Abuses in the Prescription, Instruction, and Evaluation of Language Use


 Prescriptions for the correct use of language begin in the first school years, if not at home through solicitous parenthood or guardianship.  It can only hope that the instruction(s) [and both the singular and plural ideas are meant] is (or are) valid, but it has been observed by the present author that the more the baby boomer generation disappears, the more their successor generations are subjected to declining standards in education. This document narrows in on the foreign language aspect of such teaching and learning when it happens through various types of abuse; whether by dictionary and text-book publishers, official or quasi-official national language academies, private foreign language institutes – or even government-approved schools employing the wrong teachers or policies – and shows how these defraud students by their interest much more for profit than for any benefit of the learner.  It draws on familiarity with facts about half-a-dozen languages; and, as an Internet-based article, attempts to be useful to those who would embark upon such studies.


 Does the reader remember any speaking errors committed during his or her earlier years of life, or the mistakes of friends or siblings?  Has anyone, for example, heard something like “nofe” for “snow”, or “chin-ke” for “chicken”?  These are not examples taken from a person suffering from apraxia of speech, dyslexia in the articulation of words, or developmental verbal dyspraxia.  The first example approximates a problem encountered by Turks learning German[1]  and the second is a case of even more common transposition of a combination of phonemes; or, more precisely, metathesis.  Has the reader encountered textbooks that had errors, or that contradicted the teacher?  Does the English of one of the other continents astound through its different spellings, pronunciation, and even grammar?  Was it ever experienced, after acquiring a second language, that if it was needed for oral communication, the course was almost useless (unless one were to immerse oneself into the country where that language was needed)?  Was a paper or test marked unjustly, thereby keeping a candidate from a higher grade point average, a scholarship, or other academic honours? Were high grades given out, but in practice, the knowledge acquired was worse than that of a child’s?  Was the expense justified?

This paper originally intended to focus solely on language instruction abuse committed by teachers and institutes. A broader view was then taken – rather than give an anodyne description of the problem, it was decided that a general warning was in order for those who might study a second language. While the latter target audience might never see this work, if teachers and language institute administrators take pro-active measures before any prospective student comes in, prepared with the herein suggested investigative routine to detect potential deficiencies – that is to the good, if done properly.   As that can not be guaranteed, it is suggested that prospective students forearm themselves against people and places which will not meet one’s expectations.[2]  To this end, not only does this study include information extraneous to the language profession, but it also gives some examples of errors which the author has experienced or found, as well as a mention of the idiosyncrasies various languages have in pronunciation, and their spelling variations over the course of the last century or two;  thus offering some indications as to what the student should be wary about, before signing up with any private teacher or institution so much  focused on profit, that the benefits to the learner will be either negligible or costly – or both.

Should, in spite of various proof-readings, this document remain with deficiencies, it will be because another person, without bias, should have reviewed it.  That step was could not be implemented, hence any errors of grammar or spelling – as determined by following Canadian conventions – are the fault of the author, except for those of software error or hacking.

Because of a string of personal difficulties, this article may not be able to be fully-fleshed out; yet, because of its perceived importance, it was put on line, in order to share the author’s insights.  Particularly worthy of mention, in relation with the approaches and methods, is an over-all category, which is teaching styles: authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-faire.  It is felt that the approaches or methods can all be fit into one of these three, and that without a doubt, even though the democratic style sounds best, for a highly-motivated group, surely laissez-faire is to be preferred, and for some students, a heavier hand is required.  One should be careful, if trying to determine the teaching style, though – as this quote shows: “In this book, the student is regarded as a friend and an ally who puts his faith in the teacher and the textbook … “[63]. There are some doubts as to the nature of the alliance or friendship being offered, when faith goes one way.

An even more simplified classification might be this: does a person prefer to study alone, or in a group? [This paragraph is a late splice, and its import should be considered when evaluating teachers or schools, a theme which is discussed in more detail, further below. The material referenced is from” Do You Speak English?”, by Nicolás Penchaszadeh, writing in the Argentine business magazine, Mercado (September, 1992, pp. 48-9), trans. by the present author from the Spanish.]  According to Wanda Grabia of the apparently now defunct London Lab of Buenos Aires, “shy people ..: prefer [the former]”.  What is even more important, (to the present author) is her mentioning that “in individual classes one learns more.”  She added the questionable idea that in “… group classes…, the student loses the fear” (being suffered from).  A vice-director of ICANA, [Instituto Cultural Argentino Norteamericano], Vivian Morgan, stated that there “the teacher … ‘is another member of group. The students … are evaluated by all the group'”. (This is the democratic style! – P.K.M.)   This methodology contrasts with this author’s own training, which emphasized the danger that in such a setting, there will always be some alpha individual who would make the class uncomfortable for others.

One may also question the disproportionate focus on Germanic and Romance languages, and the dates of the source material used.  The latter may be dismissed on the grounds that modern language usage is more informal than in the past, but it is also a question of availability of resources. The former is based on the writer’s personal knowledge of those languages.  In an attempt to be no more Eurocentric than necessary, this paper mentions- even if only in passing – the world’s ten most dominant ones.  While at times English, Spanish, Portuguese or French replaced indigenous tongues, the abuse through which the latter were forced to lose their vigour is the one question which is not addressed here per se.  If it had been dealt with other than by implication, it might lead to the conclusion that classes should be politicized, and in this author’s experience, that would be a further abuse of the learner, leading to knowing more about politics than any target language.


To avoid ambiguity, the following words are to be understood strictly as defined here: a prescription is a rule, considered to be permanent by the giver, whether a person or a book. An instruction is what is meant to be carried out in a specific instance, in the sense of a briefing for a particular mission, and not in the sense of the permanent procedures expected to be used as found on product labels or instruction manuals.  Instruction, as an uncountable noun, is teaching – a word derived from the Greek, deiknyai, to show.[3] This is also the meaning to be applied to its adjectival use.  By evaluation shall be meant any type of grade, whether in letter form (e.g., A, B, … F) or numerical, usually stated as a percentage; any other score, such as on TOEFL or GRE, or any subjective determination of an individual’s capabilities, such as are in current use at certain universities, which include assessment of overall fitness by including non-academic factors, among which one might include political patronage, nepotism, and other forms of corruption.[4]  The books to which this article refers are any that can be used in learning a language, or about a language; whether hard-copy or electronic equivalents.  To this, on-line essays and teaching materials are included. There is, however, so much available on the Internet, especially for the English language, that only a passing reference can be made.

Parent may mean one or both parents, foster parent(s), or any legal guardian(s).

Institution shall be synonymous with the more correct word, institute, whenever that place is not an officially recognized place of learning.  If either of the two synonymous terms be applied to a place of learning with government approval, it should be understood as a school.

An interested party can be a parent, as defined above, or a prospective student.

PKM is an indirect way of referring to the present author, without using the contemporary spelling of the surname, nor the clumsy formula, “the present author/writer”.

Ranking Criteria

 In this section, an idea is given of how people, places, and things are ranked in excellence.  Although the word “evaluate” would be preferable, it has already been defined here as a word to be used with reference to students.  This ranking should primarily be made by interested parties. To help them, this article, with its various critiques and suggestions, points to what a student or parent might use as decision-making criteria.

Dictionaries are the easiest to rank.  High marks are given for completeness in terms of vocabulary, and where necessary, for their way of dealing with irregular declensions, conjugations, subtle differences among similar-meaning words, advice on register, etc.  Sometimes the official dictionaries are not the most useful.  An example is the Diccionario de la Academia Real de España, which does not give information on irregular conjugations or foreign expressions which Spanish-speaking people might use.[5]

Institutions, if well known, are similarly easily-ranked.  When not well known, such ranking can be based on reputation, teachers’ qualifications, types of texts and tests, and evaluation procedure.  The same can be said of private schools recognized by the government.  Among these, it is possible to name schools approved of for Cambridge Certificate Studies, the Alliance Française, the Goethe Institut; and for American English, those places authorized to give tests such as the TOEFL.  There have been similar places at least for Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese, if not others; which is not to say that they can be found in all countries, let alone the smaller cities.  The only guidance which can be given for the cases which have not been covered is that the interested parties do some research before committing themselves.

Additionally, institutes, except official ones such as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, should be judged by class hours deemed necessary for advancement to a new level, the number of levels, and payment details.

Government-run schools will be difficult to rank, as their procedures may be fixed.  The reputation of such a school will depend upon the country, or where applicable, the state, province, or municipality. In some cases, they will have specialized schools for languages, and these are to be preferred when a better alternative is not available in the private sector.  If it is a question of post-secondary studies, there are rankings available on the Internet; although no ranking for language faculties are known.

Teachers, by which, (where applicable), private instructors are meant, run the gamut from an elder sibling, a friend, a parent, etc., to those who make their living from instruction, acting, as it were, as a one-person institute (by which a non-official partnership cannot be ruled out).  Their suitability depends on the teaching goals. The lower level of instruction needs no ranking – it is just chosen for convenience.  As with institutes, ranking can be based on reputation, teachers’ qualifications, types of texts and tests used, and evaluation procedure, as well as the number of class hours necessary for advancement, and the number of levels.  They should not ask for payment in advance, as this writer considers it to be a statement to the effect that money is more important than the student – and the interested party should have the opportunity of gauging satisfaction.[6]  Some abuses are found in the section “Tyrants Defining the Language: Dictionaries, Docents, et. al.”.

The ranking of texts is highly subjective, and for this reason, has been placed several paragraphs below that which dealt with dictionaries.  The goals of the interested party must be considered.  Ideally, workbooks accompanying texts should be much cheaper by comparison, and printed upon lower-quality paper.  A copious number of exercises are recommended for each point to be taught. If they have illustrations or photos, they should neither dominate the page, nor be so small or inappropriately coloured, as to make proper identification possible. As an example, how easily would one identify the difference between a brown bear, and the grizzly bear; the immature grizzly, and the mature brown bear? This is meaningless, except perhaps to the zoologist. [The next section gives more details.]

 This article includes an illustration of texts and dictionaries, available on-line.  Sometimes these are surprisingly up-to-date, although it has not been possible to determine why such material, when it has a recent copyright notice, is available at all.  Under no circumstances should material be downloaded from other than archive.org or Google books, as most of the other sites are almost guaranteed to cause harm to the user’s computer.  Exceptions can be made when there is reason to believe that the site is trustworthy.

Some texts, paralleling one of the teaching methods, introduce chapters with “In this chapter, you will learn how to … “, which is, for the teacher, “Today we will learn how to …”. Some individuals may feel very comfortable with this approach, but this author feels that it shows that the student is being told that being pro-active in studying is not necessary.[7]  This is a ploy to having the student feel good – the pro-active, truly interested in learning student, will already know what the next chapter is about (assuming a chapter-by-chapter approach), and will thus be anxious to proceed directly, without a loss of time on preambles  which the textbook did not consider necessary.

Textbooks, Dictionaries, and other Impersonal Tools

Much can be accomplished by the motivated individual with good texts and dictionaries, supplemented by exposure to the spoken language through radio or the Internet.  However, the true quality of the repeated sound depends on one’s hearing ability, or the quality of the instruction of the text on the nature of the sounds to be reproduced.  While there is something called the International Phonetic Alphabet to help learners, it is useless for them to have the symbol for the “u” in the French word “du” described as sounding like the “ü” in the German word “dünn”, if neither of these sounds is known.[8]  A good text for self-study would explain the position of the lips and the tongue, the length of the vowel, and even, preferably, the intonation required for a proper-sounding sentence.  There are teachers who ignore all this – they are content with a heavily-accented rendition of the correct sounds.  “Par-lay voo fr-ahh-n/say?” or “Dee-gahh-may soo nome-bray” is only understood by those who work with foreigners for a living, or by others who pronounce the words in a same way.[9]

For purposes of tourism, therefore, there is no need to be demanding, especially if there is not much time before a trip, but disbelief should be exercised regarding claims that any particular course teaches a language within weeks, or with very few lessons.[10]  The potential tourist should be disabused of any preconception that a short-duration course will permit an understanding of a play or movie[11].

A different criterion must be used for textbooks used in institutions.  We need to know how many levels there will be, and how many years this would involve.  Are the images, if any, germane to the text, or are they entertaining padding which increases cost without corresponding benefits?  The learner who manages abstract concepts well – who can handle the definitions or translations of dictionaries – is best served without the time wasted with what is really more of a picture-book than a serious text.  Going further, how many questions are given in the exercises?  Twenty is a low number, unless the lesson is for review purposes, or for very fast learners.  If the book says not to proceed to the next lesson until the previous one has been totally mastered, fewer sentences are acceptable, but at a school or language institute, a rhythm is usually dictated that ignores the individual’s capacity to learn.

If one is willing to do some investigation, it would be useful to know the language teaching approaches, methods, and techniques;[12] and if any given text agrees with such an approach. What is the focus of the text – language for tourism, for the reading of literature, or for special purposes, such as imparting the minimum knowledge necessary for a scientist, a technician, or the like?[13]

For the intermediate level, it may be good to have bilingual texts.[14] In the case of older works, perhaps a book by the same author can be found in one’s own language, and the target language.  Extreme caution must be exercised if the latter method is employed.[15]

In big cities, it may be possible to supplement any serious study by reading newspapers or magazines from abroad.  This writer used to go to Toronto every week-end in order to purchase selected publication from various Latin American countries, until a magazine subscription was made from the country finally selected as his destination.  The week-end was spent in trying to translate the articles, with the help of a fair-sized dictionary.

