Language Unbleached: Talking Street

You're Screwed if You Don't Catch Up

Languages, as I've already said, are not limited to the crap you learn in school. Au contraire, every native speaker has equal weight in the trajectory of his community's language. While institutions are busy doing what they do best -- instituting -- actual speakers of the language are doing what they do best -- speaking. This leaves you, the language learner, in a precarious situation. You can go the route of schooling, and learn the language that institutions approve of, or you can go the route of acquiring the language that speakers actually use. Fantasdecks and this blog are dedicated to the latter. So, if you've come to learn some filtered, approved language, feel free to visit http://www.emptypromises.org and become "fluent" in your approved standard language there. If, however, you actually want to understand and use a language outside of institutional walls, read on.

I already know that most of you choose to read on, and the reason is clear: You don't want to sound "foreign as fuck." It's as evident as my day-to-day interaction with language learners. Schools aren't cutting it. If only officially sanctioned language mattered to you, you wouldn't be here. But, what determines whether your language is actually natural, or just some pre-approved segment of the language?

To answer that question, you need to challenge language institutions head-on. Try translating the equivalent of: "Fuck that shit! You faggot-ass wannabes tryin' to hold a nigga back," into your target language. Did you fail? If you did, that's a sign that you didn't learn what you needed to learn. You learned only as much as schools were willing to teach you. You got screwed both out of your money and out of some really important competencies.

Few things highlight this disconnect better than a post by the international Latin rock sensation, Juanes, when he posted an image of himself wearing a "Mexico Is The Shit" jacket. The problem? Spanish speakers got pissed. Why? Because many failed to understand American English slang. It took the intervention of Juanes himself to clarify the matter:

It's true. Mexico is the shit,
if you know what that means.
Hola! La chamarra me la regalaron en México y me gustó muchísimo. ["Mexico is the shit"] es una expresión que significa que "México es lo máximo", no es una expresión ofensiva.
→ Hello! They gifted me the jacket in Mexico, and I liked it a whole lot. ["Mexico is the shit"] is an expression that means, "Mexico is the best." It's not an offensive expression.

That fact, however, didn't stop the mamones from feeling offended. And, honestly, they can only blame themselves. They should have understood American English slang better before commenting.

This one example illustrates perfectly why learning to talk street -- learning the language that people "on the street" actually use -- matters so much. You don't only avoid looking stupid on Facebook. You also gain a competence that separates you from merely book-smart language learners (if you don't know the difference between book smarts and street smarts when it comes to language, you've failed you even worse than you realize).

Okay, I've taken your red pill. Get to the resources!

I've described various resources (here and here) to provide you access to resources online. That said, there's not much more I can recommend. You'll have to start your journey of acquiring the rest outside of your mom's basement.

Wait! Does that mean I have to move?

Not exactly. A lot of people will tell you that you're only going to gain fluent language by moving to its speakers' native land. Unfortunately, this leads many people to assume that foreign language skills flow from the plane ticket. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider this analogy: Suppose you want to be a great football player, so you visit your local stadium every day. Now, how much better do you suppose you'll play football after merely watching others play? Exactly. It's the same thing with language. Language is a game, but not a spectator sport. Attending an away game won't "immerse" you in any meaningful way. To play sincere language games, you have to be a sincere language player, and that means you'll have to face some uncomfortable realities.

When You Start, You Ain't Shit

You're not going to prance before a bunch of "foreigners" (abroad, you're the foreigner) and wow them with your language abilities right away. You'll need to start small. You'll need to learn your essential "survival language" first if you want to continue playing. But, that takes humility, and it's hard to be humble when you're too busy being frustrated.

So, the most important thing to adjust when you start is your attitude towards making mistakes. If someone's willing to correct you or complete your sentences, take it as assistance instead of criticism, even if they're being critical. Especially in the beginning, native speakers will be more frustrated with you than you'll be with them. After all, they have to decode your foreign-ass noises into some sort of meaningful message. Count each successful exchange as points toward your language game score. Over time, the "聽不懂's" and "no-te-entiendo's" will become less and less frequent, and you'll be able to approach more natives with fewer issues. That's the only route to approaching the richer language you crave.

Bilinguals Can Be a Crutch, But Don't Hobble Yourself

It's hard to resist not putting yourself at a disadvantage against another player in a language game, and this is where bilinguals are like sirens that beckon you to crash into the rocks. They can make you complacent, and complacency breeds failure. However, bilinguals are also useful, because they can guide you toward more comprehensible and native-sounding speech.

