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!