Almost a quarter of a century ago, I bought a book called English or Czenglish by Don Sparling. The book was first published in 1989, just before the Velvet Revolution took place in former Czechoslovakia. By the time I bought it, it had already become a must-read for Czech learners of English, especially at the tertiary level of education, and it has been one of the most popular English usage textbooks in the Czech Republic ever since. The first edition was basically a collection of sentences incorrectly translated from Czech into English by first-year English majors, and it included comments by the author plus the correct versions of the erroneous sentences.
Although I’ve gradually thrown away many of the English textbooks I once owned as a student and a newbie teacher, mostly because they became completely obsolete, I still have this book. What I’m particularly proud of is the fact that I’m the owner of a first edition copy, which, a couple of days ago, I had signed by Don Sparling himself when I met him at an ELT conference in Brno (where he used to work as the head of the English Department at Masaryk University) .
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that after so many years of existence, the content of the book is still valid and relevant. Obviously, some might argue that unlike 25 years ago, nowadays, absolute correctness and native-likeness are not deemed vital, so such a book is somewhat redundant. However, I believe that its main value lies in the fact that it was written for a specific group of learners of English, i.e. Czechs, and it addresses one of the most problematic issues of learning a foreign language, i.e. L1 interference. Since in language classes in the Czech Republic all learners usually share the same L1, errors caused by L1 interference may easily escape everybody’s attention, and they may eventually fossilize. That’s why a book like this can be very helpful for teachers as well as learners.
Now that I’ve flipped through the book once again, I must shamefully admit that there are a couple of examples of Czenglish I’ve recently used – either here on my blog, when talking to people, or worse, in the classroom. Well, one never stops to learn, right? (sorry, I mean one never stops learning). 🙂 On the other hand, I swear I’ve heard native speakers use some of the Czenglish structures as well.
Anyway, here are a few sentences from the book for you to get an idea of what Czenglish is like. I’m convinced that some of the sentences will provoke a bit of
disagreement discussion. The correct sentences are provided below.
- According to his opinion, it was John’s fault.
- Teachers in Czechoslovakia teach 19 hours a week.
- We live in a rather large family house.
- In that moment, I couldn’t say a word.
- I must say it was wonderful of him to help me.
- We are four.
- I watched the others not to miss anything.
- He knows nothing about England nor the English.
- He was there only three hours.
- I like nature.
- According to him, it was John’s fault.
- Teachers in Czechoslovakia teach 19 classes/lessons a week.
- We live in a rather large old house.
- At that moment, I couldn’t say a word.
- It was really wonderful of him to help me.
- There are four of us.
- I watched the others so as/in order not to miss anything.
- He knows nothing about England or the English.
- He was only there three hours.
- I like the out-of-doors.