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An impressive English lesson


1 If I am the only parent who still corrects his child's English, then perhaps my son is right. To him,

I am a tedious oddity: a father he is obliged to listen to and a man absorbed in the rules of grammar, which my son seems allergic to.


2 I think I got serious about this only recently when I ran into one of my former students, fresh from an excursion to Europe. "How was it?" I asked, full of earnest anticipation.


3 She nodded three or four times, searched the heavens for the right words, and then exclaimed, "It was, like, whoa!"


4 And that was it. The civilization of Greece and the glory of Roman architecture were captured in

a condensed non-statement. My student's "whoa!" was exceeded only by my head-shaking distress.


5 There are many different stories about the downturn in the proper use of English. Surely students should be able to distinguish between their/there/they're or the distinctive difference between complimentary and complementary. They unfairly bear the bulk of the criticism for these knowledge deficits because there is a sense that they should know better.


6 Students are not dumb, but they are being misled everywhere they look and listen. For example, signs in grocery stores point them to the stationary, even though the actual stationery items —pads, albums and notebooks —are not nailed down. Friends and loved ones often proclaim they've just ate when, in fact, they've just eaten. Therefore, it doesn't make any sense to criticize our students.

学生并不笨,他们只是被周围所看到和听到的语言误导了。举例来说,杂货店的指示牌会把他们引向stationary(静止处),虽然便笺本、相册、和笔记本等真正的stationery (文具用品) 并没有被钉在那儿。朋友和亲人常宣称They’ve just ate。实际上,他们应该说They’ve just eaten。因此,批评学生不合乎情理。

7 Blame for the scandal of this language deficit should be thrust upon our schools, which should be setting high standards of English language proficiency. Instead, they only teach a little grammar and even less advanced vocabulary. Moreover, the younger teachers themselves evidently have little knowledge of these vital structures of language because they also went without exposure to them. Schools fail to adequately teach the essential framework of language, accurate grammar and proper vocabulary, while they should take the responsibility of pushing the young onto the path of competent communication.


8 Since grammar is boring to most of the young students, I think that it must be handled delicately, step by step. The chance came when one day I was driving with my son. As we set out on our trip, he noticed a bird in jerky flight and said, "It's flying so unsteady." I carefully asked, "My son, how is the bird flying?" "What's wrong? Did I say anything incorrectly?" He got lost. "Great! You said incorrectly instead of incorrect. We use adverbs to describe verbs. Therefore, it's flying so unsteadily but not so unsteady."

因为语法对大多数年轻学生而言枯燥且乏味,所以我觉得讲授语法得一步一步、注重技巧地进行。有一天机会来了。我跟儿子开车外出。我们出发时,他看到一只小鸟飞得很不稳,就说:“它飞的不稳。”(It’s flying so unsteady.)我小心翼翼地问:“儿子,鸟怎么飞?”“有问题吗?我说得不对吗?(Did I say anything incorrectly?)”他一头雾水。“太好了,你说的是incorrectly而不是incorrect。我们用副词来描述动词。所以,要用unsteadily来描述鸟飞,而不是unsteady。”

9 Curious about my correction, he asked me what an adverb was. Slowly, I said, "It's a word that tells you something about a verb." It led to his asking me what a verb was. I explained, "Verbs are action words; for example, Dad drives the truck. Drive is the verb because it's the thing Dad is doing."


10 He became attracted to the idea of action words, so we listed a few more: fly, swim, dive, run. Then, out of his own curiosity, he asked me if other words had names for their use and functions. This led to a discussion of nouns, adjectives, and articles. Within the span of a 10-minute drive, he had learned from scratch to the major parts of speech in a sentence. It was painless learning and great fun!


11 Perhaps, language should be looked upon as a road map and a valuable possession: often study the road map (check grammar) and tune up the car engine (adjust vocabulary). Learning grammar and a good vocabulary is just like driving with a road map in a well-conditioned car.


12 The road map provides the framework and guidance you need for your trip, but it won't tell you exactly what trees or flowers you will see, what kind of people you will encounter, or what types of feelings you will be experiencing on your journey. Here, the vocabulary makes the journey's true colors come alive! A good vocabulary enables you to enjoy whatever you see as you drive along. Equipped with grammar and a good vocabulary, you have flexibility and excellent control. While the road map guides your journey to your destination, an excellent vehicle helps you to fully enjoy all of the sights, sounds and experiences along the way.


