Tag Archives: mistakes

A rant!

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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!

Pitfalls: “Married TO,” Not “Married WITH”

warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

She is married to him. He was the first in his family to get married to someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to be married to each other, but it’s still not legal in this state, because they are both men.
heart with scroll, saying “married TO,” based on an image by Andy at openclipart.org

In these sentences and others, referring to the state of being married, the correct phrase is “married to.” However, many English learners say “married with.” This common preposition mistake won’t confuse listeners or readers too much. After all, your meaning is still clear. However, it may make the listener or reader pause momentarily, because this phrase isn’t part of standard American English.

The reason this mistake is so common is because many other languages use a preposition meaning “with”–and really, it makes more sense! Unfortunately, preposition choice is rarely based on logic, so it’s just a rule that has to be memorized. “Engaged” works the same way when referring to “promising to marry each other in the future”: She is engaged to him, etc. The noun “marriage,” on the other hand, usually is found as “marriage to” (7 million English Google hits) but may sometimes occur as “marriage with” (less than 3 million hits).

When you are referring to the actual act of getting married, you don’t need any preposition at all: She married him on August 20, 2003. He was the first in his family to marry someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to marry each other someday.

“Dating” is similar–I have heard even advanced non-native English speakers say “she is dating with him,” but this is never correct in American English. Instead, simply say: She won’t date sexist men. They dated each other for three years before deciding to get married. Are Pat and Leslie dating? etc.

(I know these rules are confusing. Prepositions are one specific area that I think is helped by reading a lot: once you’ve seen “married to” thousands of times in your reading, you’re likely to say it correctly without having to think about it!)

Dare to Fail

Elizabeth Bear, an excellent writer whom I’ve gotten to know online, posted this line in her blog today: To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate. (That means “To have twice as many successes, you should try failing five times as much.”)

She was talking about writing fiction, but this is also true for learning languages. Researchers have looked at this. They found out something interesting: Students who are brave enough to take more chances DO make more mistakes, but they ALSO learn faster and better. If you only say or write things that you know are correct, it’s nearly impossible for you to raise your level.

I know it’s scary, but it’s also necessary.

Now, I don’t particularly like Nike, and I don’t like TV ads in general. However, I think Michael Jordan does a good job in this video. He reminds us that making mistakes and failing is part of getting better and winning:

When you hesitate to speak or write, think of what Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Bear said. Then take that chance!