Pity the young souls

Posted on Fri 27 Jul 2012 @ 12.03pm UTC

HAVE A LOOK at this school worksheet:—

We’ve converted the original photograph into monotone on purpose in order to hide the company watermark.

This worksheet is for teaching how to figure out the days from descriptive language.


Fill in the blanks

This is what the worksheet requires:—

(a) The first Monday is the 3rd. (Given example)

(b) 7 days from the first Monday is the _____

(c) The _____ Monday is the 10th.

(d) _____ days from the first Monday is the second Monday.

(e) _____ days from the second Monday is the third Monday.

Can you work out the correct answer?



As it stands, it’s a piece of worthless junk.

The teacher who had to use this worksheet (and other similar ones) couldn’t figure out what the hell the last two sentences meant.

(The teacher is a Hong Kong-born and -bred person whose English is about average for teachers here.)

Here’s why this worksheet is worth less than toilet paper:—

Can’t start a sentence with a numeral; it must be spelled out.

That already puts sentences (b), (d) and (e) automatically in the idiot lamer category. Students will never learn English (or Chinese or any other language) properly if 90% of their worksheets are put together this way.

Don’t disguise Chinese with English words; use English the English way.

Sentences (d) and (e) are pure, undiluted Chinese (worse — they’re in bastardised Cantonese) disguised in English words.

No self-respecting, true-to-the-bone English speaker would say it that way. Ever.

The proper English phraseology is:—

The second Monday is _____ days from the first Monday.

The third Monday is _____ days from the second Monday.

Which version is easier to understand?

We don’t speak or write Chinese using English words or meanings or sentence structures. We don’t write French the English way. We don’t write Japanese the Swahili way. Why should you be using English the Chinese way?

What? Because we’re Chinese? And that makes it okay, does it?

Isn’t that stubborn ignorance?

This isn’t some mindgame designed to test out cognitive reasoning abilities for University Challenge TV show. The ultimate purpose of having such worksheets is to help the learner learn how to use a language properly and have a proper understanding of it for later life. If they start off learning a language being polluted like that, heaven help us.

Don’t use adult reasoning with young kids; remember they don’t have your years.

You might be 20 to 50 years old. You most probably have had a university education in order to be a teacher. You might even have had specialist teacher training.

Your students don’t.

You keep forgetting — the stuff you yourself learnt in EDU376 or whatever module don’t actually relate to your students. It only relates to pedagogy as an academic discipline for university teaching purposes. Please bear that in mind.

So a sentence like [x] days from the first Monday is the second Monday is going to be too hard to figure out for a learner still grappling with the basics of the language.

Learn not to increase the hardship on others with hard-to-think stuff like adding in non-linear sequential reasoning patterns. Go by strict additive linear counting, such as:—

The first Monday is the 3rd. The second is the 10th. The third is 17th.

Your aim is to show the learner how the language works — not how logic works.

Show upfront and early on that thing called ellipsis that marks true English speech (omitting Monday from other sentences) — not endlessly recycle the same sentence pattern like a featherless parrot.

Use simple noun-and-verb sentences as much as possible, and cut down on conjunctions, adjectives and adverbs, which are the hallmarks of adult speech.

Group similarities together. So switch sentences (b) and (c) around. You’re effectively comparing the first Monday with a second Monday. Your first priority is linked to your second priority, not to something to be done 100 days from the first or second priority. Idiot.

If you don’t know how to do this, you should contact me — or go back to school yourself.

At the high price you’re charging a lesson, do better than this abortion.

Self-explanatory, friendo. And you’re wasting paper and toner powder too with this rubbish.

This worksheet comes from an establishment in Hong Kong that charges HK$250 (US$32 or £21) for a 45-minute lesson.


Not an isolated incident

Many elementary- and secondary-school worksheets are done up in exactly that ignorant brand of pseudo-English.

Little wonder why the average Hongkonger is roundly looked upon as retarded even by other Hongkongers, never mind by others. Big wonder why Hongkongers aren’t stopped more frequently at entry points abroad for sounding like some autistic terrorist.



I’m a native English speaker. It took me two readings to figure out what the hell was wanted.

(a) [Sample answer given]

(b) 7 days from the first Monday is the 10th. (Reason: the first is the 3rd)

(c) The second Monday is the 10th. (Same reason as above)

(d) Seven days from the first Monday is the second Monday.

(e) Seven days from the second Monday is the third Monday.


The proper way of going about it

Bear in mind that the aim here is to train the kids to describe things — not do arithmetic.

The whole worksheet should have been like this:—

(aa) The first Sunday falls on the 2nd. (Sample answer)

That sample answer has three advantages. First, using Sunday instead is good for linearity because you’re not asking kids to skip a day from the chart. Second, the cue (‘2nd’) shows exactly the same Sunday as easily as per the original worksheet language. Third, falls on shows the true English idiom so kids can start learning it at the outset (instead of having to fix things in remedial classes later in life).

(bb) The second Sunday is the 9th. The third is the 16th.

(cc) The 9th is the second Sunday and 16th is the third Sunday.

Be tight in organisation. Group similar or comparable things together. Numbers with numbers, orders with orders. Don’t put apples in the basket for oranges.

(dd) The second Sunday is seven days from the first Sunday.

That should be the final one. It introduces a handleable variation — something you can use as a springboard for the next lesson.

At this point, you should stop for the sake of the kids. You’ve already introduced dates (2nd, 9th, 16th). You’ve already introduced running order (first, second, third). You’ve already introduced quantity count (seven).

If you still want to keep going (as per that Tiger Mother insanity to justify a high lesson price), then add in the extras in this way:—

(ee) The third Sunday is [also] seven days from the second Sunday.

(ff) Seven days from the first Sunday is the second Sunday.

(gg) Seven days from the second Sunday is the third Sunday.

Children love holidays. Think on their level. Play into their interest.


Pity the young’uns

Did I tell you before?

That worksheet is for kindergarten/nursery-level pupils. That establishment classifies these kids as being from 18 months to 5 years old. Heaven forgive us.

Do you think Chinese-speaking kids as young as that are able to figure out those answers even in their own Chinese?

How about doing that whilst learning another language?


© Learn English or Starve, 2012. Image by author.

Posted in: Street of Shame