I just spent 2 weeks training writers in China. Here’s what it taught me about English (and food).

April 3, 2018 •
Cow tongue

I just returned from 2 weeks in China, where I was training some English-speaking writers.

What an eye-opener! And not just because it’s an amazing country with an entirely different culture and a couple more people than Australia. I learned three quite unexpected things in my time there.

First, I don’t like eating guts

I knew the food over there was going to be different. Probably challenging. But I was genuinely excited about experiencing authentic Chinese food, and seeing how it compares to the Chinese food we get in Australia.

So when I arrived, I had only 2 food-rules:

  1. It must be dead
  2. It must be cooked

But it turns out Chinese cuisine features a lot of intestines and what-not. Like these pig intestines:

Pig-intestines

And this, which I think is a cow’s tongue:

Cow tongue

It also turns out I’m not a big fan of that sort of stuff. I tried it, but as my father-in-law would say, it’s just not my big thing.

So after a week of trying everything they sent my way, I introduced a third rule: No more guts.

It’s not the idea of the guts that bothers me, either. I can work around that. It’s the consistency – it’s just so chewy! Bleh!

Second, I’m alright at chilli

I eat quite a bit of chilli, so most of the Chinese food I ate wasn’t too hot for me. This hot-pot, for instance, was what I’d call ‘medium’:

Hot pot

Mind you, it was categorised as ‘mild’ by the restaurant itself. So I’m by no means a chilli hard-ass. (I did already know this, though. Vindaloo is too hot for me, in Australia.)

Third, English is stupid

I was training a team of five Chinese technical writers / copywriters. These guys:

Chinese technical writing team

They write in English, and I was engaged to teach them how to do it more gooder.

I knew this would be partly a grammar exercise and partly a writing exercise, but the amount of grammar surprised me.

Don’t get me wrong; these guys knew a lot about English grammar. They’d studied it in detail, and they were all more familiar with the actual rules than most English speakers (and writers) I know. They weren’t the problem: the entire English language was the problem. It’s crazy! Just about every rule is insanely complicated, and many have so many exceptions that the rule is hardly ever observed.

When you grow up with the language, you don’t ever need to confront these crazy rules, head-on. But when you’re trying to learn the language (or teach it), you quickly discover how unfriendly they are. Of course, I knew this before I went, but I’m not a grammarian, and even though I studied TESL at uni, it didn’t have a grammar focus. So I’d only ever pulled apart the rules that frequently trip up native English writers (or my kids). When I had to teach my Chinese students right from wrong, I had to do a lot of thinking.

I could cite many, many tricky examples, but the one that stands out most is the rule for when to use a determiner before a noun…

A determiner is a word like “a”, “an”, “the”, “his”, “her”, “my”, “their”, “some”, “Kevin’s” or “every”. Some nouns must be preceded by a determiner, others can be (but it’s not compulsory). Here are the rules:

Glenn
Director & Lead Copywriter
25 years’ experience
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Angela
Copywriter & Content Marketer
X years’ experience
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Mariella
Copywriter & Content Marketer
XX years’ experience
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Monique
Copywriter & Content Marketer
25 years’ experience
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Rod
Copywriter
XX years’ experience
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Jacqui
Content Marketer
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Zoe
Copywriter & Content Marketer
XX years’ experience
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Phil
Technical Copywriter
XX years’ experience
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Shannon
Copywriter & Content Marketer
xx years’ experience
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Sophie
Chinese Language Copywriter
XX years’ experience
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Conclusion

I don’t like eating guts, but I like English grammar even less.

What are your experiences (with either)?

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Sandra Muller wrote on April 3rd, 2018

That brings back so many memories from when I taught in China back in 2002. I soon learnt the Chinese symbol for intestines but would still randomly point at a menu item and end up with fried whole baby birds on a skewer or chicken anuses. I too was amazed at what a good grasp of English grammar my students had. I had 100+ students in a conversational English class. Grammar is not something I've studied - I just know it intrinsicly or I learnt it while picking up a second language. I'm with you on the guts and English grammar.

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comment avatar
Angela wrote on April 3rd, 2018

EWWW that tongue!!!

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 3rd, 2018

Sheesh! 100+ students... that would be tough!

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 3rd, 2018

It certainly wasn't as bad as it looks, but soooooooo chewy.

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Peter wrote on April 4th, 2018

I'm so stealing your the a table... :)

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Andrea Rowe wrote on April 4th, 2018

English grammar sometimes churns my guts inside out as well. Cooked food is also my preference, along with well-marinated words.

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Kate wrote on April 4th, 2018

I don't think I have the guts to teach grammar good! ;)

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 4th, 2018

Go for it! :-)

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 4th, 2018

Yep, yep and yep. You're a woman after my own heart, Andrea! :-)

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 4th, 2018

Haha! That must be how I got them!

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