Unfortunately, the preceding is not possible, if for some reason, imports of the material are not at hand.  In the city where this author lives, availability has all but dried up, due to economic policy.  [Elsewhere, politics may also play a role.] What is available is prohibitively expensive, and thus only an option for the affluent.

When the Internet and recorded materials are a problem, short-wave radio might be a solution.  Only the most prestigious broadcasters of a country should be used: the BBC or the VOA for their respective types of English, China Radio International for Chinese, Radio France International for French, Deutsche Welle for German, and Radio Exterior de España to give a few examples.  Latin American Spanish would probably be easiest to find on the VOA, which might not be to the taste of the politically concerned, but the material usually has no copyright.  Some of these stations (as well as their Internet counterpart) have simplified English for beginners, and transcripts might exist.  Some stations have their own language instruction programs.  This invalidates the excuse of not having the money for private or institutional classes, or for cassette, CD or DVD material, some of which is of questionable quality.[16]

Material on the Internet, if in blogs, whether it looks professional or not, varies from excellent to error-prone materials.  Their discovery depends on the key-word search, and the search engine’s design.  As for dictionaries, there is one called thefreedictionary.com, which compiles results from several other works, which thus saves one the time of consulting all these other sites.  For German, there is duden.de; for Italian, hoepli,it; and for French, larousse.fr/.

It may be convenient to remind those who have an excessive fondness for illustrations, that those individuals who can learn only be braille text, or by sound, are required to use their remaining senses more intensely.

Those individuals who can learn only by listening could potentially work as interpreters.  While it would be another abuse to target these individuals as a potential market, more than as persons to be helped to realize their potential as human beings, we see the web search results seem to cater more to offering services of interpreters and translators to the deaf and blind; to find about teaching a foreign language to the latter group, the search term needed to be very precise.  In the interests of inclusiveness, we include this link to a document from the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia, titled, “Beyond the “Handicapped” Label: Narrating Options to Teach Foreign Languages to Blind and Visually Impaired Students,” by Imperio Arenas González, and published in HOW, A Colombian Journal for Teachers of English.

Abbreviations for Principal Reference Works

 Publisher and author are only given for works considered less well-known. For bilingual books of the form English – (other) (Other – English, the English title is shown, otherwise the “other” language title is given. In similar cases where a non-Latin script is used for one language, the Latin script is used for the title.

AHD: American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language [1981], proprietary, desk reference.

ANC: Appleton’s New Cuyás English-Spanish and Spanish-English Dictionary [1972], proprietary, handbook.

BEN: Die neue deutsche Rechtschreibung [1996], Bertelsmann; IPA [foreign words only], handbook.

BRK: Der Sprach Brockhaus von A-Z (1979), IPA (limited usage), handbook.

CEG:  Cassel’s German and English Dictionary [10th ed., 1952], IPA, handbook.

DHW: Duden Herkunftswörterbuch [1963], not applicable, handbook.

DRA: Diccionario de la lengua española, 21a edición [1992], not used, handbook (2 volume version).

DRD: Duden Rechtschreibung der deutschen Sprache und der Fremdwörter [1961], proprietary, handbook.

DSW: Duden Stilwörterbuch der deutschen Sprache [1970], none, handbook.

HDS; Handwörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, F. A. Weber [Tauchnitz, 1918], proprietary, handbook

HSF: Harrap’s Shorter French and English Dictionary, [1967], APA, handbook.

IPA: International Phonetic Alphabet

JTR: Juncker’s Taschenwörterbuch Russisch [1955], proprietary, pocket.

LFE: Larousse French-English English-French Dictionary [1955], proprietary, pocket paperback

LHE: Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Englisch [1977], none, Handbook.

LMF: Dictionnaire Moderne Français-Anglais Anglais-Français Larousse (1960). IPA, Handbook

LPD: Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary of the English and German Languages (Langensheidts Taschenwörterbuch der Englischen und Deutschen Sprachen) [1956] IPA, Pocket

LTA: Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch Arabisch [1976]

LTD: Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch der Dänischen und Deutschen Sprachen [1956] proprietary, Pocket


LTF: Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch der Französischen und Deutschen Sprachen [1964] IPA, pocket.

LTH: Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch der Hebräischen und Deutschen Sprachen [1992], IPA (German, proprietary for Hebrew), Pocket

LTR: Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch Russisch [1960] IPA, Pocket

LTX: Refers to 2 or more of any work with the name Langenscheidts Taschenwörterbuch, incl. LPD.

OAL: Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary [1995], IPA, Handbook

OL0: Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English [1962, 1974], IPA, Handbook [Different editions, cited entries were equivalent]

OxC: Oxford Concise Dictionary,  [1934], IPA, handbook

OxI: Idiomatic and Syntactic Dictionary, [1942], IPA, handbook.

OxS: Oxford Spanish Dictionary, [1994], IPA, handbook.

PKM: Not a book, but the initials of the author of this document.

S&S: Simon and Schuster’s International Dictionary [1973]. IPA, large handbook.

RMP: Robert Micropoche [1983], IPA, pocket (2-vol. version)

SGS: Slaby-Grossman Diccionario de las lenguas española y alemana [1981] none, Handbook (2-volume version)

SSG: Spanish Grammar, Schaum’s Outline Series [1972], none, textbook.

W9: Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary [1991], proprietary, handbook

WAH: dtv Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache  [G. Wahrig, ed., 1978], not used, pocketbook.

WOH: Woher?: Ableitendes Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache [1974], not used, handbook.

Tyrants Defining the Language: Dictionaries, Docents, et. al.

In this section, a look is taken at examples from both real-life and dictionaries of disputed word usage.  The wrong definition in a dictionary, or a misspelt entry; as well as a teacher who does not know the scope of a word’s translations and meanings, end up doing a disservice to the learner.  In no way is our title to imply that dictionaries or teachers are tyrants, nor that in general, their words are to be taken as incorrect, however much the words dictionary, dictate, dictation, and dictator may be related – but with enough experience, one does find unwarranted inflexibility.[17]

Except in the case of younger students in schools, where teachers and parents would not want children to be exposed to certain words, anyone studying on their own initiative, or who wants to excel academically, needs a work that is as complete as possible.  There are those who say that dictionaries have been, are, or will be, replaced by the Internet.  This claim ignores the failures that can occur in the devices, in the power supply, and in connectivity – not excluding the possibility that one’s computer may be hijacked for a bot network, or hacked outright.[18] The information given may also be biased, incomplete, outdated, or misinterpreted.  Depending on the way one’s computer or other device is used, there may also be distractions other than those which the on-line dictionaries themselves provide.  An article such as the one being read here could not exist without real, as opposed to virtual dictionaries, because many times, the copyright owners do not want them published electronically.

A good dictionary may be the only source for most people to be informed about the correct register of a word, that is, the appropriateness for certain conditions.  Depending on the work consulted, we might find terms such as archaic, colloquial, comical, contemptuous, familiar, humorous, ironic, legal[ese],  literary, parliamentary, poetical, political, rhetorical, slang, scholarly, and vulgar; not to mention less common dialectical or provincial forms.  This type of word lets the user know that such language is to be limited to the described areas, such as Shakespeare’s fish-market for vulgarities, a cafeteria with one’s friends for colloquialisms and slang, and essays for the literary or scholarly.

(Further comment on register is found under “Ain’t ain’t Correct” in the next section.)

 We have selected words from certain languages which may be used as a test of the completeness of the dictionary under scrutiny.  Because of either the rapid evolvement of some languages, or their constant revisions by bodies which concern themselves with the questions of correct spelling and a “pure” language, the perfect reference work will not be found.  If a comparison can be made between two or more of similar size and price, the following may help.


The Obligation of Teaching Register

Register, in linguistics, refers to the knowledge which must be imparted  to learners that certain words are not used in polite or educated society; while other vocabulary, variously defined –  colloquial, slang, vulgar (popular) or even obscene – if not used, will exclude one from successful interaction with those people whom a certain U.S. presidential candidate called the “deplorables”; hence register is the language required to communicate effectively with individuals of a different social level. Both wanting to sound like an aristocrat or a member of educated society, and the desire to conform to the speech patterns of the street, to name the extremes, have their utility – especially for espionage.[19]

This does not mean that dictionaries or teachers need to deal with off-colour words.  If their very sound does not transmit vulgarity to the hearer, can that person really learn a new language – except for use in the streets?


English Dictionaries


Ain’t Ain’t A Word!

How many, of those who learn English from birth, learn “ain’t” before ever going to school?  How many immigrant children who have the misfortune of living in neighbourhoods where the over-all level of English is not very high, end up learning it?

At the risk of seeming to contradict what will be declared later in this paper, it must be said, that whether it meets with one’s seal of approval or not, “ain’t” is a word.  It is a four-letter word – a vulgarity, as the ANC and OL0 define it.  W9 gives it a certain level of approval, especially for metrical reasons in songs, but is excluded in older Oxford dictionaries, such as the OxC, and OxI.  It is labelled as familiar or colloquial language in LPD, as well as in S&S. The LFE does not list it, nor does the more ample LMFAHD puts it at non-standard, stating that 99 % of their usage panel found it objectionable in speech and writing, except for a listed number of exceptions.  How difficult it must be for the learner to be subjected to this “sound” and not find it in the reference work at hand!

All vowels are words in at least one language: a, e, i, o, u, and y can be found in either English or Spanish, the a and o serving as singular definite articles in Portuguese. Something that looks like (but might have a different name) B, C, and K are words in Russian, something that looks like an H is really one of the vowels of Greek.  “I ain’t”, when used in response to someone else’s comment, expresses a thought, so it must be a word, just as these one-letter examples are.  This fact does not imply approval, but a dictionary which does not include it with a comment on its utility, provides insufficient information for the user.


Ain’t Ain’t Correct!

 This assertion, to be valid, needs to be qualified.  It is a question of register.  As mentioned in the previous section, only one per cent of the AHD’s Usage Panel would find this to be correct under all circumstances. As the panel had about100 members [p. xxiii] from various professions, perhaps it could be supposed that this opinion belonged to somebody whose language use was more oral than written.



 This word is listed without any comment on register in W9.  Surprisingly, it is not in the larger AHD.  This strongly suggests (through the author’s experience) that the word is outside of normal use.  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary [1981] gives this word in the “Addenda” section without comment.


Had Had

 When the above is run through a spelling and grammar checker of sufficient sophistication, it may be marked wrong.  The present writer once put this into a sentence in a history essay four decades ago.  The professor, the department head, marked it in the same robotic fashion as the modern software.

To say that the department head of a university might be mistaken may seem an effrontery, but English was not his first language, and the sentence did require the past perfect.  It was something that probably was not taught well even at school, neither grammatically, nor as regards to pronunciation. While in the fluid speech of those with English as their mother tongue, the first “had” is pronounced with a schwa for the “a” sound, the unsuspecting reader might pronounce both occurrences of “had” equally clearly.  One might suspect that the good professor was guilty of this, and because it sounds so strange, doubts originate about the proper usage in the minds of those who learned  the form incorrectly – if at all.



 “Par” was found in the OAL, listed there as coming from the sport of golfing Expressions using it are marked informal, with one exception. The financial sense is missing. This differs sharply from definitions given in the older OL0, where, of the few examples, only “not feeling up to par” was marked as colloquial.  “Par” was found in the LMF, with no expression marked as having an inferior register.  The S&S lists it; the OxS gives even more translations, but neither work mentions that the meanings are less than standard, with the exception of “to be or feel below par”,  which was a slightly modified entry of the one found in the OL0 – still marked as colloquial.  No negative register connotations are ascribed to it in the W9.



 The meaning of this word may seem so self-evident, that the unaware might someday find themselves hearing, for example, of the riding of Essex, and not have any idea of what that means.  To conclude that it is the name of a horse would be wrong.  It is not in the OAL, although found in the OxC and OL0   It is not in any of our bilingual English – Spanish handbooks, ANC, S&S, OxS.  It is in the W9, and likewise found defined, in a very restrictive sense, in CEG as Verwaltungsbezirk (administrative region, which is correct) in Yorkshire (which suggests that the word does not apply elsewhere).  This is false.  The word is used for electoral purposes in Canada, and may be used in other places (or was), as A Grammar of Contemporary English (Quirk, et. al., 1972, p. 18) define this as a Canadian word, among others, in a section of Canada, Ireland and Scotland,[20] (thus contradicting the OxC, which has the quaint definition “Administrative division (East, W., or N. R.) of Yorkshire, similar division of other U.-K. or colonial county”.  The OL0 definition was similar, except that the newer edition 1974 edition states that the ridings in England (the only ones defined) existed only until 1974].  The point of this is that ideally, the purchaser of a dictionary should have in his position a work which will give the vocabulary of any country in which he or she will be working, studying, or living in the long term.  One on-line dictionary with the last copyright in 2005 has not updated the no longer valid definition.[21]


German Dictionaries

About 20 years ago, German was still one of the top ten most used languages in the world.  It has dropped in the ranking, but we might find strong reasons to study this kin of the Anglo-Saxon language.


