Czenglish revisited

20160409_113437Almost 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.

20160409_113412Now 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.

  1. According to his opinion, it was John’s fault. 
  2. Teachers in Czechoslovakia teach 19 hours a week. 
  3. We live in a rather large family house. 
  4. In that moment, I couldn’t say a word.
  5. I must say it was wonderful of him to help me.
  6. We are four.
  7. I watched the others not to miss anything.
  8. He knows nothing about England nor the English.
  9. He was there only three hours.
  10. I like nature.

 


 

  1. According to him, it was John’s fault. 
  2. Teachers in Czechoslovakia teach 19 classes/lessons a week. 
  3. We live in a rather large old house.
  4. At that moment, I couldn’t say a word.
  5. It was really wonderful of him to help me.
  6. There are four of us.
  7. I watched the others so as/in order not to miss anything. 
  8. He knows nothing about England or the English. 
  9. He was only there three hours. 
  10. I like the out-of-doors. 

 

 

 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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12 Responses to Czenglish revisited

  1. Kamila says:

    The book helped me when I was learning English. I have two copies and still recommend it to students:-) Thanks for bringing it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find very little wrong with any of them, especially in colloquial English.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mikecorea says:

    Fun and interesting post, Hana!

    Here are some quick (and highly personal) thoughts on each of those “no-nos” you listed.

    1 According to his opinion, it was John’s fault.
    I don’t love it and I probably would not say it but I also would not correct it. I would rate it as more awkward than wrong.

    2. Teachers in Czechoslovakia teach 19 hours a week.
    I think this is perfect and exactly how I would try to convey this. Perhaps there is some confusion with hours and classes but I think counting by hours matches with the info I want.

    3. We live in a rather large family house.
    It looked fine to me till I thought about “family house” which doesn’t really mean much to me.
    I prefer the correction in this case.

    4. In that moment, I couldn’t say a word.
    I guess I’d say, “at” but would not be bothered or confused by “in”

    5. I must say it was wonderful of him to help me.
    I like it. I think the “correction” robs a bit of character from the original.

    6. We are four.
    Ok but maybe pretty rare. I can imagine it being said in some situations (restaurant?) but it woul not be my first choice.

    7. I watched the others not to miss anything.
    I prefer the correction and find the original here potentially confusing

    8. He knows nothing about England nor the English.
    I think this is perfect and better than the suggested correction.

    9. He was there only three hours.
    Perfect. No worries for me on this one.

    10. I like nature.
    I think this is great. I also think the correction is fine but this sounds more natural (pun intended) to me.

    Thanks for the post and I hope my humble contribution to the discussion is helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Wow! Thanks a million for taking the time to comment on each and every sentence, Mike. These are amazing and really valuable insights. I think Don Sparling should definitely hire you as a consultant when working on the revised version. 🙂

      Cheers!

      Hana

      Like

    • ven_vve says:

      Hi Mike and Hana,
      I was going to comment on this post before IATEFL, but then work got in the way. I said (to Hana) on Twitter that I expected the sentences to be more obviously wrong, by which I guess I meant that I expected the potential for confusion to be immediately apparent in each case. Like Mike, I wouldnʼt make too many changes and agree that some of the sentences sound better in the original.
      I wanted to raise a point about no.3 – I think family house would probably be the same thing to Croatians, i.e., a way of stressing that you donʼt live in an apartment. But I donʼt see why it has to be old – in Croatia the term family house wouldnʼt tell you anything about when it was built. This might be different in Czech.
      Anyway, a very interesting post. Does the book give more background on Mr Sparlingʼs research, like why he felt these particular sentences were problematic?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hana Tichá says:

        Hi, Vedrana,

        Based on what Mr. Sparling told us at the seminar, he collected and recorded all those ‘weird’ expressions from his first year English majors when he was staying in the Czech Republic back in the 1980s. As I understand it, these expressions just sounded weird to his Canadian ears (back then). I mean, I don’t think there was any corpora-based research; if that’s what you’re asking. What’s interesting is the fact that at Masaryk University, BA students had to pass a very tough exam based on Mr. Sparling’s book. So, it once was a very important and powerful publication. 😉 Honestly, I don’t think such a book would stand the test these days. To the contrary, it would probably be widely criticized as too prescriptive and one-sided.

        Hana

        Liked by 1 person

  4. swisssirja says:

    Dear Hana,
    Oh what a relevant post! I love it. And gosh, it got me thinking about ALL the French intrusions into my English, not to mention the Estonian ones from my previous life 😉
    I guess I’d love to write a post about it as well. Might one day.

    PS – Big thanks goes to Mike for this valuable feedback. Brilliant! Oftentimes I feel I could do with a native speaker colleague to help me out or give another viewpoint. How stupid of me to forget that I already have these colleagues 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Chewie says:

    Cool book!
    Now I’m wondering if there’s one out there about Konglish or Japanese/Korean/Chinese L1 interference. Two things I always heard were

    “At the weekend…”
    “From 5pm we’ll have dinner.”

    Also… I had a job interview with a language school in Japan and the interviewer asked me (in reference to the company’s site) how many hours the work week had. I said 25 hours because I mistakenly thought he was referring to hours of teaching and not total working hours. Ha ha.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Teaching by principles | How I see it now

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