Tuesday, May 19, 2009

War on Chinglish (8a)

This is not really an example of 'Chinglish' as such, but I thought it a useful and necessary footnote to last week's observations on the prevalence among the Chinese of using 'Of course' to give an affirmative reply to a question.

I led off that post by saying, "It's OK to say 'Yes'."

I stand by that. A simple 'Yes' is far preferable to the hugely irritating (and borderline rude) 'Of course' in most cases.

However, replying with a single word in English - particularly replying to a sequence of questions in such a minimally communicative way - is also unusual, and apt to seem rude.

This is one of the key points I have tried to get across to students I have coached for various English speaking exams: don't make it into an interrogation. The examiner is giving you opportunities to talk, to show off how good your English is. Use them. Try to answer with a complete sentence every time. Sometimes - if the question gives scope for it - you can even attempt a mini-paragraph of three or four sentences strung together.

Far too many students, however, retreat into sullen monosyllables - like seasoned but dumb criminals afraid of the wily policeman prompting them to compromise their alibi; -

"What did you do last night?"


"You must have done something."

"Stayed home."

"And what did you do at home?"

"Watched TV."

"Which TV programme did you watch?"

"Football game."

"Oh, what was the score?"


Always try to answer with a complete sentence.

If a simple negative or affirmative seems to be enough (and trust me, it isn't), you should at least use what we usually term a 'short-form answer' - i.e., in addition to saying 'Yes' or 'No', you repeat the verb (or at least, the auxiliary part of it) in your answer, and omit the noun or replace it with a pronoun.

If the nice man (or lady) asks you, "Have you seen Titanic?", don't just say "Yes."

Say, "Yes, I have."

Or, "Yes, I've seen it."

Or (don't get too carried away now, baby steps and all that; but this really isn't so much of a stretch) try to provide a bit more information, try to build up your answer into a full sentence.

"Yes, I watched that on DVD a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed it."

There, that's no so hard, is it? Give it a try next time.

[Note: Most foreign examiners have got used to the fact that everyone in China has seen Titanic, that everyone liked it, and that no-one has very much else to say about it. For now, let us not worry about trying to form and express worthwhile opinions on the film such as, 'Well, the CGI was a bit dodgy in places. The Billy Zane character was ludicrously two-dimensional. And I don't believe there's any historical basis for that officer shooting a passenger. And surely Kate Winslet would have died of hypothermia long before the ship sank?" That can wait for an 'Advanced Class'.]

1 comment:

Matthew said...

My least favorite part of teaching was asking a why or how question and getting the simple answer of "yes" or "no." Every time they answered that way I made a note and deducted a point from their grade.