A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Score

Sometimes I have no faith in the mechanics of what constitutes teaching at a Hagwon.

It just sort of feels like unadvised, unregulated meandering towards a set of standardized tests which are either overly ambitious, or outright wrong.

PELT and TOEFL are the big tests that are used to quantify a kid's skill in English. I've always been of the opinion that standardized testing is a useless exercise, even back home, but here in the multi-million dollar ESL industry, grades are the Holy Grail and they've got to come from somewhere.

There's a new test that we were looking at our school which contained a particular question that made me balk at the process. It asks the student to choose one sentence out of five, which is "awkward or incorrect in standard English."

Although they claim these tests are written in part, or at least reviewed by native English speakers, they still contain strange turns of phrase such as "this cake eats crisp" or misquoted idioms like "beggars are not choosers." That's fine I guess, but the following really baffled me:

1. Thanks for filling me in.
2. It's not over till it's over.
3. I can't stomach his jokes.
4. Are you still sored at me?
5. Could you amplify it a bit?

Obviously no one would use the phrase "are you still sored at me?" and the proper thing (though a bit dated) would be "are you still sore at me?"

According to the answer key, the appropriate correction should be:

"Are you still soring at me?"

What drunken pastiche of a film noir hero would use a phrase like that? Is soring even a word?

I didn't figure it was.

I looked it up.

"v. sored, sor·ing, sores:
To mutilate the legs or feet of (a horse) in order to induce a particular gait in the animal."

Is this a common exchange I've been oblivious to until now?

"You wouldn't be altering that horse's gait at me, would ya?"

Yeah, what of it?"

"Well don't get blood on my spats, 'cuz the cold plate special's an open-faced knuckle sandwich and you look hungry, bub."

"Don't swing your flim-flam my way chippy or I'll tell roscoe here to spit metal."

"You're trippin' for biscuits fella."

"Aw, horseradish."

"More like glue, wiseguy."

Seriously folks. I don't think it's that subversive to suggest we play this, not as a numbers game, but at a level of practical understanding.

Then again, it's not my millions, my kids or my country.


claire said...

Good thing there's no newfoundland or lunenburg county slang translations! They'd be so confused, they wouldn't know what hit them! :D

Jon Allen said...

I look at Kenny Kims "Real English" in the Think English section of the Joong Ang every week.

Without fail every week there is something that is either completely wrong or completely laughable.

Can they really not afford a native English speaker?