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Teaching English is like Swimming Upstream

It’s no wonder sometimes that the kids we teach have difficulty mastering English. Although some have been studying English for 3 or 4 years, a chance meeting on  the street with a student won’t produce much more than “I’m fine, how are you?”

Nearly everyone has seen T-shirts here in Korea that have terrible language. Some are terrible grammar, but some have terrible words that would get a child sent home in my country. Many of those T-shirts are cast-offs from western markets; they either didn’t sell or never made it to the store shelf.  Many of those T-shirts find their way to Asian markets where the imprinted English is secondary to the fact that its a cheap shirt.

In the classroom, however, materials with poor English abound and are not western market cast-offs. Most are produced here in Korea. Apparently, having English on the product makes it more saleable. Also, apparently, having someone on the manufacturer’s graphic arts staff who knows, understands or has more than a passing knowledge of English is a rarity.

Poor English shows up on pencil cases, pencils, pens, notebooks, bags – everywhere one could put text on a product. They range from the profoundly poor English to the profane to simple misspellings. I took a few snapshots this week of some pencil cases my students possessed.

Incorrect pronoun and verb usage. I am here would be correct, but for those reading this I hope I did not have to point that out. Fancylobby.co lopped off the .kr from their web address. I suppose I would, too, if I produced such stuff

Incorrect pronoun and verb usage. I am here would be correct, but for those reading this I hope I did not have to point that out. Fancylobby.co lopped off the .kr from their web address. I suppose I would, too, if I produced such stuff

Atrocious spelling coupled with sentences that have no relation to each other.

Atrocious spelling and punctuation coupled with sentences that have no relation to each other.

Misspelling of the soft drink name may be intentional to avoid legal problems. The logo might spoil that. Regardless, having your drinks served cold could be worded in a number of correct ways. The big news, however, is that the secret formula is no longer secret. It is all ICE. 100 %

Misspelling of the soft drink name may be intentional to avoid legal problems. The logo might spoil that. Regardless, having your drinks served cold could be worded in a number of correct ways. The big news, however, is that the secret formula is no longer secret. It is all ICE. 100 %

I have no idea what coca-caca is, but I probably do not want it.

I have no idea what coca-caca is, but I probably do not want it.

I have no idea what they were trying to say, but it is horrid English. Is it a statement? Or a question?

I have no idea what they were trying to say, but it is horrid English. Is it a statement? Or a question?

Incorrect plural and singular use

Incorrect plural and singular use

Another poor spelling and sentence grouping

Another poor spelling and sentence grouping

This pencilcase lost its cute forever image when I saw the top

This pencilcase lost its cute forever image when I saw the top

Incorrect present infinitive verb - I love TO study. Of course the profanity has no place on a pencilcase for elementary students

Incorrect present infinitive verb – I love TO study. Of course the profanity has no place on a pencilcase for elementary students

Misuse of plural and singular on this pencilcase cum board game.

Misuse of plural and singular on this pencilcase cum board game.

I may have written this article with my tongue lightly pressed against my cheek, but there is a serious isue here. English is everywhere, but it’s not all good. Some of it truly is and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some pencil cases I looked at this week at were just fine.  Many T-shirts, notebooks and pencils are fine, too. The problem is that there are so many products with English and the kids and (most of) the parents cannot discern good from bad English.  If Korea wants to get serious about learning English, then they need to get serious about the products they produce and allow to be marketed to their children. I’m certainly not a big-government advocate, but  some sort of English approval process might be in order. Of course, if they wanted to create a government post for product marketing English approval, I might be available.

Now, who’s got the pictures of babo T-shirts? How about menus?

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