Beichten” is the infinitive “to confess”.  A certain professor rejected the word, on the grounds that this has a meaning in only in religion.  BRK nevertheless allows a secondary meaning, such as confessing to the police.  LHE states that this secondary meaning is intransitive only, effectively meaning (PKM’s definition), as George W. Bush asked of Saddam Hussein, “to come clean”.  It is absent in the DSW.  SGS also allows the figurative use.[22]


 HDS and WOH give this word without comment. CEG, Langensheidts, BEN, DRD, that is, all of the “Manual” group of dictionaries, claim it is a vulgarity.  The LTR claims it is a “popular” term, as does SGS. WAH and DSW define it as “derb”, i.e., strong language, in the translation of the LTR. The French equivalent gives it as vulgar, the Arabic and Hebrew LTXs  omit it, the Danish and the Spanish LTXs have it as popular.  DHW agrees at labelling it as vulgar. The problem here may be the way in which many understand “vulgar”  “Kotzen” has been heard in the mouth of a supposedly well-read shop-assistant in a book store.  The classification is redolent of people who are hesitant to say “sweat” or “toilet”.  Charm schools may have their own ideas on the correct register of such terms, as opposed to the common, i.e., vulgar opinion.


 Same” or “Samen” is the word for “seed”, and in both languages, there is a meaning secondary to the one about what we put into the ground in the hope that germination will occur.  A prudish professor objected to the word.  The best substitute seems to be Samenkorn.[23]   The best proof of the meaning as seed can be given through the Spanish to English translations from the German in SGS: [Plant] seed, pollen, … grain, germ, [melon, cucumber] seed …”. The DRD states: Same (gehoben für: Samen), while DSW agrees, starting off with the definition of Samenkorn. The WAH definition starts “der von eine Pflanze abfallende …” [the (seed) falling from a plant …] These are primary, not secondary meanings – the professor was wrong to object to the translation. Q.E.D.

His preference was probably Saat, Saatgut, or Saatkorn, with the longer words being more precise, and Saat having primary meanings other than seed as defined above.  A rarity found in some of the dictionaries, but not where expected – the SGS – is the changing of the “a” of Samen to an “e”.[24]  A check in Duden dictionaries, including the thesaurus equivalent, Die sinn – und sachverwandten Wörter  [Duden, 1986]  does not give this version; neither does WAH nor Langenscheidt.    BEN defines it as the seed of a plant, adding the word Samenkorn, while BRK defines it as Samen in the botanical and zoological senses.[25]


 When the computer was not available for the composition of this article, the author [PKM] was reading a German translation of a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh [dtv, 1955, p. 41], aviator in her own right, wife of the better known Charles A. Lindbergh.  Twice on the same page it gave the wrong spelling for sea-gull.  The publisher is reputable.  No such word exists in any modern or primitive Germanic language.  Perhaps the proofreader did not know the meaning of the correct version, and replaced it with an imagined idea of a Germanized English word: “the flight of the moving ones”.  The correct singular is feminine: “Möwe“.[26]

German Gender, and Plural and Genitive Forms

 A dictionary which does not indicate the gender of a noun, and its corresponding genitive and plural forms, is not useful for the student of a language.  Two examples will make this clear:

(1) See: The word can mean either lake; or sea (sometimes, ocean).  The correct usage is completely different; the former is masculine, the latter, and feminine. Compare the following declensions:


Lake (m.) s.   plural See (f.) s. plural **
Nominative der See die Seen die See die Seen
Genitive des Sees der Seen der See der Seen
Dative dem See den Seen der See den Seen
Accusative den See die Seen die See die Seen


** It is to be noted that there is no plural, in spite of one usually being indicated, for “sea”, except in the meaning of large waves flooding over the deck of a vessel. In that sense, it could be said:

Die Seen des Superior Sees überschwammten das Schiff “Edward Fitzgerald”.

= Die Sturzwellen des Superior Sees überschwammten .

A well-edited dictionary would have indicated the plural form “Meer” for a plural such as needed in “the seven Seas”.[27]

(2) Sekt[e]:  This word could be a minefield, if you refer to someone belonging to a sect, who objects to that designation.  Then there are the “sects”, which are against drinking any form of alcohol, in this case, sparkling wine is meant.  This is the masculine form, without the “e” ending, the former is feminine.  Of course, when considering the declensions, confusion may result:


Sekt, m., s.     plural Sekte, f. s.   plural
Nominative der Sekt die Sekte dieSekte die Sekten
Genitive des Sekt(e)s der Sekte der Sekte der Sekten
Dative dem Sekt(e) den Sekten der Sekte den Sekten
Accusative den Sekt die Sekte die Sekte die Sekten


Some dictionaries only give the nominative singular and plural, and the feminine singular. In that case, the user will have to be familiarized with the various declensions before the dictionary is of any use.

French Dictionaries


 This article does not want to be vulgar, in spite of the inclusion of what is considered the debatable coarseness of the German word kotzen.  French dictionaries are rather consistent in including this particular word which translates into English as a four-letter word (in the figurative sense).  Both of our Larousse dictionaries warn that it is not in decent use, though the larger LMF dares to put the vulgar English translation into the French – English part.  The Pocket gives more innocent translations.  Harrap’s is quite complete, in both directions.

We give the above word as an introduction to the following example of disputed teaching, or more precisely, test-marking:[28]

Paille: A Tricky Test

 A certain high school teacher gave challenging vocabulary tests in French class, by not giving the word to be translated, but a definition.  One of these, translated into English, was “what cows eat”.  This writer put “paille”, or “straw”, which was marked wrong, and after this was disputed, the teacher insisted it that he had marked the answer correctly.  He had wanted “foin”, “hay”.  Both after the student consulted one of his rurally-born parents and Wikipedia – many years later – it was determined that cows can eat straw.  Granted, they probably prefer hay.  Does the average person recognize the difference? After all, this was French class, not Agriculture, another offering at the school in question.

If the word “straw” were a person, the definitions would have to be considered politically incorrect.  Straw is made to sound worthless.  Of all the definitions sought in English, French, German and Spanish dictionaries, only the OAL gave us what is needed, as related to the above: “Straw is used … as food for animals … “.

It is important to understand how true of false questions are marked.  If a student gets five questions wrong on a ten question test, will the result be 0, 5, or something (rarely) a bit higher.  Five would be the result of deducting the errors from the total number of questions, while zero would be the result of deducting the wrong answers from the right ones, on the assumption that the test-taker could get 50 per cent correct solely by guessing. However, it could also be possible that, in this hypothetical case, five of the answers to the questions were really known, and by misfortune, all the other five were answered wrongly.  The problem here is that one’s knowledge should not be judged on so few questions, as this is statistically insignificant.[29]

Should the multiple choice question have several possible answers, a more complex marking system could be used. Nevertheless, it is in the interests of the learner that it is in precisely these types of tests that the most rigid criteria in marking should be followed.  Take, as an example, a possible 90 per cent correct on a language test. If this is purely about grammar and vocabulary, that means that the student is getting 10 per cent of everything wrong.  Would that same student want to read anything with so many errors?  Would one error per one hundred, or one thousand be acceptable?  In counting these errors, is the percentage based on the number of pages, sentences, words, or letters?  A criterion this writer used for self-analysis at university was one red mark per 1000 words, in essays for other-than-language courses.  In the real world, that would be unsatisfactory.  Depending on type and page size, a novel might have 120000 words.  One error would flaw the entire work, if one takes, for example, the industrial standard of Six Sigma, that is, about 3 flaws in a million.[30]  This would even be far from acceptable in the functioning of a computer, as it would, in effect mean, that it would never run, based on more than a million instructions per second.

Teachers or institutes should have the required flexibility to recognize other answers than a preconceived official one.  If a course is in pure British English, then there may be no flexibility allowed for Americanisms.  If the course is something other than for, let us say, a Cambridge First Certificate, the teacher’s and the student’s flexibility will be to a distinct advantage, which will be mentioned further below.

As an aside, we would like to mention, in this matter of flexibility, the joke, or true story, about the answer given by a student of how to find the height of a building with a barometer.  The student gave a non-standard answer, but it still required physics.  It was marked wrong.  A third potential answer involved no physics at all.[31]  Nowadays, this is called lateral thinking, or thinking outside of the box.  This is not about wrong, or immoral answers, nothing like what was, or is called, creative accounting.  Granted, people who think like this are not appreciated by authoritarians.

Getting back to the matter of the French vocabulary test, had the teacher given the word “hay” to translate, according to the vocabulary that was to be studied, there was only one correct answer.  If the graduate of a French course buys a house in the country, and confuses the translation of 10 bales of hay with 10 bales of straw, the supplier cannot be blamed for the mistake in shipment.  If neither the words for straw or hay are known, and a shipment of 10 bales of what the cows eat is requested, hay will probably be delivered, because the provider is experienced in this matter, but if the cheaper straw were what was wanted, “sacré bleu!” may be too mild of an oath for the supplier. But in the matter of a French class, with a test administered as described above, and in the similar case of some German words, alternates should be accepted.  The same is true for both pronunciation and spelling.


Having started the section for French with an allusion to a word best-avoided, we end with another of similar rank. OxC gives an expression, [to] say sacré, meaning to swear.  This word, with the accent aigu is listed as profanity in HFS.  Often understood as two words in English productions which throw in this trite Gallicism, the correction version loses the “e” sound in “sacrebleu”, and thus becomes softer, much as in English “gosh” and “darn” are used in place of the name of the Divinity. The shorter term, in its profane use; and the compound terms deriving therefrom, appeared neither in RMP, nor in the LFE.[32]


Broadly speaking, what is being said for Spanish can be applied to Portuguese and French, which have both Continental and ex-colonial versions. The American forms are often considered to be reflections of how the language was spoken in Europe in the past; this being particularly true of French Canadian, and certain regional Latin American dialects, where the original Spanish was not modified through immigration from countries such as Italy.

An especially confusing point can be the fact that common words in one or another dialect may be obscenities in another.  The standard word for “to take” is not used in the Rio de la Plata area. The same is true for “shell”, while another widely used word is taboo in Chile.  Mexican vulgarities are completely different from both the continental and the South American countries.  It would seem important that teachers let students know the pitfalls which may arise – and depending on the class, explicitness is not necessary.  It is hoped that no one will never run into the extreme case, cited in Latin American Euphemisms, which states that in one part of Venezuela, the word for “egg” is not allowed, and one expresses the concept by “the fruit of the hen”.[33]

Should the objective be to study Spanish at a cultured level, and not for mere tourism, one needs to be aware of the subjunctive mood.  It is often used quite carelessly.  Consider these examples, from teachers or institutes:

…cuando llego hablamos.

 Although a Latin American has justified the above sentence as being correct, which therefore corresponds to colloquial Spanish of the country, according to  SSG “cuando”, when used with the future, is used with the subjunctive.  Here, the sentence is using the lazy methodology of using the simple present for the future, but this is not the way to prepare a language professional.  For the tourist, this is fine, but the above construction will be marked wrong in a standard examination.  Our correct version should be:

cuando llegue, hablaremos.[34]

The next sentence has been recast, to prevent any claims of copying, but grammatically, it is equivalent. There is a plural feminine article preceding two plural feminine nouns, “es estricto para demas [—–s]” is a verbatim transcription, and the final noun should be understood as masculine plural.  “de caballería” and “montadas” are necesssary modifiers to keep the sentence understandable.

Las botas y guarniciones de caballería es estricto para demas policías montadas… .

 We may be tolerant about the missing articles in this rapidly-composed e-mail, probably on a device like a cell-phone.  The same forbearance can be shown for the missing accent.  Our question, for those with some knowledge of Spanish is this: is the sentence, apart from the concessions just granted, correct?

Should the reader answer the question in the affirmative, it would be necessary to learn the meaning and application of the word ellipsis.  It is the omission of words that are understood, but from the grammatical point of view, make the sentence incomplete, and therefore, apparently incorrect to the unaware.  Our sentence, then – properly read – becomes:

El uso de las botas y guarniciones de caballería es estricto para demás policías montadas.

 or better yet:

El uso de las botas y las guarniciones de caballería es estricto para los demás policías montadas.

 A conundrum which has led this writer on more than one occasion to check on the Internet is the form of the second person singular as used in one or another country of Latin America, when not in conformity with the Spanish Academy or textbook rules.  “Pará” as the imperative for “stop”, and “dáme” for “give me are two such examples which can be heard daily in the Rio de la Plata region.  Its users will insist that it is correct.  It is possible to find this usage criticized in Dislates que se cometen al hablar, written in Buenos Aires in 1941 by a schoolteacher.  Against those who argue that there is a national language, “un idioma argentino”, he argues that it does not exist (p. 44).  Unfortunately, his little work is plagued with typos, if missing accent marks can be called such.

Another work [the name will be included once the work is found] claimed that famous “ojalá” is rightly pronounced “ojála”.  ¡Vaya![35]

Sacré Bleu Redux: Multimedia Fraud

Some years back, the present author purchased what should have been an excellent multi-media course.  It was designed in Spanish to teach English, French, and German.  The most notable feature was that it would be integrated with the computer’s sound card, and through use of a microphone, would compare the student’s pronunciation with that of a recorded version.

The results were as follows: Spoken English, excellent; French – good, German – bad.  This did not seem possible, because it was a well-known fact, both from the writer’s university years, and from the opinion of a Frenchman, that the former did not have a good pronunciation in that language.  On the other hand, there was no reason to believe that the German pronunciation could have been atrocious.  This led to repeated exercises, with the same results.  Finally, it was decided to deliberately mispronounce one or both of the languages which had given dubious ratings for the pronunciation.  No matter how badly (perhaps even with the inclusion of gibberish) the text was pronounced, the evaluation was always the same.  As there had been no warning that this result might have been for illustrative purposes only, it was necessary to conclude that the product did not deliver its promised results.

