Friday, April 11, 2014

Funny Translations from Chinese to English

The hardest thing to convey to students, especially lower level ESL students, is not to use a translating dictionary to write in English. Here are some very funny examples of signs (you may need to click on the replay button for Gallery after you get to the first photo) that obviously don't say what was meant. Most (all?) of them are apparently mistranslations or literal translations from Chinese to English. We hope that no one was injured by following some of the directions.

Even though there may be some pretty good translating programs online, creating signs are a challenge even to native speakers. To avoid this kind of comedic representation of English, it is essential to have a native speaker of English or a bilingual bi-cultural speaker of Chinese and English verify the spelling and meanings of signs before they go up in public. I have no doubt that Americans translate to other languages in the same fashion as the Chinese. As I pointed out here, we don't even make signs very comprehensible to our own people.

I hope that we can, however, all enjoy the many colorful Englishes used around the world and appreciate the effort that non-native speakers of English (who far outnumber us native speakers of English!) make to apply or master our tongue.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pronunciation of Minimal Pairs /p/ and /b/ (initial and final positions)

When teaching pronunciation to intermediate level students, you have to find some balance between giving them the information they need to produce certain sounds and finding a fun way to practice those sounds a lot in class. Here are some of the resources that I used and created to help my students, primarily Arabic speakers, distinguish between /p/ and /b/ in both initial and final position.

A game that was fun and successful is a variation on Go Fish, where students try to match cards with identical words written on them. That is, instead of asking if someone has any "Queens", the student asks a partner if (s)he has the word "PUB." If the student asked has the card with "PUB" written on it, (s)he gives the card to the student asking questions.  If the student being asked does not have the word, "PUB", the other student must draw a card from stack of cards that were not passed out.  Below is a photo of some of the cards I made up. I printed the words on an Avery label sheets. I stuck the words on old playing cards. You can often get these as give-aways from local casinos. Students liked playing with cards that looked like actual playing cards.


I used words from this minimal pair list. Students had a chance to practice the words on the list two days earlier. As with all card games, there is some time investment on the part of the teacher making them, but once she has the game(s), she can use it (them) repeatedly.  I also made another set of Go Fish cards using the images and words from this site (= a very useful site with lots of written and visual materials put together by a speech pathologist). Finally, you can have students practice pronouncing the sounds outside of class with YouTube video links, such as this one.  More advanced level students can also practice learning all the sounds of English using the phonemic alphabet.

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It is also possible to use these same cards to do vowel contrasts (e.g., "cap" and "cup").  When students had played a few round of Go Fish, they also could play a game of Concentration or Memory using the same cards or a subset of the cards. I also showed my students a link to an audio version of Concentration for practicing pronunciation.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Fancier the House, the Fancier the Words to Describe It

One of the areas of greatest interest to me in teaching ESL is vocabulary.  English is an incredibly rich language with the largest lexicon of any language in the world, and everyday people everywhere are affected by words, especially printed words.

Last year Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a brief article about a study on the language used by real estate agents to describe property.  One of the interesting findings was that the more expensive the house, the greater the number of characters were spent on describing the property.  Another way to look at it is that the fancier the house, the longer are the words (or the more words) used to describe it.  Just look at any real estate section of the newspaper!

Read some descriptions of mansions or luxury homes in San Diego and compare a $1,000,000 home with a $400,000 house. You can use the Word Count Tool to see if you can observe the pattern highlighted in WSJ. My observation just now is that I experienced a negative reaction when I compared a million dollar home with one for less than half that price because the description of the two houses, in this case, did not differ at all in number of characters. In fact, I had the feeling described below.

If there isn't a lot written about the million dollar home, a prospective buyer might suspect that it has a major drawback or shortcoming. In fact, Mark Liberman (Linguistics professor at University of Pennsylvania) is quoted in the article saying, "Given that all the descriptions of better properties are full of these empty-enthusiasm words, it might be interpreted by readers as an indication of problems if they're absent."  

We are definitely influenced by words, so it's good to be aware of all the power - indeed, 'empty-enthusiasm' words - wielded by marketers in every realm of sales.

Luxury apartments for monkeys at San Diego Zoo

Here are some popular high-end words for million dollar homes or to make a less costly house sound like a wonderful buy: exquisite finishes, luxuries/luxurious, expansive, gleaming hardwood floors, sea-view terraces, remodeled/updated to perfection, stunning.  If you want to grow your vocabulary of rich language, it's all around you. You can even find it by checking out real estate listings!  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More Really Funny English!

Some of you may have seen this set of 31 photos trending on Facebook. If you haven't yet, I hope you enjoy these very funny English translations of Chinese. As with most humor, explaining and analyzing the translation may destroy its hilarity. You'll know that you understood a sign correctly if you are chuckling to yourself or sometimes holding your sides from laughing so hard. Always keep your sense of humor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Build Vocabulary with Signs

Here's a link to Picturing English for a look at a way to raise your vocabulary to an advanced level, even if you're a native speaker! Wherever you stop along the road or highway, keep your eyes open for signs full of new words. If you find a cool sign, please send it on to me here at Many Englishes or Picturing English.  I'll post it for all.  Enjoy the rest stop!  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Bending Motion or a Vending Machine?

I am teaching a low intermediate pronunciation class and trying to impress upon my students the importance of syllable stress in English.  The concept is not obvious for them because if you're a Spanish speaker, the syllable stress is marked with an accent over the vowel. In Japanese, syllables are not stressed.  That is a problem for me when I'm in Japan because I am Japanese by blood, but I am third-generation American Japanese. English is my first tongue, so when I speak Japanese, it is hard for me to eliminate the tendency to stress, for example, the second syllable of America (when I identify myself as amerikajin). Unless students go out into the world and are misunderstood by native speakers, they don't ever quite grasp how syllable stress can lead a native speaker to make a wrong inference. 
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Bending MOtion


Recently, a non-English-speaking San Diegan asked for help at the public library. My son was working at the front counter and was stumped by the question. The man asked for a bending motion  /'bɛndiŋ 'moʃən/.  My son and another library patron tried to make sense of the query, but because the man mispronounced the 'b' for a 'v' and put the stress on the first syllable of the second word, the image of someone bending came to mind. It made no sense, so the listeners continued to ask for clarification. At that point, the Korean man's face turned red. Rather than repeat himself a third time, the man was able to explain that he wanted to buy a bottle of water.  
Vending maCHINE


Suddenly, the other patron and my son understood the object of the man's query - a vending machine /'vɛndiŋ mə'ʃin/.  I explained to my class that even with a mispronunciation of the first part of the word ("mo" instead of "ma"), if the man had put the stress on the second syllable of motion and said, "moTION," the native speakers might have understood the target word as "machine."  A little knowledge about the importance of syllable stress can go a long way toward anticipating and resolving problems of miscommunication. When learning a new word or new expressions, always listen to where the stress falls in the word or phrase.