"No te pongas entra la espada y la pared."
"Don't put yourself between a rock and a hard place."
This puts you in a subtle balancing act. You need to weigh the urgency of communication against the drive to suck less in your target language. The problem only compounds when you realize that bilinguals seek to use you to suck less, too, and if you let them, they'll suck you dry. If a bilingual speaks to you in your native tongue, and if you can respond in theirs, it's best to do so. Doing anything else basically guarantees a one-sided language exchange, and I can't count the number of expats who venture abroad with high hopes of multilingualism, only to befriend people who cloister them into their own language communities.

Oh, to hear them bitch about self-inflicted impotence!

That brings me to my next pointer:

Don't Be a Bitch

I mean this in almost every dimension one can in English. 
  • Don't be a whiny bitch. Don't complain about what you don't know. Ignorance is your own damned fault, and complaining wastes time that you should spend learning to play your language game better.
  • Don't be a bottom bitch. Don't let people take advantage of your lack of knowledge. This is especially crucial in places like Mexico, where police officers have targeted me on a handful of occasions, hunting for infractions to score mordidas ("bribes"). If you're not fluent, don't put yourself in needless predicaments. If you are fluent (and also, from a dominant country and not committing any crime), enjoy the shakedowns and grin as their eyes widen in surprise and roll in disappointment.
  • Don't be a psycho bitch. Don't think that fluency gives you a free pass to talk shit to everyone. Men, particularly, have egos to defend and are desperate to play hero in front of women. Mocking people when it's genuinely funny is all well and good, but there's a fine line between teasing and cruelty.
Also, it's a good idea, as basic street smarts, to learn how to diffuse anger and to learn how to defend yourself if others decide to escalate matters. When you're outside of your hood, don't assume anyone (not even a cop) has got your back.

I understand that it can be hard not to be a bitch sometimes, especially when you reflect on this last point:

Language Games Are Sisyphean


You either continue playing or you quit. There is no language endgame.

You can't treat language acquisition like a race, because doing so would be like chasing the horizon. No matter how many steps you advance, there's an infinity beyond wherever you're standing. The best you can ever hope for, even in your native language, is to know the terrain better.

I've been speaking Spanish competently since 2002, Mandarin since 2011. Not once have I thought, "I know all the Spanish and Chinese I'll ever need," because my goal has been to pass for a (linguistic, not ethnic) native. That means nearly automatic speech and no inhibiting lexical gaps. That means adapting my speech to regionalisms and slang. That means keeping apace with neologisms and cultural memes. How could there be an end? Why would you want there to be?

The shit that matters for those goals can't fit in a curriculum. They can't be assigned, but have to be explored to gain actual fluency. If that upsets your pet delusions, don't hate the players or hate the game. You shouldn't have hoped it to be any other way.


Language Unbleached: Talking Dirty

You're Screwed, or So You Hope!

Sex: We literally need it to survive! Much of what we do from puberty onward is meant to attract mates. As Dave Chappelle put it:
"If a man could fuck a woman in a cardboard box, he wouldn't buy a house."
Now, there are more nuances than that, but the core fact is true. We, men and women, have various standards that make us seek out various mates. And, as the majority of the Earth's population seeks long-term monogamy, one thing proves to be quite important -- communication! Or, as my sainted mother says:
"You can sleep with them; but, eventually, you'll have to talk to them."
In my experience, even to sleep with them, you have to talk to them. People crave stimulation, and they prefer it from proficient tongues. Thus, for anyone who lives where their native language is not the lingua franca, foreign-language skills can help you do more than survive and make friends. They can help you find lovers, partners, and even spouses.

Now, flirtation, loving communication, and "the dynamics of human peer bonding" have dimensions that (a) are less related to languages and linguistics, and that (b) my own romantic life disqualifies me from discussing. That said, you'll have to adapt what knowledge I have to your own methods.

Why should it matter what language I use?

To answer this, I'll turn to the SLA expert and an intellectual frenemy, Stephen Krashen. In his book, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, he describes the "affective filter hypothesis," which states that negative emotions impede language acquisition. Now, the only thing that I like about this hypothesis is the term. The rest is unoriginal. Psychologists have long known that negative emotions (like fear) impede our comprehension of things. This is true for language, even if you're a native speaker.