In the preceding case, the course was on CDs.  A few years later, a similar product came out on DVDs.  A similar fraud was suspected.  Although it might not have been a repeat of the previously described situation, between the high cost and the fact that there was no indication of what person or organization was responsible for the product – at least on the outside of the sealed DVD – it was decided that any purchase would be a foolhardy endeavour.


Pronunciation and Spelling of Selected Languages

The purpose of this section is to outline for the general reader, and to suggest to prospective students, special features of the language groups here described.  The student should make sure that he or she will be getting what is wanted, both in terms of the course material, and in teacher competence.  Institutes might prepare their staff to be ready for the demands such a prospective client might make, interested parties should be wary and try to determine whether answers were prepared as a remedy to real defects, or as a smokescreen considered necessary because of something pointed out in this article.

About 30 years ago, an article in probably several newspapers around the world suggested that if someone were to go looking for employment, speaking with the pronunciation of Prince Charles, the post would not be obtained.[36]

The King’s English, and then the Queen’s, might be clear and precise, but it sounds too affected for the layman.  The British English to be learnt then became Received Standard Pronunciation, (R.S.P.), which might be considered to be roughly the same as, if not equal to, BBC English.  At least, that might have been valid a dozen or so years ago.  At any event, learner’s always have the opportunity of being able to buy the Oxford dictionary dedicated to them.  The advanced version is particularly recommendable.

It is not for this writer to advertise, and what improvements may have been made upon the product are not know by him, but whatever fame the Cambridge Tests may have were undercut by a bad experience with Cambridge dictionaries, both for beginners and advanced students.  The first time an advanced dictionary was opened, about 35 years ago, an error was found within minutes.  A beginner’s version, published some years later, yielded one or several errors within half-an-hour.  While other publishers are also guilty, after 35 years of using the OAL (by whatever name it may have gone by), this reviewer, up to now, has been blind to any defect it may have.  The definitions are much clearer than in any American equivalent work, but currently include spellings and pronunciation from both sides of the Atlantic.  The only difficulty would be that anyone who has never heard the sounds of phonetic transliteration would not know how to repeat them.  How many readers can identify, let us say, an Appalachian accent?[37]

For a person interested in Australian English, what to my ears often sounds like a foreign language, the best thing to do is to find someone who speaks it, or to look for examples on the Internet.  Perhaps one can watch, or listen to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[38]

Canadian English might be described as a cross-over between the British and American versions.  Many find it easier to understand than the two principal varieties.  However, depending on the region, it may sound either more British, or more American.

This writer once, for amusement, took a test to find out which dialect of English he spoke.  It was not known to him, that only American dialects were included.  The test gave a series of words, with different ways of pronouncing them.  The result was that the writer speaks a mid-west dialect, almost Canadian!  That conclusion was as correct as the test design would permit.[39] Regrettably, the test should have indicated that it was only for U.S. based accents.

American regional accents are between 5 and 7 (or even more), and because of internal migrations, the classification is not as valid as it used to be: Atlantic coast (somewhat British sounding), New York – New Jersey (corrupted pronunciations, such as New Joisey), Florida, Southern, “Ahm a teachah, ah you?”; Texan (a cowboy-like drawl), Mid-West (not the prestige accent, unless one takes the point of view that Middle America represents the country more than the East or West Coast), and West Coast,[40] represented especially by California, from which a particularly meaningless use of the word “like” supposedly comes. [Like, I was talking to the teacher, like, and he said, like, I had to study more!].[41]

Superior versions of a language are defined by the elites which use them, but for the common person, they are all equal.  Some movies and television shows, especially older ones, will not be intelligible without a broad familiarity with the different accents, and sometimes dialects.  A further difficulty which may be experienced is with what is now called Ebonics, the type of English spoken by certain African-Americans.  Rapidly changing demographics of the United States also make it desirable to understand English as pronounced by Latin Americans.

Spelling in British English, less so in American, used to be taught as being correct only if used in conformity with British or American rules, but not both.  Various dictionaries, and some countries, such as Canada, show that this is now more flexible – although this tolerance would not be exercised at institutions which rigidly adhere to one of the two traditional variants, and not one of the many which Microsoft’s Word gives as options, such as setting the language for Australia, New Zealand, India, or Zimbabwe

A particularly annoying feature about writing is that in some circles, the “Oxford comma, that is, the comma in a list of dissimilar items, has been declared unnecessary.[42]


I see a blue sky, a red barn, and green trees in the picture.


I see a blue sky, a red barn, and green trees, in the picture.

The British now, admittedly in a limited number of cases, accept the first, whereas it was always considered wrong.  Why? What does the person see? We state that we see 1) a blue lake 2) a red barn, 3) green trees in (a) picture.  This is a falsehood.  What is seen is a picture with 1) a blue lake, 2) a red barn, and 3) green trees.

Compare the following, which emphasize our objection to the removal of the Oxford Comma; assume the bacon and eggs were eaten as separate items:

For my breakfast, I ate a bowlful of cereal, a muffin, three pieces of toast, and bacon, and eggs.

By removing the comma, the bacon and eggs is an American breakfast item (requiring “is” in this sentence, and not “are”):

For my breakfast, I ate a bowlful of cereal, a muffin, three pieces of toast, and bacon and eggs.

This breakfast could get quite ridiculous if we decided:

This morning I had bacon and eggs and bread and butter.

This is not the same as: This morning I had bacon, eggs, bread, and butter – it makes of butter and independent food item, like ice-cream.

Traditional use of the comma avoids such perverse sentences:

This morning, I had bacon and eggs, and bread and butter.

We will ignore whether that was a sensible meal.

In other words, these are two different meals, but removal of the Oxford comma, from the point of view of written English, confuses the issue.

Another thing not taught in school in Canada, was to write abbreviations without the period, which is a feature of modern British writing.  Mr and Mrs A Prince-King of Great-Big-Giant Producing Co looks incomplete.  Perhaps they took one of the chapters of James Joyce’s Ulysses as a model, while the American have ignored Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury‘s similar foray into economizing on what might just be printer’s ink, or an extra keystroke of productivity lost – for those of us who do not write literary masterpieces.


Examples of Spoken Varieties of Other Languages


Arabic consists of many different varieties, but through the Koran and the educational system, a standardized version is taught, which is what the learner would want.  For special uses, a regional variety may be needed.  Getting the right teacher may be difficult, Syrians, Saudis, Egyptians, Libyans, and Moroccans; to name a few, all have mutually unintelligible versions.

If one speaks of standard Arabic, the spelling seems to be consistent.  Larger dictionaries may have more than one form of the word, but this is because of a difference in pronunciation.  Egyptian Arabic can be recognized by it additional letter for a distinct sound.  Some countries pronounce the standard word for republic, which begins with a “j” sound in the standard version, with a sound similar to the Dutch “g”.  That would be a clue to a regional language, not to be compared with the dialects in English.

Anyone who wants to learn Chinese must carefully define which Chinese is to be learnt.  The official language of Beijing, and the common language of Hong Kong or Shanghai, or of Taipei have nothing in common with the former.  They are called dialects, but they should really be called entirely different languages.  Movies made in Hong Kong are dubbed into Chinese!

On the plus side, whichever Chinese version is used, there are only two forms of writing, the traditional, (used principally in Taiwan) and the revised, used by Mainland China.  The number of revised characters is not so many that they could not be learnt.  Only Orientalists would require specialized dictionaries for words long out of current use.

French has already been mentioned.  Spelling and grammar are defined by the Academie Française.  The main function seems to be to coin substitutes for the foreign words which the purists want to keep out.  This writer once was afraid to download some material, thinking that “telecharger” meant that it would be charged to the phone bill.

Germany has many regional varieties, and descendants living in places inhabited by German colonist will speak out-of-date forms, as happened with the Volga Germans who left the dying Soviet Union.  The same may be said of the Mennonite communities in places as diverse as Canada, Paraguay, and Argentina, but there will hardly ever be a need to speak to their members in other than the language of their country of residence.  That said, all educated people know the common language taught in schools.  However, the Swiss like to maintain their distinct variety of their tongue, and their movies, to be shown in Germany or Austria, are dubbed.

The latest reforms to German spelling were decided upon by a joint committee of members from Austria, the former East and West Germany, Switzerland, and a small region where German is spoken.  It was never codified until the Prussian Ministry of Education did so under Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Before that, each publishing house had its own rules.  That would make the spelling similar to the more flexible versions of English.  As the 21st Century rolled in, the rules were changes again.  It has been said that this is a business opportunity for dictionary publishers.[43]  The unaware may no longer recognize the spelling daß of older books, which now must be written dass.  Some compound words which were formerly joined, are now separated, and some former noun phrases have become single words. Google Translate will not recognize the old spellings. Some capitalized words have been demoted. Previous German items such as Landtagstraße must now be written Landtag Strasse. The older spellings are not retained in new dictionaries, a practice which is a disservice, as use of a separate work, especially if it must be consulted in a library, is time consuming, though the same is true even for the less inconvenient electronic look up over the Internet or with material downloaded from Google Books or archive.org.

A major language group of the top ten are some of those spoken in India and Pakistan.  This paper is unable to give any advice on this question, as suitable material for evaluation cannot be found in the author’s Latin American country of residence, nor on the Internet.  An attempt to teach the sounds of the Punjabi language according to the norms recommended in this article is made by C. Shackle in Punjabi, Teach Yourself Books, 1972.  The required tongue position for a sound is shown in a diagram.

Portuguese has many different flavours in Brazil.  However it sounds, it is unlike the Continental version.  On the formal level, as for German, there exist agreements on standard vocabulary and spelling.

Russian, like French, was made to be the language of an entire sphere of influence.  Three different pronunciations for a simple word such as “hello” have been found in this writer’s dictionaries.  Apparently, the Muscovites, for purposes of euphony, prefer not to pronounce some letters.  By learning the pronunciation of the capital city, but keeping in mind that many people will pronounce the words exactly as they are written, one should be reasonably well prepared.

Russian spelling has occasionally been modified by the government, but we may take it as relatively consistent since late Stalinist times.  The number of letters in the alphabet was reduced both before and during the Revolution.  These letters can be learned, and the words found in on-line dictionaries.  Because these words are so different from those of the present, no confusion as to their contemporary spelling should result.  As in the case of German, it is uncommon to give the pronunciation, because of a spelling which reasonably reflects the sounds. but a good dictionary should indicate the exception.  Let us take the common word for “Hello!”.  The Random House Russian Vest Pocket Dictionary does not indicate any irregularity. Ozheg’s all-Russian Dictionary and LTR show that the Russian letter looking like “B” is not pronounced.  The same is true of JTR.  Another irregularity is the word for “please”.  The penultimate syllable is given as “looss” in Ozheg, reduced to “ls” in LRT, “lu(y)ss in JTR, and omitted by Random House.  Likewise, the Pocket Oxford Russian Dictionary [1975] gives no hint as to pronunciation irregularities,

The official Spanish language is defined through an academy in Madrid, the Academia Real de España.  However, regional dialects exist, such as Catalan, Galician, and Asturian.  The “royal” pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, is that of Castille, through which some individuals will get the notion that they are learning “Castellano”, when all they are learning is a version of the Spanish language, called “Español”, which varies from place to place.  A few tricks will help the tourist.  Letters “c”, and “z” are pronounced like “th” in Spain, but like “s” in most of Latin America, though in some areas, it will become an “h”, or dropped at the end of a word, so, “Ehpañol”, “loh ehpañoleh”  The “ñ” is pronounced like in the British of “news”, and it is good to get this right, to be able to pronounce Russian, or other Slavic languages, should that be a goal.  The double “l”, “ll”, can by compared to this “ñ”, and should be pronounced like in the British “lute”  In some areas, the “ll” is pronounced the same way as the “y”, that being a sound like “sh”.  Both the dropping of the “s” sound, and this “sh” for “ll” and “y” are, in this writer’s opinion, substandard, for anyone who hopes to be understood in most areas.  Films and television programs from Spain are seen in Latin America, and the less tolerant often make fun of the language of the other region – but this denotes familiarity with it.  The present writer has been impressed with the pronunciation in a Bolivian movie, and with that of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  No difficulty has been found in understanding Chileans (at least those from Santiago) and of Argentines from the province of Mendoza.[44]

The Academia Real de España, like their plebian German counterpart,[45] has made some rather significant changes.  The old spelling of “viage” now is “viaje”.[46]  The “ch” was one letter – now it is placed under the third letter of the alphabet.  “El” meaning the was written distinctly from “él” meaning “he”.  Now, the accent which was obligatory on some words, to make their meaning clear, is now longer required.[47]


Turkish and Japanese

 Another language group of importance is Turkish, and those languages similar to it, which supposedly could be understood after learning the former.  The language is now written with Latin letters, but earlier in the 20th Century, a modified Arabic script was used.  While it is often claimed that Russian and German are pronounced as written, experience will show exceptions to this rule, even with the spelling changes these languages have had; but Turkish seems to have made the transition completely – one sound for every letter.[48]

For a time, during boom times of the country concerned, Japanese was considered important.  Men and women have different ways of speaking, which may or may not be reflected in texts or short courses. The following quote from C. J. Dunn’s and S. Yanada’s Teach Yourself Japanese [1958, p. 186] gives this account, thus showing the deficiency of the very book the author’s wrote:

… you will  no doubt  many people speaking to you in respect language, and you should know how it works. Women are much more prone to use it than men, but men use it too.  The explanation which follows is strictly speaking applicable to men only, but women’s language is basically similar, though differing in detail.