13 Effective, precise, and beneficial communication depends upon grammar and a good vocabulary, the two essential assets for students, but they are not being taught in schools.


14 Just this morning, my son and I were eating breakfast when I attempted to add milk to my tea. "Dad," he said, "If I were you, I wouldn't do that. It's sour."

就在今天早上,我跟儿子吃早饭时,我想把牛奶加入我的茶里。“爸爸,” 他说,“如果我是你的话,我不会这样做。牛奶会变酸。(If I were you, I wouldn’t do that. It’s sour.)”

15 "Oh my!" I said, swelling with pride toward my son, "That's a grammatically perfect sentence. You used were instead of was."

“哦,上帝!”我满怀着无比的骄傲说道,“这是一句语法完全正确的句子。你用了were 而不是was。”

16 "I know, I know," he said with a long agreeable sigh. "It's the subjunctive mood."


17 I was, like, whoa!



The great journey of learning


1 Malcolm X was an African-American civil rights activist, religious leader, writer, and speaker. Born in 1925, he was mysteriously assassinated in 1965. By the time of his death, his own telling of his life story, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, had been widely known. He was born Malcolm Little into a poor household. Later, he took the name Malcolm X after joining an organization called the Nation of Islam, a religious group that had changed major practices and beliefs of mainstream Islam to apply more specifically to the condition of African-American people in the United States in the early 1960s.


2 Malcolm X learned about the Nation of Islam while in prison for committing criminal acts such as theft. Because he was poorly educated, he felt inadequate to teach his new beliefs to others. As a young man, he could sketch his thoughts with poor grammar and little vocabulary using the simple, unsophisticated language of people on the street. As an adult, when he tried to inform people about his new beliefs at a rally, he found that he didn't have the adequate communication skills he needed. In his own words, he "wasn't even functional".


3 In a bid to increase his knowledge and improve his skills, desperate Malcolm X devised a scheme. He turned to books, believing this would be beneficial. However, when he tried to read serious books on his own, he was distressed as he didn't know most of the words. "They might as well have been in Chinese," he wrote. He skipped all the words he didn't know and then would end up with no clue as to what the book was about. "I became frustrated," Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography, speaking of his inadequate language skills.


4 Malcolm X's considerable frustration at his inability to read and write launched him on a quest to overcome his deficiencies. He said, "I saw that the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary — to study, to learn some words." And he was lucky enough to reason also that he should try to improve his handwriting. "It was sad. I couldn't even write in a straight line," he told

us. These ideas together moved him to appeal to the prison authorities for some paper and pencils.


5 For the first two days, Malcolm X just skimmed through the pages of the dictionary trying to negotiate his way through its unfamiliar format. He told us of his amazement at how closely related the words seemed. How moist could be the root of moisture, and advisable and advisory had the same root word! "I didn't know which words I needed to learn," he said, "finally, just to start some kind of action, I began copying." In his slow, careful, crude handwriting, Malcolm X copied everything on the first full page of the dictionary into a notebook. He even copied the quotation marks! This took him one full day. After that, he read everything he had written aloud. "Over and over aloud, to myself, I read my own handwriting." Malcolm recalled. He also logged important things that happened every day. Repetition helped move him from basic literacy toward true proficiency.


6 Malcolm X depicted how the next morning when he woke up, he kept thinking about the words he had copied and read aloud and about the acquisition of the knowledge he was pursuing. It was a marvelous feeling. He felt immensely proud.


7 He was so fascinated that he went on copying the dictionary's next page. Once again, he awoke, proud and energized. With every succeeding page he copied and read aloud, Malcolm X found he was learning and remembering more and more words. With each successive day, his confusion diminished.


8 As Malcolm X's word base broadened, he began to better understand the books he read. It was the first time in his life this had ever happened, "Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened." From then until he left that prison, his concentration was focused on reading. He was so absorbed in it. Months passed without his even thinking about being in

prison. "In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life."


9 "I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life," Malcolm X wrote. He described how one day a writer telephoned him from London for an interview. The interviewer asked Malcolm X what college he had graduated from as he could write so fluently. He told the Englishman that his own personal university was "books".


10 Malcolm X's life is a wonderful example of the profound effect of learning a language. He was born into a world full of poverty and ignorance. However, as he acquired knowledge, his horizons expanded. He had left behind the narrow, ignorant world of his youth to join the world community of thoughts and actions ever since he started with his great journey of learning English in prison.


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