Thursday, November 27, 2014

Get It Right Next Time

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXW-sL5gzHQ


I spend most of my working day correcting my students. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that I like to unwind at the end of the day by correcting the first poor soul who crosses my path, whether that be on Facebook, Kindle or Google. Indeed, I am seriously considering setting up my own business: “MOKIA – Correcting People”.

Whilst I give my poor students hell – it’s in my contract –, I rarely correct my friends, family or fellow writers; among other reasons, because it’s not as if I have many friends left to lose. So, to quote my rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, all I can do is write about it. And where better than on my invisible blog? OK, here goes …

Below you’ll find 20 sentences, all of which contain, in my opinion, mistakes of one kind or another (misspellings, poor punctuation, incorrect grammar, inappropriate words …). Can you correct them? I’m sure you can, so, for an additional 20 points, can you identify which sentences were produced by my non-native English students (whose mother tongue is Basque or Spanish), and which sentences were produced by native English speakers?

1.    You must to help us.
2.    They think your mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number?
11. It’s been a large day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us?
14. You should of told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible.
16. Thank’s for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday?


Finished? I’ve included the corrected sentences at the end of this post just in case, though I doubt that you’ll need them. Anyway, never mind that, what really interests me is, Were you able to identify my students’ mistakes as opposed to native English speakers’ mistakes? Again, I’m sure you spotted the pattern immediately, didn’t you? The odd-numbered sentences (1, 3, 5 …) sound distinctly odd to a native speaker’s ears. By the same token, none of my students would even consider producing any of the even-numbered sentences (2, 4, 6 …).

So, what’s going on here? Before sharing my conclusions with you, I’d like to simplify matters by putting names to these speakers, so let’s introduce Peter, my fictional friend from Manchester; and María, my fictional student from Bilbao ...

Peter has been surrounded by English all his life. He speaks and understands  the language perfectly, so he knows instinctively that “before starting work” sounds better than “before to start work”, in much the same way that he knows that the logical place to keep his papers is “in a folder” rather than “in a carpet”. When it comes to writing, he manages pretty well on the whole, although he does struggle somewhat with those damned apostrophe’s  apostrophes, not to mention all those silly little word’s  words like “your” and “you’re”, who’s  whose spelling is rather different despite there  their being pronounced the same. His teacher’s  teachers should of  have warned him about all these things, but its  it’s too late now.

María has been studying English all her life. She’ll never speak the language as well as Peter, but at least she knows how to use apostrophes correctly, thanks to her teacher who told them, “Never use apostrophes to form plurals unless you need to express possession”. Phrases such as “Your mad” and “There stupid” make no sense whatsoever to her; and every student in her class knows that you have to put a verb, not a preposition, after “should”. Often she  She often puts her leg  foot in it, but that’s inevitable when you’re learning a foreign language, no?  isn’t it?

Well, by now, I’m sure you’ll have gathered where my sympathies lie. [Clue: not with Peter.] But is it such a crime to forget the odd apostrophe or misspell word’s ocassionally  words occasionally? Definately  Definitely not – unless your  you’re a deluded sole  soul like yours truly who still dreams of writing that bestseller one day.

Talking of bestsellers, it’s reassuring to see that even the best writers are capable of horrendous howlers when they drop their guard. Here are three gems that I spotted in Robert Harris’ otherwise wonderful tale, An Officer And A Spy:


Disgraceful proofreading, I’m sure you’ll agree, but sadly these days, I get the feeling it’s more the norm than the exception.

Thank’s for reading ;)

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“There's nothing sillier in the world than a teacher telling you don't do it after you already did it.” (Frank McCourt)
Solutions. (mistakes underlined; corrections in bold)
1.    You must to help us. -> You must help us.
2.    They think your mad. -> They think you’re mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers. -> I need a folder for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex. -> Its plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy. -> People think it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course. -> They’re wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password? -> Did you enter your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it? -> So whose fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it? -> It’s good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number? -> Have you got their number?
11. It’s been a large day today. -> It’s been a long day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of? -> What were the disks made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us? -> Do you fancy joining us?
14. You should of told me. -> You should have told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible. -> He started crying. He’s too sensitive.
16. Thank’s for your help. -> Thanks for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee. -> Before starting, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely. -> They complement each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake. -> I think I made a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday? -> When’s your father’s birthday?

Non-native speaker mistakes: 1, 3, 5, etc.
Native speaker mistakes: 2, 4, 6, etc.

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‘So, what did you have for lunch, Dani?’
‘A salad and chicken. And chips. And peas. And bread. And ket—’
‘Yes, OK, very good, Dani. And did you have a dessert?’
‘Yes. A yoga.’
‘Yoghourt, Dani. With a T.’
‘No, tea no. Coffee. With milk.’
‘A white coffee, Dani. And what flavour was your yoghourt?’
‘Flavour?’
‘Lemon? Chocolate? Kiwi? Mango and papaya? Cheese and onion?’
‘Estramberry.’
‘STRAWberry, Dani.’
‘Yes. Estramberry.’
‘OK, thank you, Dani. Alright, then, let’s move on ... I wonder, How many of you saw that documentary last night about those poor people living in the desert? How about you, Angel?’
‘Ice cream.’
‘Ice cream?’
‘Yes, ice cream is my favourite desert.’
‘Where's that, Angel?’
‘Where?’
‘Yes, where?’
Where?’
‘Yes, where's the Ice Cream Desert?’
‘I don't understand.’
‘Well, the documentary last night was about the Sahara Desert. That’s in Africa, isn't it?’
‘And?’
‘Is the Ice Cream Desert in Africa, too?’
‘The Ice Cream Desert?’
‘DesSERT, Angel. Ice cream is your favourite desSERT; not DEsert. “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”. Can you say that?’
‘Yes.’
‘Let’s hear you, then.’
‘Sorry?’
‘ “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”.’
‘Is mine too’ ...
            fifty shades of Spain, Chapter 41, “Ice Cream Man”
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They were finally getting to the only worthwhile points on the agenda; as far as Colin was concerned, that is. Slapper always left Colin’s questions for the end, evidently hoping that they would run out of time before reaching them.
‘Colin?’
‘Sorry, Miss Slapper, I was bloody miles away! What was the question again?’
‘The toilet signs, Colin.’
‘Ah yes, that’s right. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to label our toilets intelligently?’
‘Smart signs for small minds. Good idea, Craphead!’
‘Thank you, Jack. Let’s hear Colin out first. Colin, what are you proposing exactly?’
‘Well, Miss Slapper, I was thinking of something simple like, “MEN” for the men’s toilet; and “LADIES” for the ladies’ loo.’
‘Don’t you think that’s a bit risky, Colin?’
‘How do you mean, Miss Slapper?’
‘Well, as you’ll recall, Simon’s superb State of the Studies Survey suggested that sixty-seven point six per cent of our students are still illiterate,’ said Slapper semi-alliteratively.
And a hundred per cent of our directors of studies. Simon’s latest report had been compulsory reading for the staff of Looniversal Learning, Colin’s favourite line being, “Many studnets jumped staright from Section A to Suction C of the questionnaire, pissing on Section B completely”. In all fairness to Simon, at least he had finally learnt how to spell “questionnaire” correctly.
            dayrealing, Chapter 17, “Live Forever”