Tuesday, August 17, 2010

British English

British English can also cause some challenges for those who are learning English in the U.S. Certain British English terms just need to be dropped for those planning to stay here.

In one class, a student had an eraser that worked in the same way as a mechanical pencil; clicking on the top of the plastic tube gave the user some more eraser to use. One of my students thought this was wonderful and asked where to get it. The first student replied that he'd bought it at the drugstore.

B: Then I will go to the drugstore today and ask to buy one of those rubbers.
Me: It's called an 'eraser' here in the U.S.
B: Yes, yes, of course. I will ask to buy that kind of rubber.
Me: No, you really need to call it an eraser here in the U.S.
B: They will understand in the drugstore when I say I want to buy a rubber.
Me: (sighing) Please step out into the hall with me for a moment.

I explained what the word "rubber" refers to in the U.S. -- and particularly if one asks for one in a drugstore! -- and watched her eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.

B: Eraser. Eraser. Eraser. Eraser?
Me: Yes, eraser.
B: (mumbling as we went back into the classroom) Eraser, eraser, eraser ...


Code-switching is an interesting phenomenon in which a person who is speaking one language will mix it words or phrases in another one. Sometimes this is because the term from the other language that is "switched in" is simpler to express than the corresponding term would be in the language of the rest of the conversation. This often happens if the term is a conceptual one particular to a given language or culture. It may also occur when the speaker learned the concept only within the context of the language of the term. This doesn't occur in a case where either the speaker or the listener is monolingual; both speaker and listener need to know the term being used and its meaning; otherwise, it's not a case of code-switching -- it's just a case of using a term from another language. Code-switching occurs when there is a choice between terms for the speaker -- the language of the general conversation or another language -- and the other language is chosen, for whatever reason this may be.

One example of this occurred several years ago in my ESL 097 class. Two students were having a discussion in their native Gujarati during break. I didn't listen until I heard a term code-switched in -- which is when the conversation became interesting.

P: .......................... full-time or part-time?
B: .................................. part-time .............. full-time.
P: (looking very surprised) ..............part-time?
B: (looking completely smug) ............... *part-time*.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not-So-Great Moments in Packaging

 I received my office supply order today: 1 box of posterboard and 3 boxes of dry-erase markers. The posterboard, logically, had a box to itself, and this (sigh) is how the markers arrived.