Monday, August 20, 2012

Asterix and the Laurel Wreath: Latin Jokes Explained

A bigger, better version of this article now appears on my new Asterix site - click the white link just above this article. The one that says 'Everything Asterix'.

I understand it's annoying to be directed here and have to go there, but I promise it's worth it.

The new site is extremely beautiful, by the way. It's probably going to win an award and be preserved by UNESCO.

The difference between this cramped, stuffy blog and that luxury site is the same as when you sell your one-bedroom flat in London and buy a six-bedroom villa anywhere else in the country. The furniture is better, the air is clearer, and you can stroll around your garden smelling flowers and sighing contentedly.

It also has a new webcomic called Asterix vs Hitler.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cecile Writes Sports

Christmas came early this year when Cecile told me she wanted to do a course in Journalism. My face lit up. So many opportunities to make fun of her!

"I'm going to set up a new blog called Diary of a Media Studies Student, and write about what I imagine you're doing," I told her, correctly predicting that changing the course title would annoy her. "It would go something like this. Day 6: 
Today we had to cut out articles from newspapers. I was the best at cutting. I got a sticker."
"Shut up."

After checking the course requirements I pointed out to Cecile that she'd have to write four sports stories during the course. "That's easy," she said. 

"Well," I said, "You don't really know a single thing about sport. You don't know the difference between conkers and CONCACAF, you think The Miracle on Ice is a musical ice skating show, and watching you play badminton is like watching a toddler in an egg-and-spoon race." 

"Those are all excellent points," she agreed, "Maybe I should watch a football and write about it and you can edit it for me?" 

"Yes. I promise not to post your first draft on my blog."

Cecile's Football Match Report First Draft
by Cecile

There is a red team and a blue team. The blue team are taller and have better hair. All the players line up and sing a song. That's nice. I count 13 on the blue team and 9 on the red. That doesn't make sense. The game has started! I'm excited.

Now I'm bored. Nothing is happening! Why is this fun? I'm trying to count the players to check how many are on each team but they keep moving so I can't. Is the pitch artificial? It must be, because it it's as perfectly manicured as a French armpit.
Nick says this girl is the referee. 1) Why is the referee 6 years old? 2) Why is she Spanish? This isn't FAIR

They just did a close-up on a red player and ohmygosh his leg muscles are huge! I wonder if he's wearing underpants.

My fiancĂ© Nick just explained 'offside' to me. It's completely clear now. I absolutely get it. It's just like netball where only one player is allowed to score the points. Oh, look! A goal!

Um... the score in the corner of the screen still says 0-0. Weeeeeird! Apparently it wasn't a goal because the flagman held up his flag. He's funny! The red team are Spain.

Oh, a real goal! And another! Spain have scored two goals in ten seconds! The first was a good goal involving lots of kicking the ball and some heading the ball. But the goalkeeper should have stopped it. It was really easy. The ball went past him in slow motion! The second goal was very, very similar. Maybe all goals in football look the same?

The score on the screen still says 1-0. It should say 2-0. What a booboo!

Nick tells me the second goal was a replay of the first goal. Then he starts explaining offside again, using our cutlery. Maybe if we'd bought the more expensive cutlery I wanted explaining would be easier. I'll go shopping tomorrow. I tell my fiancĂ© Nick that I understand offside completely, and look up at the TV to find Spain have scored another goal. Two points to nil. It might be hard for the blue team to catch up. Or it might be really easy. That's why sport is exciting, I guess.
The blue player is trying to help the red guy put his collar straight. Stand still, you silly Spaniard!

It's half-time so I go to refresh my make-up, like all famous sports writers. Locked in the stall, I use my smartphone to brush up on the rules about how many players are allowed on the court.
During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.
So that's that cleared up. The second half is very boring for a long time and then Spain score two more goals. They run around smiling a lot and that makes me smile. But the blue team are crying and look unhappy and that makes me cry unhappily.