The above is part of a 10-page discussion on the subject of Japanese respect language, and no consideration was given to how women speak.  While this is the last chapter of the book, this must come as a shock to any women who had used the this volume up to that point.[49]


Problems with Schools and Institutions


The Principal of a Private School


After a few years of teaching English to an engineer, both at his company and in his home, the author was asked to help his senior-year high-school student for an examination.  The number of classes was very small, and it was necessary to reduce the course-work to the barest of rules.  The test was taken, marked, returned to the student. The grade was not very good, as three or four hours of teaching can hardly be expected to compensate for a year’s worth of non-dedication to study.  Perhaps the father had seen the paper, and noticed some oddities.  He asked the teacher to review it, and it was noted that several answers that were correct were marked wrong.  As a result, the teacher was given the school’s phone number, and asked to identify himself, give his credentials, and explain the problem of the answers mistakenly considered as erroneous.  We can give high marks to the principal for accepting these corrections.  Regrettably, the director was also the English teacher of this private school of international scope, supposedly of a very good reputation.  Other students there may also have suffered unnecessary bad grades, but did not have the benefit of having an independent reviewer to help rectify the situation.


Incompetence in Action – The Neighbour

 A new neighbour once arrived, claiming to be a teacher, knowledgeable in English, French, and perhaps another language.  This author has heard the instruction given to some young children whose mother tongue was Spanish, perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd grade.  For the reader’s analysis, here is an approximation of a few minutes of a class, partially translated:


… red. Red es rojo.  Diga “rojo”.  [… is red.  Say, “red”]

— Rojo.

— ¡Bien, pero muy bien!  Ahora, a ver… [Pause.] Green. Green es verde. Diga “verde”.  [Well done, very well done indeed! Now, let’s see … ]

… [A repetition of the above reply, response, and pause, followed by]: Let’s see … to have.  Have es tener. … etc.

What is seen in the above is a lack of lesson preparation, as evidenced by both the pauses and the illogical jump from a few colours to talk about a verb.  A very common word was also heard to be incorrectly translated.

It is suspected that this individual was also helping with homework.  This may have been done for free, or very cheaply.  Fortunately, the damage would have been minimal.  Similarly cheap classes are taught in both centres managed by political parties, and perhaps altruistic individuals in slum areas.  What these teachers do cannot be compared to what we show next, which is taken from instruction given to this writer in an e-mail.[50]


The One-Person Self-Proclaimed Institute

Once, a person who pretended to be running an institute, sent a message, similar to the following, which was written in Spanish and English:

Es coveniente y necesario que Johanna Getarat haga una revision de gramatica, especialmente tenses, conditionals, wish,  would rather, had better, reported speech, passive voice.

Tiene mas facilidad al conversar pero no tiene base gramatical.

Boutrous Suleiman ibn-Haddad tiene nivel bajo intermedio. ….  y debe practicar mas intensivamente tenses, conditionals, wish, would rather, had better, reported speech y passive voice..

Note that the what is said about the second student, in English, is the same as what was said about the first.  It was left unstated as to whom or what the comparison of Johanna’s ease in speaking was being compared

The person who wrote something similar to the above accused PKM of being incoherent.[51]  As in the case with the unqualified neighbour, this individual – with whom no word of English was ever exchanged – may have had some minimum qualifications, but what they were, could never be determined. Rumour had it that the English was too accented for some of the advanced level students.

A student who was studying Portuguese was to take English classes, after allegedly obtaining a sufficient level in the former language.  After 4 hours of English, the student was given a test, the level was considered satisfactory, and she went back to studying the previous material.  This was obviously a miraculous situation!  Allegedly, the employer may have been at fault.  What was clear, however, was the lack of any textbooks for students – whatever material teachers brought, or could have the students download, was part of the methodology employed.  Control was limited to time-sheets to be signed by students – but not one hundred per cent of the time!


A Well-run Institute – but Profit before All

A rather well-run institute with in-class teacher review by a supervisor, and a psychologist who created a learning strategies test for new students, unfortunately got it wrong.  A student who was capable of learning mostly independently, according to the test, could not.  Another, who was deemed to be slow, and requiring intensive guidance, ended up with a better level than his private secretary, who had previously taught one of his professional colleagues.

Teachers did have a good level of spoken English, but a young one, dictionary on the table, misspelled one of the numbers up to 20 on the blackboard.[52]

Worse is to come.  Certain students were deemed not to be able of advancing upward.  In order not to have them receive the disappointing news that they had not done well on their advancement test, they were given a fictitious new level.

That ploy is comparable to the effect of the warning made by the assistant of an institute of British English, run by a British subject of Eastern European extraction: the latter could become very angry if a student renounced further classes.  In both cases, the concern was not for the student, but for the revenue stream.[53]

A healthy, but sometimes uncomfortable for both teacher and student, is the periodic rotation of the former.  This may not always be necessary, but can be convenient in eliminating any special mannerisms acquired which could be embarrassing once the learner is in a country of his newly-acquired language.  For example, our text on Punjabi emphasizes body language to accompany speech.  Not every movement that a teacher made, however, could necessarily have been a valid part of such teaching, and it could be misleading if the student was studying another language, especially a related one, in which the movements would be wrong.[54]  Also important is the correct tone in that language, as in Mandarin Chinese and even more so, in Cantonese.  Too high or too low may be stumbling blocks for learners with a limited tonal range in the first place.

An example of flawed rotation is this:  the vice-president of a prestigious international American bank was relieved of his Canadian teacher.  Some years later, in accordance with the formalities for soliciting a new passport, the banker was asked if he could sign as a witness to being acquainted with that Canadian for the required number of years.  During a short conversation, this banker was asked if he was still studying.  He answered that he was not; that he had apologetically been given the confession of his next teacher that the latter’s level was below that of the student’s.

The zeal for monetary advantage, rather than for the good of the learner, was shown in the complaint that one gentleman was getting ahead in his textbook without the help of his instructor, whose only function then would be to correct the self-assigned homework, and to teach that – if necessary.  Institutions and private teachers, in the opinion of the present writer, should be most pleased to see someone with such motivation.  That motivated person could then happily refer others to that person or place of learning.


Special Offers

Another tactic, in the present writer’s opinion, is the offer a discount for the first month, or for more than 1 student.  These promotions often come with fine print, if any; and must therefore be considered deceitful.  Here is an example of one, translated from the Spanish (with modifications to avoid identification of the source):


Private Instructor

Special 2 for 1 Offer

Individual Classes


Name ———-

Representative of XXX University in YZLand


The above has been seen for several years, posted around at least a 2 square kilometre area of a large city, at times on almost every building on some blocks.  There is neither an indication of the price, nor of the duration of the offer.  Nobody else in the city in question, or at least in its principal part, has a campaign such as this.  It puts the prestige of the country’s representative of the university in question.  Furthermore, the university mentioned has no international reputation in the field of English, such as Oxford or Cambridge.


Flags or their Colours

Another deceitful practice is to use the colours of the American or British flags.  Honest institutions exist which are truly connected with prestigious institutions of both countries, in which case, the colours have their justification.

There are probably learning centres for American or British English in many major cities; perhaps, in case of doubt, the local consulate can advise. For German, there is the Goethe Institut (which administers the official tests abroad), and for French, the Alliance Française.  We have seen advertisements for what appeared to be official tests in Japanese. The Germans and the Japanese seem to be the most reluctant to show their national colours.


Other Deceptions

One would think that there could be nothing worse than institutions or teachers that provide a sub-par service.  Such is not the case.  There are also small firms which offer to test a company’s students, or to offer large companies in need of many teachers, those of these latter which supposedly meet standardized criteria.

The present writer is aware of an important international company which based discounts for its employees on the progress made by the students.  At one time, the teachers had to give an end-of-year evaluation of student progress.  One can imagine the bias in such a procedure, both by the company, with a view to reducing costs, and to the teacher – who would want to keep the student, especially if under institutional pressure.  On the other hand, the student may also exert pressure on the teacher, while that instructor may be at a loss to how to deal with unsatisfactory performance based on the workload given to the student by the employer.

The company in question later outsourced the annual testing, which was based on something like the TOEIC or the TOEFL.  The company which did so was later discovered to have no official standing, and the determination of student levels was worthless.

In the next case, we refer to a company which offers not so much a fraudulent service, but an unnecessary one. The small firm in question offers large corporations a guarantee of homogeneous criteria among the various teachers for their conclusions on student levels, and supposedly, in the teaching plans to bring the learners up to the next stage.   Once it is established that every new teacher or institution has standards comparable to all the others, there is no follow-up to see if the instructors really maintain the required norms.  The large corporation which wastes money on this, on top of what it already pays for the teachers, would get a more useful service employing organizations such as mentioned in the third paragraph of “Ranking Criteria” (above).  In addition, teachers should be accountable directly to the company where they teach, by stating how long it would take, under normal circumstances, to have the student progress.  If the company cannot let the student be present at the classes, it should not be wasting its money.  If the teacher feels that student is not performing, that teacher should, in all honesty, declare that fact to the company.  One textbook used several years ago suggested around 64 class hours per level if homework was done, 80 hours under normal circumstances, and 96 for perfection.

General Advice: What to Look for in Texts, Teachers, and Institutions


  1. a) Finding Good Dictionaries and Texts

In this section, we do not focus on very young learners, but for parents with very high expectations for their children, the information may apply as well.  Although some material has been repeated, the title of this section may bring readers emphasizes a different focus.  In the section about tyrants defining the language, we give some indications as to some words one might expect to find, and how they should be defined.  Those are measures of completeness which can be applied when recommended volumes are not available.

Dictionaries should ideally be reputable, and if the advice once received was correct, translators should always have 2 different volumes, and none more than 10 years old. This latter guideline may be a good rule of thumb for anyone who would like to be up-to-date in whatever language is of interest. If one’s focus is on the classical works of a language, the more modern dictionary will only be necessary for up-to-date ways of expressing older terms.

When there is an ample assortment, and two different dictionaries are of similar size, a check on the number of entries for a little-used letter can be used, for example, “x” in English, “y” in French, or “ñ” in Spanish.  Those unfamiliar with the language of interest might look quickly at a small dictionary first. Of a Hebrew dictionary, look for “vav”, in Russian, “yoo”, and in Arabic, the search would be longer, the letter to evaluate is the thaa.[55]

For starters in some foreign languages, there are books in the Teach Yourself series.[56]  Because the learner can never know when the book is publishing an error, finding at least three allow checks to be made on the other two – unless a person can be found to indicate which is correct.[57]

Special attention must be paid by the overly-ambitious to the following, and the comment is valid for all languages: “To know [the grammarian’s] labels will not help you to write good English.  … In learning to write, you are learning to express yourself; if you write well, whatever you write will be plainly and unmistakably your own.[64]


  1. i) English

In books, define or determine which type of English (or, where required, other language) is to be learnt.  The older the student, the fewer pictures there should be.  The textbooks should be of reputable publishers, but even among these, quality can vary. The author, while working for an institute, has seen a text with 10 errors, and some of these were embarrassing to explain to the student.  Even the learner of American English can probably be on safer ground using books published in Great Britain.  Oxford University Press and Longman’s are recommendable, which does not mean across-the-board, nor does it mean that other texts are not good.  There are just too many being published all the time to permit an objective analysis.  The more experience a self-learner or a knowledgeable adult has in knowing what will lead to advancement, the better the choice which can be made.

The learner of English should definitely have the Oxford Advanced dictionary, (another dictionary is made for lower lever learners), even if studying American English.  Once the vocabulary and the accompanying notes have exhausted their usefulness, it will be time to move up. Oxford publishes the most complete work for the English language, while the Americans have some options, but the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (updated periodically) is recommendable for most people, as is the American Heritage Dictionary.  The desperate for all words can buy, if within one’s price range, the Merriam-Webster’s International Dictionary, a work meant to be laid flat on a separate table.  These works comply with helping a learner find forms of irregular verbs listed in alphabetical order.  We have given some indication near the beginning of this paper on the types of dictionaries which have or omit certain words.


  1. ii) French

For French only, the Robert is recommended.[58] It does not list the irregular forms alphabetically, but at least has a table of these. For bilingual dictionaries, Larousse is suggested.  HSF has published the Shorter or Longer English-French, French-English Dictionary.  None of these dictionaries will be perfectly useful to anyone who does not know the irregular verb forms, but they are included under that infinitive form.

If a bilingual English-French dictionary can be found, which meets the above requirements, and includes the word “ain’t”, it may be considered quite complete.


iii) German

The choice of a German dictionary for the learner, and even for the native German, seems to be quite confusing.  Often, the usefulness will be determined by the pre-existing grammatical knowledge.  Should the reader understand the idea of verbs with separable prefixes, such as in the translation of “to find out”, ausfinden, depending on the version, a Langenscheidt can be bought, which may or may not give the accent and the correct pronunciation of some ambiguous words, but will list the word under “ausfinden”, but if the user prefers something like the Brockhaus, the word must be consulted under “finden”.  On the other hand, it does list irregular verb forms alphabetically.[59]

The Duden name is also of repute, and may be consulted on-line, but the print editions are, or have been, ridiculously split into volumes for spelling, another for pronunciation, a third for synonyms – more than 8 volumes in all.  For Spanish and German bilingual dictionaries, we can recommend SGS’s work, published by Herder.  German dictionaries should indicate, in some manner, the ways of declining the nouns, if they are to be used for study.

