fluent or native-speaker friends online, ask them to look at books/blogs/Twitter accounts and tell you what they think.

Anyway, just memorizing phrases with no context is not very helpful. It’s better to learn them from a novel–even an easy kids’ book–than to just try to memorize them one at a time. If you read them in a story, they’re probably going to be correct. You will also get more information about who says that kind of thing, why, when, if it’s polite or casual or rude, etc. (especially as you read more and see phrases over and over again).

Still, there are some good Twitter accounts, blogs, and phrase books out there. You just have to be careful.

Okay…my rant is over! Phew. :)

If you have any questions or comments, or if you’ve had bad experiences with this kind of thing, please tell me!

12 thoughts on “A rant!”

  1. I know exactly how you feel. My old company published a line of books that were supposed to teach students “correct” English for certain situations, and I can’t tell you how many times I looked at a page and said, “But no one would SAY that….”

  2. Hello.
    “I don’t know both of them” sounds very very strange to you!?
    Oh!
    I think I say this phrase.
    I wonder what I can say if I see a blue snake and a red snake at the same time? aha
    “I don’t like two of them.” doesn’t sound strang?
    or I just say only “I don’t like them.”? hmm…

    Since I’ve started twitter,I have lots of oppotunity to read English written by native English speakers.
    I’ve been thinking they always wrote available English.
    OK I try not to use unfamiliar English.

  3. Hi, oxwinter!

    Good question! The problem is “both.” You can’t use it in negative statements. :) You have to say “either.” For example, “I don’t know either of them.” “I don’t like either of them.” “I don’t like either coffee or tea.”

    http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/both_1 (#1 on this page)
    http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/either_2 (#2 on this page)

    It’s good to experiment and try using unfamiliar English! (or Japanese in my case.) Naturally, you (and I) will make mistakes. Just be careful about trusting people who are posting lists of phrases or sentences. They aren’t always right.

  4. Hi, Clarissa! A rant. It’s a new word for me. Your explanation was so good that I got the meaning. Thank you.

    I first thought you were saying learning English from books is bad. It made me taken aback. But you meant phrase books. Novels are OK. That’s a relief! I’ve been doing reading and listening to books. It’s really fun.

    Children’s books are so nice. They cheer me up in many ways. And I like books for adults too. I’m now reading “Angels and Damons”. I don’t say I understand 100 percent, but can follow the story. It’s like watching a movie. I can read as long as the film goes on.
    I hope you understand my writing. Thank you.

  5. Hi, Coco!

    I can understand your comment. No problem!

    I think phrase books can be OK sometimes, too. Just try to get a fluent friend to help you make sure the language in them is OK. (Or look at them very, very carefully yourself.)

    And yes, I think reading and listening to books is a really great way to learn! There are still going to be some strange phrases, of course, because people in books don’t talk exactly the way people in real life do. (You know–people in real life rarely say “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me the secret now!” hahaha) But generally speaking, I think books are great. Children’s books and adult books are good for different reasons.

    Thanks for commenting!

  6. Hi Clarissa,

    This article is highly intriguing for me. I do agree with you that it won’t help language learners to memorize phrases collected in textbooks. You’ll never become comfortable to use those phrases unless you come across them in the real situations.
    Of course, we don’t have enough chances to experience them in the real life, so to compensate the lack of input, I strongly recommend learners Tadoku and Tachou, to read lots of books and watch DVDs.
    I think if you learn new words or phrases with particular situations or contexts, then they will likely to be stuck in the long term memory. But phrases from textbooks lack those additional info, so they end up staying at the short term memory for a short period of time, and if you don’t enhance the memory several times, you’ll eventually lose all of them…

    I’m going to introduce your article in my blog, to my Tadoku friends, and Prof.Sakai.

    BTW, I often see the word rant is used with rants or something. Can you use rants by itself or does rants always need rant?

    Love to read your entries always!

  7. Hi, emmie! Yes, I really think extensive reading/extensive listening or tadoku/tachou, whichever you call it, would be helpful.

    You’re right–a collocation for “rant” is “rant and rave,” or “ranting and raving” (not the same as “raven,” the big black bird, but close!). “Rant and rave” really emphasizes that someone is going on and on in frustration/anger/annoyance about something, especially if the person does it too much/goes too far–e.g. “Ugh, I hate it when politicians rant and rave about the dangers of illegal immigration.” You can use “rant” by itself. In particular, when people use “rant” to refer to their own writing or speaking, they usually just say “rant.”

    (It’s funny, but when you use the word “rave” as a verb by itself, it means to be very enthusiastic about something you liked! “Clarissa raved about that new bakery! She said we have to go there and try their cupcakes right away! Apparently they’re just amazing.”

  8. Hi, Clarissa and emmie.

    I am Sakai@tadoku.org, where people come to enjoy language acquisition.

    Good to know that you are not entirely convinced of phrasebooks!

    Hope to be in touch again, Clarissa. Will come back to explore.

    Emmie, thanks for Clarissa’s URL.

  9. Hello, Sakai! Thank you very much for coming by and commenting. I often suggest tadoku.org to people. :) I hope more and more people will visit it out and try tadoku/extensive reading/etc.

  10. Yes, and that’s especially bad because when it’s a big company, people really tend to trust it. They think a company like that should have the resources to create correct materials. JAL, JTB, GEOS, NOVA, etc., all have/had lots of employees who are either native speakers or very fluent and have spent a lot of time overseas, yet they all produce some pretty awful materials. Even NHK has some problems, although their books are better than the average book picked at random (so are ALC’s).

    (That’s funny, your comment should have been auto-approved. Hrm. Or no, wait, maybe this was your first time commenting here rather than Talk to the Clouds. Anyway, sorry for the delay!)

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