English as She is Spoke is an old classic book over 150 years recently republished which rivals anything Mr. Barot scripted in his recent movie about cultural leanings of America for make benefit glorious nation. (I purposely misspelled his name and don’t want to draw any attention with search engines to Barot’s gross errors depicting this wonderful country where I presently teach English.)
Of course, I’ve read some tortured writing of English done by my Kazakh students that leaves much to be desired, but at least they are trying to get their message across. I understand they come from minimal learning experiences where writing was not encouraged in Russian, much less English. Ironically, I’ve also seen some fairly horrific examples of writing from natives speakers of English too. Let’s have Hollywood produce a movie which graphically shows how American students get away with playing video games for hours on end and how they have no time to do their writing assignments or read the material to show what is expected of them in a composition class. Now THAT would be a sleeper movie!!!
Apparently Mark Twain loved this little book written by Pedro Carolino who was a hack just like Barot and used Jose Da Fonseca’s name as co-author of this comprehensive phrasebook of the English language. Da Fonseca was a upstanding scholar who happened to have a phrasebook for Portuguese that was worked over by Carolino to make it purposefully absurd. It came out as a “masterpiece” in 1869 and had many reprints and other spinoffs such as English as She is Taught or English as She is Wrote which shows funny exam-answer humor that only a teacher can fully appreciate.
Reading through this little book made me squirm simply because it is so obviously hacked. For Twain to give it the thumbs up brings my estimation of him a bit lower even though I loved reading his Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer stories as I was growing up. Twain lived later into life and died an unhappy man. Reading English as She is Spoke would not improve one’s mood. However, it makes me more determined than ever as a writing teacher to have my students improve their English skills so they don’t get laughed at by quacks similar to Carolino or Barot.
In Part One of this book are vocabulary words supposedly translated from Portuguese to English titled “Index of the Matters:” The Mankind, Ages, Defects of the Body, Servants, diseases, remedies, parties a town, of the bed, eatings, quadruped’s beasts, fishes and shell-fishes, colours, games, of the altar, chastisements, familiar phrases. You get the idea that articles and prepositions are put in where they don’t belong, taken out where they DO belong. On page 22 is a phrase “stop a little” or “Let us go to respire the air.” Page 24 “At what o’clock is to get up?” p. 26 “dress your hairs” or p. 30 “This girl have a beauty edge.”
My sister lived in Brazil at the tender age of 16 on an AFS student exchange. She got to know her host family and quickly picked up the language of Portuguese. I’ll have to give her this book to see if she recollects any of these supposed “familiar phrases.” Several years later, one of the daughters of her Brazilian host family came to the U.S. on a similar exchange to live with a typical middle class American family. Somehow I got caught in the middle a family squabble because the rich, young Brazilian girl did NOT know any English. She kept saying over and over, “I no happy, I no happy.” That was one thing she made everyone painfully aware of. I think she was eventually moved to a different family and that resolved her happiness issue. It didn’t help for her to come off the plane to a cold Minnesota winter with only sandals and a light dress and coat. Obviously, no one had fully prepared her for the stark weather conditions or the language barrier once she arrived in the U.S.
One phrase that caught my attention was under the section titled “Idiotisms and Proverbs.” I had asked my ESL students when I taught in Virginia years ago to give me three idioms or proverbs from their country. One guy from a South American country, I don’t remember which one, gave me “The robe don’t make the monk.” That’s a good proverb. However, Carolino was up to his tricks with changing “robe” to “dress” so it reads on page 128: “the dress don’t make the monk.” Funny huh? The actual saying in Portuguese is: “O habito nao faz o monge.”
Why is “the robe don’t make the monk” a good proverb? Even though it is not proper English, the point comes across loud and clear. Supposedly there are people in places of authority who may have the title in their respective job but do NOT embrace the work ethic or are NOT skillful enough to fill that particular job and its job description. Consequently, people under them suffer. I might add there are perhaps many teachers who are teaching writing who don’t know how to write. May the land of Kazakhstan have fully educated and talented teachers who know how to write in English. Thus, they can teach their Kazakh students to write well, especially in a western style university where that is the expectation and the norm. That is, if Kazakh students should ever leave Kazakhstan on some exchange program to the U.S. or U.K. to find out how miserable they can be if not fully prepared.