Another criterion for choosing a German dictionary would be it completeness.  The following words are suggested for testing: “Gaul”, often not taught as a translation for “horse”, prefixed in BRK with a parenthetical (altes oder wertloses); included in the Langenscheidts Universalwörterbuch Neugriechisch [1972] as palioalogo, [παλιοάλογο] suggesting “ancient horse”;[60] in the same-sized volume for English[1957], horse precedes the translation “nag”; in the LTD, the first translation of Gaul and Pferd matches, i.e., horse; first translation in the equivalent work of the Spanischen und Deutschen Sprachen [1955,1956], caballo, and only then, rocín; (similar in SGS); also in LHE. The HDS, in addition to the usual (but sometimes disputed by teachers) translation of Pferd as horse, one finds “das dicke, große Pferd”.  Only a person experienced in “hippology” would know if that means jade or nag.  WOH states that it means horse, but that it usually refers to one of little quality. The LPD only gives the negative meanings.  In view of the fact that this volume was published around the same time as several others; the choice of translation seems to be more of an opinion of the compiler, than an objective fact existing at that time.  At any rate, anyone reading a book from earlier years should not mistakenly believe that an old horse is meant, if that was not the case.  When one gets to the LTH dictionary in the same series, the translation is “solos” [rhyming with “moose”, not “Sue’s”], which in Dr. Karl Feyerabend’s Langenscheidt Hebrew Dictionary is translated back into English as either horse, or war-horse, hence, there is no reference to either old, or fat. LTR also gives only one translation, the Russian for “horse”.  The LTA gives “fadeesh”, which is translated back into German as horse, and work-horse.  The only dictionary in this series with solely the negative meaning is LTF.  It may be asked to what degree this is the result of an edition which originally came out in 1884, with perhaps insufficient regard for older entries. It includes the French insult for Germans, boche, indicated as a grave insult, whereas the LFE does not, and the Moderne puts it as colloquial language.

Trottoir [roughly pronounced trutWAAHR in English, or trotWAHR in German, comes from the French of the same spelling.  Of the German Taschenwörterbuch series of dictionaries listed for Gaul, these are the ones that did not include it, or had special notes: Arabisch, Russisch, Dänisch, Spanisch, while Hebrew, English, and redundantly, the French did have it.  As might be expected, it was not in the smaller Universalwörtebuch group, but it is found in the LHE and the BRK, and the WOH.

Equally rare is the word from French, Portemonnaïe,  now given an alternate spelling of Portmonee, pronounced almost Bortmonä in dialectical German.  It is found in HDS, the Arabic, and the Hebrew of the Langenscheidt Taschenwörterbuch series.

The word Neger is taboo in the latest dictionaries.  This is noted as derogatory in BEN. Since this word comes directly from the innocent Latin word niger, the root of geographical names The Niger and Nigeria, and with a pronunciation approximating a hopefully inoffensive “Nay-grrr” or “nayg-uhh”, this has become a question of political correctness.[61]  The point is to know that the present status of the word is not good, but ideally, it should be listed.  The same holds for the “N”-word in English dictionaries, which is found in the Idiomatic and Synthetic English Dictionary [1948] as colloquial, as opposed to the contemporary “offensive”.   On the other hand, it completely fails to list any of the words which might have been considered “colloquial” or offensive to any of the Axis countries that Great Britain had just fought around the time of publication.  In 1962, the Oxford Advanced now labelled it as an impolite word.  The OxC, more precisely, qualifies it as “usually contemptuous”.  It managed to include 2 words which might be offensive to former Axis-countries; one defined as colloquial, another as U.S. Army slang.  The same word in the W9 is given as chiefly British, with no comments about its desirability. On the other hand, it includes the word the Oxford, missed, “kraut”, and it is correctly described as “usually used disparagingly”.  A British judge has dismissed a complaint about this word, but the present writer, after a month of clicking on an ad with this word, was finally relieved not to see it again. The same holds for the other missing insult in the Oxford.  At least two other offensive words for the Axis populations are missing.

Arabic dictionaries suffer the same confusion as the German ones, and even more so.  If “finden” is the root of “ausfinden”, and the place to look for the latter in BRK, even more familiarity with roots will be necessary for Arabic.  Corriente’s Arab-Spanish is published by Herder, his equivalent Spanish to Arabic is published by the Instituto hispano-arabe de cultura in Madrid.  Larousse has a slightly smaller work for Arabic to French.  Langenscheidt publishes its LTA of much smaller size and usefulness, but enters the words on a strictly alphabetical basis, saving the inexperienced the problem of guessing the root.  The problem is akin to the user of a very small dictionary, which does not list “did”, because it is expected that the user will automatically look under “do”. Such is the case, for example, with the shirt-pocket sized Langenscheidts Universalwörterbuch Englisch-Deutsch Deutsch-Englisch.

According to a recent reading on the Internet, no decent, up-to-date Russian-English dictionary exists.  The author’s own library contains pocket volumes by Oxford and Langenscheidt, as well as an old, Russian-only, Soviet era decently sized work.  Some works are available on archive.org for free.  To be useful for study, they need to indicate the declension pattern for the nouns, and the verb pattern in Russian is even more important than in German.  It should give irregular pronunciations, such as that for the translation of “hello” and “please”.[62]

As modern Chinese is defined by its government, publications of the University of Peking are probably what is needed.


  1. b) Finding the Right Teachers / Schools

There is not much that can be done if one’s child is in a bad school.  If a choice is possible, inquiries can be made as to the availability of redress of the disputed marking of tests. If the parent knows the language, the prospective teacher should be engaged in a conversation.  Granted, this may be most difficult, but if a child loses out because of a one per cent grade less than what is needed for the grade-points required for entry to a prestigious university, or the granting of a scholarship, these questions do not become frivolous.  [There once was a teacher who refused to give anyone more than 90 % on a test, arguing that no one is that good.  Another prejudicial action is scaling down grades to comply with some Gaussian-curve distribution of good and bad students.]


Teachers in Institutions

If the student is a child, the parent may want to investigate cost, expected speed of advancement, teacher’s accent, and suitability of texts. Parents may object to certain pictures, descriptions of lifestyles, ideologies, philosophies, religious or non-religious orientations, etc.  Unless the parent knows the language in question, and is highly motivated, this is clearly no area for home-schooling.  That is why the institute is being considered in the first place.

More or less the same can be said of companies looking for a place to send their employees.  Companies which feel threatened by globalization do not need institutes which would indoctrinate, even if by accident, the students with a different mindset.  On the other hand, outward looking companies do not need to have their personnel preached to on the evils of multinational corporations. If this is a moot point, fine.  Ideally, a highly-placed, bilingual officer of the company should be able to make unannounced spot checks on the classes the students attend.

As in the case of getting a good doctor or dentist, the best thing to do would be to have a reliable referral first, and then a talk with the principal or teacher(s), and a look at the texts and the premises.

It should be possible for any parent, or private individual in such an institution to leave without giving notice in case of breach of conditions, and a suitable mechanism of refunding money should have been put into writing.

Each payment expresses conformity (unless a final payment is felt to be a moral obligation). If such conformity is based on misplaced trust, it is a case of not applying the principle of caveat emptor.  Payment in advance is not recommended, as this writer considers it to be a statement to the effect that money is more important than the student.  There will remain the problem is the potential waste on the purchase of a text which will not be used for more than a few classes.  In this case, the best solution is that good material be found on-line by the student or the teacher, and individual, copyright-free material, if provided by the teacher, be included in the final price at the time payment is made.  Pricing terms should have been arranged in advance for such material.


Private Teachers

Most of what has been said in the preceding to sections, about schools and institutions, can apply here to.  One thing this writer recommends against is paying in advance, though prompt payment is a sign of satisfaction.  Failure to pay promptly can be taken badly by the teacher; on the other hand, no payment should be demanded if the work at the end of the period (usually monthly) is considered unsatisfactory.

Material to be used can be vetoed, but it is bad form to define what course material should be used, unless this is bought at the learner’s (or parent’s), or company’s expense; and can be comfortably used by the instructor.

Individuals with a low level of a language who directly hire a teacher should not tell the instructor what to do, except to follow the textbook.  This is a recipe for half-learning a lesson, and misapplying it to an existing bad foundation.  It is a mutual waste of time.


Summary and Conclusions

This paper has begun with the discussion of the bare minimum needed for study – printed material for going it alone.  The most important source material, dictionaries, covers a period of almost exactly 100 years, if on-line sources are included. Works by 3 publishers predominate: Oxford for English, and Duden and Langenscheidt for German.  The Oxford dictionaries cover the years from 1932 to 1995; Duden, 1961 to 1978; and Langenscheidt 1955 to 1992. Thanks to a committee which decides the spelling of the German language, the rather considerable investment made in these books for German was not as good as the spending on English dictionaries.  However, a perusal of definitions given in the dictionaries, even in roughly similar years, shows that there are differences of opinion, even when the word appears. This is our first recommendation for learners: Check with some word, or words, such as those in our sections on English, French, and German, to see how a good dictionary, if affordable, deals with whatever is sought.

There may not be much choice when dealing with state-run schools, but otherwise, if a school is chosen for its reputation in teaching a foreign language, whatever inquiries can be made, should be made.  There should be a procedure for redress, but parents should demand teaching which will give results.  It would be useful to know the schools testing and marking system.  Easily marked multiple choice questions are not valid for grading, as a rule of thumb, where there are n number of choices on such a test, the final mark should be q(q-c), where q was the number of questions, and c the number of choices.  As the formula could give a negative result, the lowest possible score is zero, reflecting a lack of knowledge.  Even the dead cannot know less than nothing.

After the dictionary, for the self-learner, come the textbooks. It is regrettable that a major publisher cannot be named, for fear of legal action, but the fact must be acknowledged, that the brand does not guarantee the quality.  It has been suggested further above, that there be a sufficient number of questions for every page studied.  There should be a complete answer key – at the back of the book (some publishers only answer selected questions, another put the answers on the same page, right side up!).

For a person studying thinking of studying at an institute, or with a private teacher, the texts should match the approach, method, and technique desired, and supposedly implemented.

While not much control can be exercised over government-run schools, if someone is in a place with a choice of private schools, the interested party, if of age, can make the required investigation as to which of the schools has the best plan.

Now comes the question, when not studying alone, of where to go for instruction.  In the case of those schools managed by a nation, state, province, or similar political unit, as in the case of texts, there may be no choice.

In the case of private schools and teachers, it would be good to ask questions about their approach, method, and technique in language teaching.  If these questions cannot be answered without evasive answers, or ignorance as to what is meant, caution must be exercised.  In the case of the private school, it may be that administration has no idea, and it would be necessary to talk with one or several teachers involved in language instruction.  No excuses should be accepted for ignorance on the part of a language institute, or a private teacher, except perhaps at the most basic level, or if the teacher claims to use a specific text (or several), in which case the decision can be made on the teacher’s level of English, and acceptance of the text(s).  Advanced students, in some cases, might be more interested in conversation and more polished style, in which case a text might not be necessary, but the level of the teacher becomes the most important factor for consideration.

The number of levels needs to be known, as does the time required to complete each one.  At schools, this is forced, and some private institutes might do the same.  If the student’s own pace is respected, there should still be an indication of how long it would take.  An honest teacher or institute would indicate that 1 or 2 hours a week will not get the majority of students ahead, unless they are willing to do a significant amount of homework.  In a six-level course, the student should have advanced at the end of the year, so progress with the text, if used chapter by chapter, can be measured proportionately.  If progress is too slow, the teacher should advise the student (or parent or guardian) of the fact, otherwise, these latter should not have the course continue.  Class hours may have to be calculated together with hours expected for home study.

In the matter just mentioned, payment to private teachers or institutes should not be made for an entire year or semester, but rather on a monthly basis, and payable at the end of the month (for the institutes at least).  Private teachers could be paid weekly or per class (especially for teachers with few resources). Failure to pay punctually would be a sign of a lack of seriousness on the part of the student, whenever it is not a sign of dissatisfaction, while continued payment would be an indication of conformity.  Ideally, this should be formalized by a contract.  Such may not be the case with private teachers. In conclusion, both parties know where each other stands as long as the payment is forthcoming.

In the case of schools, whether government-run (when there is a choice in the community) or private, inquiries should be made as to where the language teachers received their education.  Some individuals speak a foreign language very well, but learned it by ear, not at any school.  Any diploma which teachers have, should qualify them for what they do.  Teacher certification is more of a union or government tool, to ensure certain standards in schools.  Traditionally, a Bachelor of Arts degree (in the British – type system, including, in this case, the United States, ensured the required capacity, but nowadays, it may be necessary to know how easily the degree was granted. Perhaps a means to test the teacher can be devised.  It should be short, so that a refusal would be considered suspicious.  Citizens of English-speaking countries could be asked to write out their national anthems, and these compared with information available on line. Sometimes, teachers will have a “Teacher’s Book” which gives instructions on how to give the class.  This will be necessary for the less experienced instructors, or those not familiar with the previously-mentioned approach, method, and technique required of a specific text.