But, fear is not the only affective filter. For instance, I hate being patronized for being foreign, and natives' simplifying their speech prematurely angers me even more. My anger, in turn, impedes comprehension of their speech. That impeded comprehension gives foreign speakers a false cue that further simplification is needed, and so a vicious cycle forms.

Sometimes I regret ever learning
the term micro-aggression.
Some expats whom I know, however, have no problem with this. They are happy to let their girlfriends order their meals for them at restaurants. They don't mind empty compliments about their language skills after they say six whole words in a foreign language. Instead, their affective filters are things like disgust with the foreign language, or feelings of pressure to respond perfectly. There is a wide range of such emotional triggers.

Filters aside, though, there is one more key reason to speak your target's language as well as you can. Foreign languages tax most people's energy. Because most non-natives learned your language in school, if at all, making them speak your language is like pushing them back into those dreaded years of vocab quizzes and grammar drills. How sexy can your target feel if he or she is pressured to recall irregular verb conjugations or determiner-noun agreement rules? As a rule, the seller speaks the buyer's language; so, if you're the horny one, bear that burden! Sooner or later, your naughty bits will thank you for it.

What should I learn to say, then?

Unfortunately, there's no useful pickup-line phrasebook or sex translation guide, because rehearsed flirtations are practically doomed to fail. Why? Because books like that don't know you. The sexiest parts of you can't be recited. They have to reflect and reveal what makes you such a catch. Instead, it's better to think of how you want to speak instead of what you want to say.

For instance, if you want to convey sexual undertones, you have to master a language's figurative sexual language. However, your sex and sexual orientation influence how much access you get to it. Men usually talk more openly about sex, and they're more willing to describe their desires, exploits, and so forth with vulgarity and double entendres. That means, then, that gay men and straight women often receive these terms more openly in the wild. Straight men, on the other hand, will likely need a cohort of single straight men to learn this piece of a language. That, in itself, offers an answer.

To answer the above question, answer this one: "Where do horny men go?"

Survey says…

Porn Sites

Most men enjoy sexual congress; and, if they're not having it, they're taking matters into their own hands, going online to watch videos of other people having it. About ten percent of all search engine searches are for pornographic content, and porn mainly serves male masturbators.

The challenge lies not in finding porn as much as finding porn in your target language. That may be much harder if mostly conservative people speak your target language (e.g., Arabic). Also, if the Internet is not very present where most of your target language's native speakers live, the Internet may be a dead end. For most language learners, though, entering terms for sexual anatomy into a video search engine will quickly yield results.

"Did somebody order a pizza? Extra sausage?"
Any serious language learner should watch at least one complete pornographic video in his target language, but as if it were a normal film. Short of your sexual orientation, you don't need to pick a film based on your sexual preferences. You just want to learn the main terms used in sexual dialogue. The video, therefore, only needs to be appealing enough to keep your attention.

As you watch your porno with your hands off your junk, pay attention to commonly repeated phrases (there are a lot in pornography), and their tones of voice. Again, focus on how they talk, not on understanding every sentence. Then, at the end, see if you learned some key terms: tits, cock, balls, mouth, pussy, ass, cum (n.), cum (vi.), hard, wet, interjections for sexual arousal or encouragement, and pizza.

Comments Sections for Online Attention Whores

Thanks to sites like Instagram and YouTube, men can now receive regular media feeds of whomever attracts them sexually. The linguistic pay dirt of these sites, though, is in their comments sections. Here, men often post comments describing their reactions to said photos. Some even narrate whole sexual fantasies. Subscribe to a few feeds with high comment rates in your target language, and you'll be laughing your way to talking dirty.

However, these two sources have a limit. They only provide input. There's little to no feedback in what language you produce. For that, you need open sexual language exchange from human interlocutors. Luckily, there is a quick source for that, too.

Sex Solicitations

To be clear, I am not recommending that you hire prostitutes or escorts. If you're going to do that, the only sentence you will need is, "How much?" Instead, you just want to "catfish" sex solicitors. However, please do this cautiously, as prodding this underbelly of society could have real consequences if you don't use basic Internet "street smarts":
  • "Solicit" them with dummy profiles,
  • Never state that you want to purchase sex.
  • Never click their links,
  • Don't share your personal contact information, and
  • Never accept invitations or friend requests.
That is enough to avoid most trouble while you use them to refine your dirty talk. If you can find human sex solicitors, not automated programs, most will engage you for about ten messages before they catch on. At that point, some will start to insult you, and then you can practice your shit-talkingRemember that all exchanges, even the ugly ones, are opportunities to build your language skills.

