I just spent 2 weeks training writers in China. Here's what it taught me about English (and food).April 3rd, 2018 10 Comments
I just returned from 2 weeks in China, where I was training some English-speaking writers.
What an eye-opener! And not just because it’s an amazing country with an entirely different culture and a couple more people than Australia. I learned three quite unexpected things in my time there.
First, I don’t like eating guts
I knew the food over there was going to be different. Probably challenging. But I was genuinely excited about experiencing authentic Chinese food, and seeing how it compares to the Chinese food we get in Australia.
So when I arrived, I had only 2 food-rules:
- It must be dead
- It must be cooked
But it turns out Chinese cuisine features a lot of intestines and what-not. Like these pig intestines:
And this, which I think is a cow’s tongue:
It also turns out I’m not a big fan of that sort of stuff. I tried it, but as my father-in-law would say, it’s just not my big thing.
So after a week of trying everything they sent my way, I introduced a third rule: No more guts.
It’s not the idea of the guts that bothers me, either. I can work around that. It’s the consistency – it’s just so chewy! Bleh!
Second, I’m alright at chilli
I eat quite a bit of chilli, so most of the Chinese food I ate wasn’t too hot for me. This hot-pot, for instance, was what I’d call ‘medium’:
Mind you, it was categorised as ‘mild’ by the restaurant itself. So I’m by no means a chilli hard-ass. (I did already know this, though. Vindaloo is too hot for me, in Australia.)
Third, English is stupid
I was training a team of five Chinese technical writers / copywriters. These guys:
They write in English, and I was engaged to teach them how to do it more gooder.
I knew this would be partly a grammar exercise and partly a writing exercise, but the amount of grammar surprised me.
Don’t get me wrong; these guys knew a lot about English grammar. They’d studied it in detail, and they were all more familiar with the actual rules than most English speakers (and writers) I know. They weren’t the problem: the entire English language was the problem. It’s crazy! Just about every rule is insanely complicated, and many have so many exceptions that the rule is hardly ever observed.
When you grow up with the language, you don’t ever need to confront these crazy rules, head-on. But when you’re trying to learn the language (or teach it), you quickly discover how unfriendly they are. Of course, I knew this before I went, but I’m not a grammarian, and even though I studied TESL at uni, it didn’t have a grammar focus. So I’d only ever pulled apart the rules that frequently trip up native English writers (or my kids). When I had to teach my Chinese students right from wrong, I had to do a lot of thinking.
I could cite many, many tricky examples, but the one that stands out most is the rule for when to use a determiner before a noun…
A determiner is a word like “a”, “an”, “the”, “his”, “her”, “my”, “their”, “some”, “Kevin’s” or “every”. Some nouns must be preceded by a determiner, others can be (but it’s not compulsory). Here are the rules:
|Singular countable noun (e.g. “computer” or “print spooler”)||Must be preceded by a determiner||"He fixed a computer" and “the print spooler stopped” are both correct. "He fixed computer” and “print spooler stopped” are both incorrect.|
|Proper noun (e.g. “Jonny” or “Audi” or “Print Spooler service”)||Can be used without a determiner||"I sent an email to Jonny” and “the best car manufacturer is Audi” are both correct.|
|Requires a determiner if there’s more than one of that thing, and you’re being specific||“I sent an email to my Jonny” and “I sent an email to every Jonny” are both correct.|
|Requires a determiner if it functions as a modifier||“the best logo is the Audi logo” and “stop the Print Spooler service” are both correct.|
|Plural noun (e.g. “books”)||Can be used without a determiner||"The girl had books"|
|Requires a determiner if you want to refer to a particular collection||"The girl had the books"|
|Mass noun (e.g. “information)||Can be used without a determiner||"I love information"|
|Requires a determiner if you want to refer to a mass noun||"I love the information in this book"|
I don’t like eating guts, but I like English grammar even less.
What are your experiences (with either)?
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!
Filed under: Copywriting,