[1]          While the two examples given were taken from a young relative of the  present writer, in 1981 or 1982, he read in a German-language newspaper that Turks had a problem pronouncing the German word Schnapps, and that it was pronounced “nap”[nup]. No proof of the mispronunciation has been found, yet Turks, like the Japanese, have difficulty with consecutive consonant sounds not followed by vowels.  This is a problem for young children in general [Elisabeth Denner, Phonetische Einflüsse von türkischer Muttersprache auf L2 Deutsch: eine akustisch-phonetische Studie,  Diplomarbeit zur Erlangung des Magistergrades, Universität Salzburg, Juni 2009, p. 14, accessed 20180526] That Turkish words cannot begin with two consonants [or their equivalent – present author’s note] is given by Denner, ibid., p. 31. Why the “s” or “sh” sounds should not be pronounced  must be related to the preceding, in that we would get, in theory [and here postulated] an uncomfortable-sounding “sha-nap-as”. To conform with the monosyllabic German Schnapps, only Nap is possible.

[2]          Competence may not be at the level required by the student; or deception may be practiced by unscrupulous operators.

[3]          The Greek word matches  a meaning of the Spanish translation of “to teach”, enseñar and is a related to the French word enseigner (to teach, instruct), while both the French and Spanish, together with the German zeichen.

[4]          The first two of this series of three are possible, but the third, more crass and supine, is the advancement of academically-challenged sports stars for the financial benefits which these will have accrue to the university.

[5]          For more details, see the section labelled “Textbooks, Dictionaries, and other Impersonal Tools”. Abuses are mentioned in the section “Tyrants Defining the Language: Dictionaries, Docents, et. al.”.

[6]          Where the interested party would lose an academic year by transferring elsewhere, schools or institutes would lose the student with difficulty, and hence their right to payment.

[7]         The writer believes that while the teacher leads or guides, the student should have accepted such leadership or guidance in advance, i.e., the willingness to learn must be shown before the teacher ever makes any demands upon the student. Teachers as entertainers may be fine for very young classes, but have no place in teaching those who pretend to be mature.  Texts using such an approach cannot be ruled out in classes which include slower learners at a school where policy expects the majority to pass  – a policy decision which is to the detriment of those who would be serious learners.  It cannot be ruled out that this policy might encourage others to become serious – but at what cost?

[8]          Such information is often found in the pronunciation key of dictionaries, or guidelines in textbooks.  e.g. D.F. Hudson, New Testament Greek, Teach Yourself Books, Seven Oaks, Kent: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960] describes the sound of the Greek eta as that of “a Yorkshireman’s ‘eh’”. [p. 4] How useless this is can be seen even when one considers the preface of that work, in which the problem of teaching Greek in India is mentioned.  Simply stated, most of the world does not know the Yorkshire dialect.

[9]          Anecdotally, this writer can say that he only understood one professor’s French dictation at university and the explanation was to the effect that his accent was not up to the level of his University of Paris and Sorbonne-educated colleagues.  An example of a publication with this style of pronunciation is a publication, German Phrase Book, TM 30-606, by the War Department, Washington, 1943. https://archive.org/details/GermanPhraseBook, accessed 20180518.

[10]  Using his knowledge of Spanish as a starter, the present author went through a home-study Portuguese course taught through a slim volume which accompanied a record. A multiple-choice test at the end of the book claimed that a pass was answering all questions correctly.  The entire book was studied in one afternoon, one mistake was made.  It may be taken that it was true that this mistake disqualified the learner from a pass, but even the successful completion of the course would have not said anything about listening and speaking skills, let alone familiarity with language as used in a real-life setting. Worse is the case of a course that pretended to teach Punjabi in 25 lessons.  Maybe that is possible, but the potential student is unaware of how long it will take to learn the alphabet!

[11]        That was all that was asked for by a couple of students of the author. While movies nowadays, on average, do not have a very sophisticated vocabulary, the speed with which words are uttered is much faster than in the past. On the Internet, there are black-and-white television shows from around 1960, that have a higher vocabulary level than what is found at present, but the words were pronounced more slowly and distinctly back then. An example is the television program Ozzie and Harriet, most episodes of which can be found on archive.org.  Once David enters university, many of the shows revolve around student life of the late 1950s.  Even this writer was obliged to check with a dictionary on at least one occasion.

[12]        These 3 items are briefly described under “approach, in Longman[‘s] Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics.

[13]        This does not apply to texts which are to be studied by future translators or interpreters, who must have a vocabulary far beyond that of the person with more limited needs.

[14]        In the United States, the National Textbook Company publishes some annotated readers. Similar works have also been found from places as far apart as a university in Michigan, U.S., and the University of Buenos Aires.  A French publisher, Le livre de poche [Librairie Général Française] has published pocket-books in at least 8 languages, some annotated [series beginning with the name Lire en …] and others which are bilingual – the “bilingue” series while, with luck, some may be found on line. Caution should be exercised with some simplified, cheaply published bilingual texts works from Spain or Argentina, which have been found error-prone.

[15]       An example of this caution can be illustrated through reference to a work by August Strindberg.  The original work, in French, by this Swedish writer, was titled, Le plaidoyer d’un fou.  Titles of the translations vary, as does the quality, For comparison, here are two versions in German, both titled Die Beichte eines Thoren, one heavily edited for copyright reasons, and another in Engllish.

… ich … komme … auf meine ermeintliche Liebe zu sprechen.

  Sie richtete sich auf, und … redete … mich an:

  – Sie müssen sehr treu sein in ihren Zuneigungen!


  – Unglücklicherweise ja!

  Das Geräusch der Karten und die Rufe der Spieler gegleitenten diese Beichte ohne Geständnis.””  [Jazzybee Verlag Jurgen Beck Altenmünster,on Google Books, BoD – Books on Demand, 11 Feb. 2015, p. 75, https://books.google.com/books?id=O-ukBgAAQBAJ&dq=beichte&source=gbs_navlinks_s ] In the source just quoted, the German title was given as Plädoyer eines Irren.This may be compared to the full public domain text Mark 1.0,  by Georg Müller Verlag, München, trans. Emil Schering:

“— Sie können sich rühmen, in Ihren Neigungen treu zu sein! •

 Meine Augen verirrten sich hartnäckig unter die

Decke des Nähtisches, wo das schneeige Weiss unter dem kirschroten Band schimmerte. Schliess-lich riss ich sie los, ‘kreuzte sie mit dem Blick ihrer im Lampenschein grösser gewordenen Pupillen und antwortete ihr in einem festen, entschlossenen Ton:

 — Leider ja!

 Das Klatschen der Karten und die Rufe der Spieler begleiteten diese kurze Beichte. ‘   p. 123, from https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_qo1CWHTVeeYC#page/n123/mode/2up/search/Leider  The copyright free English version hardly agrees with the German:

“..I changed the conversation, and turned it on the subject of my supposed love affair.

    She drew herself up, and glanced at me sharply.

   “You can at least pride yourself on being a faithful lover.”


   “Unfortunately I can!”, I replied dryly.

   The sound of the falling cards and the exclamations of the players accompanied this brief passage of arms.”  The Confession of a Fool, trans. Ellie Schleussner, Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1913, p. 96, https://archive.org/details/cu31924026330377

[16]        Most short-wave broadcasters have ceased transmission, and this information may rapidly become out of date, but for those learning English, the VOA [Voice of America] and the BBC will probably be around for some time. Our links refer to the on-line information:, and are only a sampler: For those who speak Spanish: [BBC]: http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/spanish/home, http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/spanish/hygiene/course-information; [VOA, not language specific]: (Special English): http://www.manythings.org/voa/scripts/ , (other): https://learningenglish.voanews.com/ (of which Level 3 does not appear overly difficult); for German, Deutsche Welle: (slowly spoken) http://www.dw.com/de/16052018-langsam-gesprochene-nachrichten/a-43802046, (another reference): http://www.dw.com/en/learn-german/s-2469; for Japanese, the national broadcaster NHK: https://www.nhk.or.jp/lesson/, (specifically for Spanish-speakers): https://www.nhk.or.jp/lesson/spanish/.  An app can be downloaded for Chinese at the lower level: http://english.cri.cn/11114/2012/09/21/1261s723419.htm  the remaining national broadcasters may at least be used for listening practice, once a sufficient vocabulary and listening comprehension level has been reached.

[17]        The etymology of the “d” words may be found in Dictionnaire des racines des langues européenes, “Deik”, or the homonymous entry under “Indo-European Roots” in the AHD.

[18]         On one occasion, while using an Internet café, all the contents of a flash drive used by PKM were overwritten by photos belonging to someone else.  A year or two later, a locally famous hacker was manipulating the machine PKM was using.  These problems were not detected by the virus check which is always employed as a matter of policy.

[19]        In espionage, the correct accent is important, too.  Perhaps a myth, but there is the story of the German spy in a British bar, who was asked how he would like his drink.  Instead of the correct “dry”, it came out as the similar sounding German word for “three”, which is pronounced with a different “dr” sound, and a more forceful diphthong.  Similarly, by dropping the pronunciation of the “r” in “Der Fisch”, “the fish” might be understood, but neither the “th” nor the “i” will have been correctly vocalized.  These differences are what cause lower educated people to remark that someone does not know the language. Higher classes may be apparently tolerant, but smirk behind one’s back. [See section on Japanese.]

[20]        This, in Quirk, is followed by considerations of some words unique to South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

[21]        Search for the string (excluding quotation marks) “any of the three former administrative divisions of Yorkshire, England.” Words in the quoted string may or may not be under copyright: Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd., Retrieved May 16 2018 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/riding.

[22]        An example of the use of Beichten, as a noun meaning confession is found in note 11. It hardly helps that the original French word has the idea of what an accused tells his lawyer (RMP], or “Counsel’s speech” [LHE], or even just “plea” [LHE]. The smaller Larousse gives “plea, argument”.  These divergences force this paper to focus on the most usual German to English translations of the title of Strindberg’s book.  Two more examples will strengthen the argument. Hugo Bettauer, enemy of anti-Semitism in Germany, not apparent in the ironically titled book,  Die Stadt ohne Juden: Ein Roman von Übermorgen, has a daughter relate the confession of her night-life to her father. She describes the situation in the following words:

»Hm,« meinte Lotte vergnügt, »das läßt sich ja hören! Aber jetzt muß ich dir auch sagen, daß ich gestern eine Auseinandersetzung mit Papa hatte. Stelle dir nur vor, plötzlich sah mich Papa scharf an und sagte sehr ernst: Lotte, wo treibst du dich eigentlich neuerdings immer stundenlang allein herum? Du weißt, wir lassen dir alle mögliche Freiheit, aber was zu viel ist, ist zu viel!

Also, ich fühlte, wie ich blutrot wurde und dachte, das beste ist, ich beichte

»Was,« unterbrach sie Leo entsetzt, »du hast deinem Vater erzählt…?«

»Ausreden lassen, Aff’«, lachte Lotte und zwickte ihn in das Ohr. »Ich beichtete also, aber natürlich nur das, was mir paßte. Ich sagte dem Papa, daß ich bei der Erna einen sehr feinen jungen Mann kennen gelernt habe, den ich ebenso gut leiden mag, wie er mich und daß ich ihn oft treffe, um mit ihm spazieren zu gehen. Er sei ein Franzose, namens Henry Dufresne, der hier große Geschäfte mache.«

Antother example is Carry Brachvogel’s Die große Gauklerin: Ein Roman aus Venedig:

…Elisabeth fühlte, wie ihr das Herz bis zum Halse schlug vor Angst.

»Ettore! Um Gottes willen, Ettore, sag’ doch, was geschehen ist!«

Er ließ die Hände sinken, starrte seine Frau wieder mit gläsernem Blick an, sprang dann auf, schritt heftig gestikulierend, fluchend, nach Unbekannten mit Schimpfwörtern werfend im Zimmer hin und her. Da erfuhr sie’s denn: er hatte in dieser Nacht im Klub an 80 000 Lire verloren.

In der letzten Zeit, seit jener Nacht, da Ettore seinen Spielverlust gebeichtet, …

Showing an even greater flexibility in translation, is the following comparison of a German translation of Oliver Twist, compared with the original text.  We see that the verb beichten is translated as to confide, the close similarity in meaning can be found under the same heading in Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, [1987]:

Bumble besaß hinreichenden Scharfsinn, um sogleich zu gewahren, daß sich ihm eine Gelegenheit eröffnet habe, Gewinn aus einem Geheimnisse seiner besseren Hälfte zu ziehen. Er erinnerte sich des Todes der alten Sally sehr wohl; war sie doch an dem Abend gestorben, an welchem er Mrs. Corney seinen Antrag gemacht hatte; und obgleich ihm von Frau Bumble noch immer nicht anvertraut worden war, was die Sterbende ihr allein gebeichtet, so hatte er doch genug gehört, um zu wissen, daß es sich auf etwas bezogen, das sich bei oder nach der Entbindung der Mutter Oliver Twists ereignet hatte. Er sagte dem Unbekannten daher mit geheimnisvoller Miene, daß die Alte, nach welcher er sich erkundigt, kurz vor ihrem Tode eine andere Frau habe zu sich rufen lassen und derselben Mitteilungen gemacht habe, die, wie er nicht ohne Grund glaube, Licht in die Sache bringen könnten, um welche es sich handle.