I could go on, but this list need not cover everything. It just needs to guide you to some general sexual language sources outside of the barroom and bedroom. What's important to them is that you reach beyond your comfort zone in a comfortable setting. Propositioning a stranger, or even a third date, can be stressful. And, yes, it's that much harder to do it in a foreign language. But, nothing gives you charisma like confidence, and nothing gives you confidence like preparation. So, be prepared, stay relaxed, and always use protection!

This message was not brought to you by Charisma Man.


Language Unbleached: Talking Shit

You're Screwed, or Are You?

Languages are not all that friendly. They're coarse, they're mean, they're gross, and (worst of all) they're fluid. Schools, on the other hand, strive to be none of those things. They're refined, they're kind, they're formal, and (worst of all) they're stagnant. In the field of foreign-language learning, most people complain about schools' formality. Linguists have known since Chomsky that we don't learn our first language by being taught grammar explicitly. SLA research since then has shown that we don't seem to learn foreign languages that way, either. So, what gives? More importantly, what needs to give?

This blog will be full of info on where and how schools, language centers, and the like drop the ball, so what gives is coming piece by piece.

What needs to give, though, is your attitude, and it needs to give in at least two areas.

"What a misfortune it is
that we should […] let
our boys’ schooling
interfere with their education!"
-- Grant Allen
(You were probably taught
in school that it was Twain.)
First, you need to abandon all faith in schools' teaching you most of what you need to know when it comes to languages. Schools are great for learning formal procedures, and they're designed to help people be "good citizens." Too bad for you, though. Natural languages are not formal procedures. They aren't Markov chains. They aren't "sentence patterns." They aren't syntax trees. They're not what makes it into dictionaries or grammar books. What's even worse is this: Languages give two shits about "good citizenship." Languages belong to everyone, even drifters, criminals, and assholes. Schools often pretend that what you speak "out there" should not be what they teach "in here." And, unless schools break free from these biases (they won't), they will only give you as much language as their "educational culture" allows. Maybe you'll become fluent and comprehensible, but you're going to sound foreign and robotic as fuck.

Second, you need to branch out beyond your comfort zone. Learners often hear this and think only of a language's complexity. While being comfortable with reading or hearing longer sentences with rarer words is a worthwhile skill, it risks becoming a comfort zone, but one of kind instead of degree. News reporters speak like news reporters. Novelists write like novelists. But, you probably don't want to speak like a news reporter or write like a novelist. Chances are that you just want to be yourself, just in the other language. And, if you've ever struggled to express your true feelings or reactions in a foreign language, you understand that this discomfort is one of kind, not degree. Unless you want to be the "good citizen" as schools have defined that for you, you're going to have to be yourself elsewhere.

You'll have to make friends in places you never thought you'd go. You'll have to be "the foreigner" in the crowd. You'll have to have to risk pissing people off.

Classes only train you in aspects of languages that avoid doing these things, because "educational culture" aims to be inclusive and politically correct. Thus, schools are prescriptive in the semantics that they teach. Also, schools must appeal to a standard to grade work, and that makes them prescriptive in the syntax rules that they teach. And, that prescriptivism means that you won't learn some key parts of speaking natively in any classroom. I am going to focus on three: talking shit (insulting speech), talking dirty (sexual speech), and talking street (up-to-date slang). Since Fantasdeck is not a school, but an avenue to learn all of a language, not just the whitewashed bits that schools are willing to teach, I'll light a path for you that most teachers never will.

What's the value in talking shit?

Do you love everyone? Do you go out of your way to make sure all of your words are kind and sweet? Or, are you a normal, sometimes insensitive, human being?

The truth is that most people feel hate, if not for whom people are, then at least for what they do. Insulting people for what you perceive as bad about them is not bad in itself. The world is full of backstabbers, gold-diggers, pricks, cunts, wannabes, pity whores, and fags. But, many of these words have dimensions that most translation dictionaries will not teach you.