The final score was 4 points to 0. I think Spain should have let the blue team score one point. That would have been nicer. But still, Spain are the winners. For today! I'll be back to report on the return game, just as soon as I find out when it's on.

See how many players they have? I think they cheated


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

You Already Know English

English is hard, I'm told. But to make learning it easier you just need to look inside your own memories. This guide will help.

You Already Know...

... The Alphabet
A surprising number of otherwise competent English speakers can't pronounce the letters of the alphabet. For example, native German speakers mix up I and E. But when I ask what kind of phone they have, they say 'an iPhone' without hesitation. In short, they know the connection between the letter I and the sound of the letter I, they just don't know they know.

Having said that, I'm convinced they sometimes they get it wrong on purpose to piss me off.

Letter You Can't Pronounce               Reason You Do Know It
I                                                          iPhone
E                                                         email
Y                                                         YMCA
G                                                         G-Star (clothes brand)
W                                                        BMW
H                                                         H+M
J                                                          J-Lo, OJ Simpson

... Say or Tell
Foreigners mess these up. They go 'She said me my mullet was sexy.' If only they'd paid attention to the words of Billy Jean they'd know how to do it right:

People always told me, be careful what you do
Don't go around breaking young girls' hearts 
She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son

See? It's EASY. Just LISTEN.

... Modal verbs
Modal verbs are followed by the infinitive. Like all Coldplay fans know!

This could be para-para-para-dise

And anyone who has ever seen Friends:

I'll be there for you!

... Word order
In other languages, the words come in a different order. Which is pretty stupid if you think about it. Foreigners end up saying garbage like, 'I go always by car,' and 'I never will sleep with you, Andrew.' It's bad enough when they do it in their own language, and criminal when they do it in English. Fortunately, some of the most famous songs in the world teach the right order.

I will always love you 
You are always on my mind
My heart will go on

Just this week a student wrote 'children will go mostly for snacks'. Even though he's seen Aliens!

They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

Newt. Mostly reads my blog at night.

So it's simply unforgivable that people still make mistakes. Unforgivable!

... Present perfect or past simple?
When you say when you did something, use the past tense. Don't say things like 'Yesterday I have eaten pizza.'

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away

... Present continuous
I normally start teaching this by asking students to look out the window and tell me what people are doing.
"He... is... getting off a tram."
"Good. What about her?"
"She... is... getting on a tram."
"Good. Now, what am I doing?"
"Um. Don't know."
"I'm bringing sexy back."
"[sings] I'm bringing sexy back."
"Oh. Yes."
"Have I finished bringing sexy back?" 
Exactly. Lesson learned.

(This video has supermodels like Gisele being all sexy and stuff!)

... All by myself
"Andrew, do I have to do this exercise by my own?"
"It's 'on my own' or 'by myself.' Haven't you heard that song?"
"It goes like this: [Squeaky singing] All by myself! Don't wanna be! All by myself! Any more!"
"Please stop. I'll try to learn it."

... Quotation marks
Students are totally capable of using airquotes, and totally incapable of using written quotes right. German speakers put the first quote at the bottom and the second one at the top. Like this. Wow! It hurts my eyes to look at it. Yet they do airquotes the right way up.
"Andrew, what did you do last night?"
"Oh I went to a bar. I dressed up and flirted with a hot babe."
"Right. And was your [airquotes] flirting [end airquotes] successful?"

They don't do airquotes all higgledy-piggledy. Why can't they write them?

... Tons of vocabulary
My students give themselves wrinkles trying to remember easy words. Words like art, prison, candle. But they're easy!
Art on Ice. Prison Break. Candle in the wind.

... Borrowed words
English uses loads of words from your language. In the case of German, or Dutch as they call it, English doesn't even change the spelling of:

doppelganger (someone who supports two football teams)
kindergarten (an underage florist)
wunderkind (a delicious toy-filled chocolate egg)
schadenfreude (an invisible psychiatrist)
wanderlust (wanting to have sex with Harry Potter)
zeitgeist (something you saw in the Guardian twice in one week)

... The conclusion
You already know the conclusion.