31 January 2011

The Genuine Global Language

When you're doing TEFL, you can't help but hear all about how English is the 'global language'. Apparently, the fact that Spanish and Chinese are more common is irrelevant. I love English just as much as the next person, but in my view it doesn't deserve its international status. In the worst case scenario, I'm also a raging colonialist.

Of course, the genuine global language is maths, Esperanto aside. It's automatically included in every basic education programme worldwide. I've even been used it to communicate with students on a few occasions. Today, I was grading a stack of 3rd year work. They had to translate a passage from Japanese and part of the sample answer was, 'When we name things we bring them into existence'. I thought it was a pretty difficult, not to mention philosophical passage for a translation exercise but how and ever..the vast majority of students wrote something like, 'When we name things we bring them out of nothing and give them life'.

I assume this is a direct translation from Japanese, since so many students said it exactly. I began crossing this out and writing the sample answers instead, but the issue of explaining the correction loomed. Obviously, there aren't two different verbs corresponding to 'live' and 'exist' in Japanese, so how do we explain the difference without using complicated English? I ended up drawing this picture on their worksheets:

I have to admit that I hesitated before including Harry Potter, but I was unsure whether they'd have encountered the fact that the roots of negative integers are imaginary on their high school maths course. I don't think I encountered it until college. Fortunately, I was confident that they would have seen Venn diagrams. Also, thank God for that other international reference point, the boy who lived.

This was actually the second solution I came up with. I was unsatisfied with the first, which involved drawing 'there exists' and 'there does not exist' signs. I thoroughly doubt the students have encountered these yet.
Unfortunately, I do still draw them when a student tries to pluralise a word which has the same singular and plural form, by adding an s. Common blunders are 'persons', 'informations' and 'knowledges'. It's so much faster to write 'there does not exist' 'informations' than explain my marking otherwise!
I expected the JTEs to ask questions about the diagrams and random figures I usually draw all over the students work, but none have. I can only conclude that either they a) give it straight back to students without glancing at it, b) glance at it, follow it and think it's a grand way to give feedback, or c) they glance at it, wonder what it's about and are too embarrassed/not bothered enough to ask me. I'm voting for a) or c).

After my bout of necessary Venn diagram drawing today, I began Venn diagram doodling. I call this 'levels of reality', because I've just recalled that you're supposed to label Venn diagrams.

Interestingly, the outside is intimately related to the inside because it's humans, with imagination who make up imaginary things. Like J.K. Rowling inventing Harry Potter, or whichever mathmagician started playing with imaginary roots. This seems to imply that the 2 dimensional diagram is not properly conveying the information. Maybe if we folded it into a doughnut...hmm...

I miss you maths!

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