A 2001 interview with Eminem summarizes this point nicely:
NYRock: There has been much controversy over your liberal use of the word faggot and what people perceive as gay bashing. It's put you right in the line of fire from gay and lesbian groups the world over.
Eminem: I'm not gay bashing. People just don't understand where I come from. Faggot to me doesn't necessarily mean gay people. Faggot to me just means [something like] taking away your manhood. You're a sissy. You're a coward. Just like you might sit around in your living room and say, "Dude, stop, you're being a fag, dude."
NYRock: But you can see how it would insult homosexuals?
Eminem: Yeah, but it does not necessarily mean you're being a gay person. It just means you're being a fag. You're being an asshole or whatever. That's the way that the word was always taught to me. That's how I learned the word. Battling with somebody, you do anything you can to strip their manhood away.
And he's right. Homosexual epithets are used among straight males in the US to emasculate them. It does not directly indicate straight males' views on homosexuality. Also, calling something "gay" does not imply that it's homosexual in character. Rather, it just means that it's inferior in some way.

These subtle senses and uses take time and exposure to really use "appropriately." For instance, it makes no sense to call women fags in the above sense, because women are not expected to be masculine in the first place.

"Everything looks good,
but her face." Get it?
An even bigger mistake would be to attempt a direct translation from your native language to the target language in these cases. If a Chinese speaker of English calls a woman a "rear-view killer" (背影殺手), that will mean nothing to a native English speaker. We use the word butterface to refer to such women.

Or, if you want to say in Chinese that a plan or idea "sucks ass," Chinese speakers will be both puzzled and disgusted by the response, "我覺得會吸肛門." That means, "I feel I will suck some ass." And I know this, because I've texted this to a girlfriend.

But, what if I'm a saint?

Perhaps you never will be talking shit about people; but, that doesn't mean that people won't be talking shit about you. Learning the ways in which people can be rude with their words is also a matter of defense.

Bigots and racists are real, and they're all over the world. So, failing to learn this aspect of language is no better than burying one's head in the sand. Sure, there's a brief comfort in not understanding that someone thinks less of you, but there's much less comfort in trusting in or relying on those who do. Without covering this aspect of whatever language you study, natives of your target language may feel free to speak ill of you. So, if you plan on using the language you learn with native speakers, you owe it to yourself to catch and call out those who would try to give you a bad rep.

Where can I start my trash-talking journey? 

Diss Tracks (Rap Music)

As I've hinted above, we can start with a thank-you to the United States' entertainment industry, since it has exported the rap genre to the whole world. That means that there are rap albums available in every major language.

As well as being a good source of slang in general, rap music also offers plenty in what are known as "beefs." A beef is a public grudge, and rappers can't seem not to step on each other's toes. What results is mud-slinging to a beat, diss tracks.

Finding these tracks will take some research. But, once you find them, take them in and spot how rappers craft their insults. You'll often find some common themes, even common morphemes, and they provide a template for how to construct slurs in the target language.

Films Featuring Criminals

The more, the better! When writers write dialogue for criminals, they often make sure to display how crude and harsh they can be to each other. A natural result of this is a wealth of hateful speech, or even outright hate speech.

If you know of such films in your native tongue, you may be able to find those same films with translated subtitles. However, I would recommend that you not use them to learn this kind of language. The issue is that there is rarely a good correspondence of epithets between languages, and translators, pressed for time, usually just pluck one that is close enough to match a general mood. Translators are not racking their brains trying to render the word asshat perfectly into Russian or Swedish. They have deadlines. Instead, let native writers show their prowess for shit-talking, and work out meanings from contexts that way.

Forums and BBS's

The trolls, feed them!
They're basically
free insult machines.
While many of the insults that you will read on forums will apply mainly to disliked elements in the online community, much of this language can extend to the offline world, too. The goal here, though, is not to follow forums on topics that you like. You'll be better off finding those sites where folks are free to be less than kind, and where clever insults win you respect, so think 4Chan and FYAD.

Social media boards that deal in controversy are also a good source of put-downs. And, if you venture into politics or public policy, you'll learn a good bit about the divides in those landscapes at the same time. So, don't be afraid to say something unpopular. Good or bad, you'll be getting useful language; and, in the end, that's what you're there for.


Chinglish Explained: Yang Jia Cheng's
"Chinglish (中式英語)"

First, Mr. Yang's Two Cents; Then, Mine

What Is Chinglish?