In English:

But Mr. Bumble was cunning enough; and he at once saw that an opportunity was opened, for the lucrative disposal of some secret in the possession of his better half. He well remembered the night of old Sally’s death, which the occurrences of that day had given him good reason to recollect, as the occasion on which he had proposed to Mrs. Corney; and although that lady had never confided to him the disclosure of which she had been the solitary witness, he had heard enough to know that it related to something that had occurred in the old woman’s attendance, as workhouse nurse, upon the young mother of Oliver Twist. Hastily calling this circumstance to mind, he informed the stranger, with an air of mystery, that one woman had been closeted with the old harridan shortly before she died; and that she could, as he had reason to believe, throw some light on the subject of his inquiry.

The preceding files were accessed on gutenberg.org on May 24, 2018.

[23]        Punning upon this leads to the observation:“Korn” can mean, in addition to “corn” in the British sense, “jalopy”; so we could derive a false meaning of an old car filled with seed (obviously, for planting on a farm.

[24]       The reader is reminded that this article should not cause child-safe filters to register this article as unacceptable.  It would then cause a conflict with the settings on the original article’s site, which define it as not containing inappropriate material.

[25]       However one wishes to understand the word Samen, which WOH defines as coming from Latin, and DHW goes back further, to an Indo-European root meaning shake, throw, spread out, or let fall, there exists a strong likeness in the Biblical Hebrew Word of the root SMN, Included translations are fertile and fertility – a requirement for Samen; and fat, the result of abundantly eating oleaginous seeds, or the produce of the Saat The comparable Arabic S-M-N root relates to fat or oil.  A similar Arabic word, Emphatic S-M-M, includes the idea of core or kernel: cf. kernel, seed.

[26]     Another example is Ross MacDonald’s Geld kostet zuviel, [The Good-bye Look] trans. 1974.  Between pp. 145 and 147, there are 2 mysterious words for anyone with insufficient knowledge of the language, hierh and Umtelt, respectively. PKM often had difficulties in studying Spanish, when such peculiarities cropped up.

[27]       Forms which are identical in the masculine and feminine plural case can be differentiated by context.

[28]       The word to which allusion is made in the introduction may be taken as the reaction to the teacher’s inflexibility on the issue described in “A Tricky Test”.

[29]      The correct marking of such tests would always be based on the assumption that an error was a guess, (even though a perfect score might have been achieved by guessing) and an incorrect guess is less probable when there are more choices.  This means that the penalty for guessing on a test with 4 choices is less than on a test with 3 choices.  It also means that all questions must have the same number of possible answers, unless both teachers and students can understand the valid mathematics involved in calculating a final grade. A tolerant method is as follows: Let T equal the total number of questions on a multiple choice test,  I is the number of answers which were incorrect , C equals the number of choices, and F is final raw (not expressed as a percentage) score. F = T – (I/C)*T As percentages, for tests with one incorrect answer, for 2, 3, 4 and 5 choices respectively, the results would be 50, 68, 76 and 80. Some Internet forums have the question, what is to be done with negative scores?  The question ignores that not even the dead can score less than zero, that the score must be in the range from 0 on up.  The seemingly low score of 80 can be justified on the grounds given in the paragraph following this footnote.  At the same time, it shows a weakness the the multiple choice test.  Nevertheless 80% is fine in those jurisdictions where that percentage is an “A” or very good. Note for marking true and false

[30]        https://www.isixsigma.com/  https://www.isixsigma.com/new-to-six-sigma/getting-started/what-six-sigma/   Six Sigma at many organizations simply means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection.

[31]        http://felix.physics.sunysb.edu/~allen/Jokes/bohr.html   seen defectively

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/the-barometer-problem/xplanation barometer and height, first read in the late 70s or early 80s in OMNI.

[32]        The urbandictionary website suggests the French do not currently use the term, even though it is found in dictionaries.  The accented version is attributed to Agatha Christie. [No link is given to the source, because of the nature of its crude reader contributions.]

[33]       Latin American Euphemisms

[34]       This sentence is so common, that it might have come, slightly modified, from SSG [p. 81].

[35]       Note pending on “ojála”, if the source can be found.  Of the doubts expressed on the Internet, what has been found is the explanation that the word with the accent on  the last syllable, meaning “God willing”, is confused with the verb “ojalar”, meaning, “to make button holes”. This is about as convincing as asking if the correct pronunciation of “laboratory” is the alternate  American form which suppresses the “r”, or the American for “lavatory·”,  with the questioner ignoring the difference in meaning. [Variant pronunciations in W9.]

[36]        Although no such reference was available on the Internet, some upper class individuals do seem to prefer to seem less so. Paul Coggle, a senior lecturer in modern languages at the University of Kent has referred to “the gradual dumbing down of RP. Just as the clipped upper-class accents of the Forties … are virtually extinct” suggesting that this is so because society has “become less class-conscious”.  “It’s What You Say, Not how You Say it”, Emma Haughton, in The Independent, 4 October 1997, Coggle, in that article, more saliently, continued thusly: “I… RP can be off-putting. Even those from upper- middle-class backgrounds don’t speak RP amongst themselves – many adopt … [other]… accents when they don’t want to be seen as privileged.”  That is how Prince Charles would have appeared, except when looking for employment where the better accents are obligatory- RP, according to the article, is still required in PR  Further to this comment is the fact that the Prince’s view of the way the British speak and write their language is highly negative, as reported by Malcolm Bradbury in a New York Times “Viewpoint” article, “Speaking the Prince’s English”, 1989/09/24

[37]        Notes such as in W9, which give a special “a” sound for those who do not pronounce this vowel of father like the “o” in bother (p. 34, and this writer rhymes these words. More extremely, AHD give the pronunciation of the noun and verb spelt “house” as pronounced in Tidewater, Virginia..  It is reasonable to assume that few readers would know that pronunciation.

[38]       Once this writer, around the year 2000, found, on the Internet, a sample of regional Australian accents as used by telephone operators in Australia.  These samples were used to teach a bilingual Taiwanese-Spanish speaker (who already knew American English) the accent of the country to which she would emigrate.  Even this writer has at times been non-plussed by some Australian accents, confusing them with those of Eastern Europe.

[39]        Some sources even give a Canadian dialect for variously defined regions near the Great Lakes, especially Lakes Michigan and Superior. The  text would be meaningless to learners, as there are no right or wrong answers. Perhaps the result could reflect the type of English being taught – on condition that the student had a good ear.

[40]        The exact number depends on the source, as a check on the Internet will show.  An article many years ago in the then British-owned The Economist mentioned 6 or 7, some of which are not listed independently in the principal sources seen. https://www.britannica.com/topic/English-language/Varieties-of-English#ref74818 lists Wester, North-Central, Northern Midland, Southern, New England, and New York City.  “What Dialect Do You Speak – A Map of American English” Washington Post. https://www.quora.com/How-many-kinds-of-American-accents-are-there  Also see next note.

[41]        Mentioned in “8 American Dialects Most Brits Don’t Know About – BBC America.

[42]        https://www.independent.co.uk/hei-fi/entertainment/the-oxford-comma-is-banned-dead-and-buried-but-lives-on-2305310.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jul/01/oxford-cleared-serial-comma-killing  obscenity

[43]        This was probably seen as a comment to a web article on the new German spelling rules.

[44]        There is also a so-called neutral Spanish, in terms  of pronunciation  grammar and vocabulary.  Grammatically, there is, for example, a standardization of the imperative form, while in vocabulary, the words which may be offensive in some region are avoided.

[45]          The Internationale Arbeitskreis für Orthographie can be considered as an ad hoc group comprised of the German Republic(s), Austria, and Switzerland, with the agreement of the last two countries, and the now united Federal Republic of Germany, their conclusions were put into force on July 1, 1996 (BDR, p. 22.  Rechtschreibung 2000 [Stuttgart: Klett, 1996, p. 6, gives this July date as the one for the signature of a joint declaration by these 3 countries, plus “eine Reihe weiterer Staaten” (a series of other countries), giving the date at which the rules were in force as August 1, 1998,  Both sources agree that there was a transition period until 2005.  According  to BDR, this was to allow one to become familiar with the new spelling rules.

[46]        The spelling “viage” can be found in Diccionario de la Academia Española, A – F. Paris, 1826. The second volume of the dictionary is missing, but examples can be found in the first.  A later edition of the 19th Century in Google Books has the modern spelling, but I have seen the old spelling in the past, at the Retiro train station in Buenos Aires, which is what led me to this point.

[47]        A hypothetical example of the inconvenience this causes.  Correct punctuation is deliberately ignored in order to emphasize the sound of the sentence, which contains a rather redundant, but used, affirmation:

Diga si si si si si si si no si señor.

What would make the meaning clearer is the accent, and some punctuation:

Diga, sí sí, sí, sí, si sí; si no, sí señor.

[Diga, sí, sí, sí, sí, si (su respuesta es) “sì”; (pero) si no (lo es, diga) sí, señor.]

[48]        “German spelling is beautifully regular, and if you know the pronunciation of the indiviudual letters you can pronounce any German word correctly …”, P. G. Wilson, Teach Yourself German Grammar [London: St. Paul’s House, 1950], p. 2.  “… five extra letters help[] the student of Russian … and prevent[] him from many mispronunciations …”  Michael Frewin, Teach Yourself Russian [seven Oaks, Kent (UK), Hodder and Stoughton, 1977], p. 5.  “ … the language is virtually phonetic, that is to say, most of the letters can be pronounced only in one way.” Maximilian Fourman, Teach Yourself Russian, [[London: The English Universities Press, 1943], p. vii. Regarding Turkish, see BRD, sub-section titled “Laut-Buchstaben-Zuordnung  einschließlich der Fremdwortschreibung”, p. 23.

[49]        TY and Japanese gender language [note pending]

[50]          Accent marks were not used in the e-mails. Names have been modified to hopefully non-existent, cross-cultural ones, in order to be able to deny that the following was from any particular person. Except for the change of names, and some text which was deleted, as shown by the ellipsis, the material was copied and pasted without other amendments.

[51]        To the question of why an incoherent teacher was sent to teach, no answer was forthcoming

[52]        It was not due to visual problems, it is assumed, such as those Möller suffers from.

[53]        Profit Before All potentially translates into Spanish as Lucro sobre todo.  This six-syllable translation was chosen to match the same scheme as the title of the old German national anthem, “Deutschland über Alles”.  Thus, Lucro sobre todo would be sung to the same music. The German Verdienst über Alles, although of the same pattern, grates upon the ears.

[54]       A source of confusion, for example – in this case – if it were not taught, is the Arab gesture for saying “no”, a nod of the head.  Without the nod, “yes”, said “na-am”, sounds like “no”. Special attention, especially in Japanese culture, is the difference in speaking style of men and women.  A lack of male teachers has led to embarrassing results for some men, mentioned previously in this article.

[55]       A web-site has been found with some classifications of dictionaries in various languages, including comments about the used of IPA pronunciation.  It may serve as a guide to on-line resources which cannot be downloaded: Foreign Language Dictionary Reviews (Part 1: Pronunciation), https://fluent-forever.com/dictionary-reviews/. Accessed  2018525.

[56]       These vary in quality, and sometimes there are different texts for the same language written by different authors.  Originally an independent label, with books with a yellow and blue jacket, or later, soft cover,  the company became part of Hodder and Stoughton, first using pale blue covers, but maintaining the same size as before.  Later, the size was larger, the paper was of better quality, and the covers more colourful, but sometimes, such as for ancient Greek, these were only reprints.  A relatively recently published volume in this writer’s library for Russian can now be downloaded from archive.org on the Internet for free – whether that is legal or not, is not known.  That particular volume is only good for tourists, some of the preceding volumes were much more complete.  A good idea of the usefulness of this volume as compared to a better one by the same publisher can be ascertained by counting the number of words translated in the back of the book, approximately 700 versus 3000 in the Frewin book.

[57]        A web site claiming to teach Chinese gave an expression for “You are very kind”.  Upon trying to express this, one reaction was, “Do you want to go on a date with me?”, and  another clarified, as the Chinese root would also indicate, that the expression really means more like “You are very lovable”. See our analysis at this link.

[58]        The Larousse should probably be mentioned, but PKM has not seen a French-only dictionary by this publisher.

[59]        This problem may not exist in newer dictionaries, of which PKM has not seen any. Duden on line …

[60]        παλιό άλογο was rendered “old horse” in the Google Translator (20180525).

[61]        Syllabification of the second pronunciation is incorrect, but is so written to emphasize the almost equivalent schwa sound. The preferred word is Schwarzer, which is identical in meaning to the Latin textbook forms, niger, nigra, nigrum.  A German living in Latin America, claiming to have taught without earning anything, referred to a local woman as a Schwarze in such contemptuous terms, that Negerin would have sounded more pleasant.  Notice in Schwarze the two silibant sounds.  False etymologies and related-sounding words also suggest that Schwarze should not be the translation. Our ideas on this are at this link in German.

[62]       For the latter, JTR gives “pazhaluissta”, Langenscheidt gives “pazhalst(e),, for the former, ztrassvuite,  Fourman does not give the pronunciation (p. 149), nor does Daphne M. West, Teach Yourself Russian, [Sevenoaks, Kent (UK): Hodder and Stoughton, 1991], p. 12.

[63]       FYa. B. Zeldovich, Higher Mathematics for Beginnners and its Application to Physics, trans. George Yankovsky, [Moscow: Mir Publishers, 1973], p. 10.

[64]       G. H. Thornton, Teach Yourself Good English, revised by Kathleen Baron, [London, English Universities Press, 1923], pp. ix-x.

June 9, 2018

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller


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