Basically, any language that becomes non-standard thanks to foreign-language influences wins a prize: its own portmanteau. English speakers usually make theirs by plucking the first syllable of the foreign language and blending -nglish for its second, giving us Spanglish, Franglish, etc. These terms refer either to a language that English has influenced or to English that a foreign language has influenced. Here, we will be talking about the latter, English that Chinese has influenced.

The standards that these latter glishes ignore usually have to show that English is not the glish speaker's native language. That is, a glish can't just be English plus some loanwords or code-switching. Foreign phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic imports all have to be there. They also have to be endemic. That is, a lot of foreign-language natives have to make the same kinds of "errors" when attempting to comprehend or use English.

The words "errors" above belong in quotation marks. "As long as people can understand what the hell you're saying, then […] it's good English." In fancier terms, Mr. Yang is a linguistic descriptivist, not a prescriptivist. The difference? If an utterance doesn't fit an English description, English natives won't be able to recognize it as English. If, however, an utterance doesn't fit an English prescription, snooty English natives won't be willing to recognize it as English. Now, there are reasons to care about prescriptions. Sometimes we have to fit in with the snoots or produce clearer utterances. Mr. Yang's point, however, is that most foreign English speakers don't.

You can explain some Chinglish give me?

Mr. Yang's snapshot of Chinglish lightly pokes at Chinese English learners' failed acquisition of some standard English phonology and syntax. However, he funnily treats Chinglish as an argot which native English speakers can learn. What's interesting, however, is not that they "go wrong," but where specifically they "go wrong."

Chinglish Phonology:

How Mr. Yang puts it:
  • "Lesson 1: Pronounce every word extra clearly and with a weird tone."
How a phonologist might put it:
  • "Lesson 1.1: Speak English words by vocalizing all stop consonants if they are written in the language's orthography."
  • "Lesson 1.2: Break the final coda from the English word, and then add /ɤ/ to the dangling onset, or remove the dangling onset, whichever matches a Mandarin syllable more closely."
The results?
  • First, pronounced /ˈfɜrs⟨t⟩/ in English, becomes /ˈfɜrsɤˈtʰɤ/ in Chinglish;
  • Yes, pronounced /ˈyɛs/ in English, becomes /yɛˈsɤ/ in Chinglish; and
  • Right, pronounced /ˈraɪ⟨t⟩/ in English, becomes /ˈraɪ˧˥/ in Chinglish.
How Mr. Yang puts it:
  • "Lesson 2: Randomly put letters in words."
    • "We never pronounce the ⟨th⟩."
How a phonologist might put it:
  • "Lesson 2.1: If a consonant immediately precedes /i/ in the final syllable, replace it with /eɪ/."
  • "Lesson 2.2: Replace /ɪ/ with /eɪ/."
  • "Lesson 2.3: Replace /θ/ with /s/."
  • "Lesson 2.4: Replace /ʌn/ with /əŋ/."
  • "Lesson 2.5: Replace /mɪ/ with /mi/."
The results?
  • Sorry, pronounced /ˈsɒri/ in English, becomes /ˈsɒreɪ/ in Chinglish;
  • Lonely, pronounced /ˈloʊnli/ in English, becomes /ˈloʊnleɪ/ in Chinglish;
  • Carefully, pronounced /ˌkɛərfəˈli/ in English, becomes /ˌkɛərfəˈleɪ/ in Chinglish;
  • Ugly, pronounced /ˈʌgli/ in English, becomes /ˈʌgɤˈleɪ/ in Chinglish;
  • Fish, pronounced /fɪʃ/ in English, becomes /feɪʃ/ in Chinglish;
  • Something, pronounced /ˈsʌmˌθɪŋ/ in English, becomes /ˈsʌmˌsɪŋ/ in Chinglish;
  • Monday, pronounced /ˈmʌndeɪ/ in English, becomes /ˈməŋdeɪ/ in Chinglish; and
  • Miss, pronounced /mɪs/ in English, becomes /mis/ in Chinglish.
This is just a partial list of the rules that Mr. Yang is following. However, explaining it in full will have to wait for another day.

Chinglish Syntax:

Mr. Yang's Chinglish syntax lesson calls on us to "speak English with Chinese grammar." He then provides examples of common word-for-word Chinese-to-English translations.

In some cases, Mr. Yang is actually pointing out how foreign-language learners assume that ellipsis works the same way across languages, so they translate the Chinese sentence before inserting the words that English natives would not have removed:

Example 1:
  • 怎麼說?
    → How to say?
Now let's show what the ellipsis cut out and see what we get when we translate it:
  • 【你】怎麼說【‘X’這個字】?
    :: How do [you] say [this (i.e. that) word 'X']?
    → How do you say that?
    (Note: The English auxiliary do has no exact match in Mandarin, so is highlighted above.)
Example 2:
  • 我很喜歡。
    → I very like.
  • 我很喜歡【它】。
    :: I very much like [it].
    → I like it very much.

    (Note: '很' can translate to 'very' and 'very much'. Also, when it refers to a situation or is a dummy pronoun, to insert a pronoun '它' would be a symptom of Westernized Chinese [歐化中文].)
Example 3:

  • 你壞壞!
    → You bad bad!
  • 你壞壞!
    :: You are (i.e. so) bad!
    → You're so bad!

    (Note: Reduplications of Chinese "stative" verbs can intensify them, similarly to how English does with the intensifier 'so' in adjective phrases.)
Sometimes, Chinese speakers simply translate terms wrongly, as in this example:
  • 我想跟你在一起。
    → I want to hang out together with you.

    → I want to play together with you.
    (Note: This may be the result of confusing two senses of '廝混', one meaning 'hang out', and another meaning 'play around' in a more flirtatious or sexual context.)
And, in some cases, Chinese natives receive standard English input. Then, they translate that English into their native Chinese. Finally, they try to translate that Chinese back into English. But, since Chinese and English indicate mood, tense, and aspect very differently, English verb conjugation often doesn't make the trip:
  • I have already eaten.
    → 我已經吃過了。
  • 我已經吃過了。
    → I already eat. / I eat already.
  • I already went there.
    → 我已經去那邊。
  • 我已經去那邊。
    → I already go there. / I go there already.
  • I had already met her.
    → 我已經見過她。
  • 我已經見過她。
    → I already meet her. / I meet her already.

What's Mr. Yang's beef with drilling vocabulary?

Were I a Chinese English student,
my first wish would be
for the sweet release of death!
He's telling it like it is: Vocabulary drilling is a waste of time, especially how Chinese English students do it. Their first move is to buy mini translation dictionaries known as "word books" (單子書). Next, they drill each page for a few minutes, turn the page, and lose whatever they learned the page before. It's a cramming method, and cramming methods don't lead to acquisition.

These books are not made to be read, anyway. Rather, they're made to be made to be read. The purpose of word books is to pass blame from teachers to students. Instead of language teachers' actually giving their students broader, firmer comprehension of fewer English terms, they force them to buy these mini dictionaries and read them like chapter books. This allows Chinese teachers to "test" their students' vocabulary retention each week. But, what about three weeks from that test date? Their answer: "Who cares?" If a student gets a good grade, both the teacher and the student look good. If a student gets a bad grade, though, only the student gets blamed. He clearly needs to study more from this book. After all, it offers:
  • No spaced repetition, 
  • Hardly any context, 
  • Barely enough word senses, and 
  • No sense of pacing.
Clearly, the student must be at fault here…

Mr. Yang and I agree on this point: Honing all of one's efforts on any one aspect of a language will come at the cost of not attending to others. A sane language-learning method should engage as many aspects as it can at once, but not force you to cram any one aspect in its entirety. Like swimming, the coordination of parts matters most. If you don't want to drown, get in the water, but stay at the shallow end. Then, at your own pace, wade into deeper waters. That's how language acquisition should feel, and that's the best course I know around the Chinglish Channel.


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And It's Fantastic!

Click on any of the links in the banner above to start learning more about the Fantasdeck project. Its (my) goal is to get every person on Earth multilingual as efficiently as possible, and without the need for the classroom environment.

What? No classes?

Yep. Soon enough, nearly everyone on Earth is going to have access to most of the information and tools that they will need to educate themselves. And, as we develop the skills for self-teaching, brick-and-mortar schooling will become obsolete. It's this prediction which drives my foreign-language-learning project.

And who are you, exactly?

I'm a man who knows how and where the private language instruction industry and public schooling fails in language instruction. My disgust over their track record and business ethics led me to work toward making something efficient, affordable, and even fun (for instance, you'll learn some modern slang, common idioms, and puns). And by affordable, I mean free. This is my charity to the world, and while I appreciate donations, like any charity does, I'm cool with anyone using and modifying my works for non-commercial use.

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