Recent `improvements` in Arkaweet at Oxfudge Internal Nepotism (OIN, K, S), Khartoum, Sudan, include a stud`nt inspired move to replace the Academic Director with a talking bird. Innovations at a local Universe City where English words are screamed at audiences of upwards of 300 stud`nts through a megaphone for several hours each day `in the hope that some will stick` are said to have persuaded some at OIN, K, S, to suggest that a parrot would be of more use than Dr Rusher `in imparting useful words in English` said a spoke stud`nt.
Currently stud`nts are thought to be attempting to smuggle test papers out of the institution because of `someone we know at Universe City`. Apparently a new method of assessing papers has been developed guaranteeing examinees 95% success in any and all questions by the simple expedient of awarding them 0.0006789 marks for each correct letter in any combination found anywhere whatsoever on the paper submitted for marking. Assessors at the Universe City guarantee that such statements as `dsfgrty bnefwat` will result in at least 70% of the utterance described as being approved of `academic worth and merit`.
Imagine my surprise, then, upon learning that Dsfgrty Bnefwat is the real name of the Sudanese Minister for `Educating and Motorized Perambulators`! My heartfelt congratulations on being the only country I am aware of that has `prams for men`. It`s clearly a women`s success story here. Recognize that men are infantile and never allow them to leave their prams. Simply equip the baby carriage with a lawnmower motor and – voila! – instant permanent regression to pramhood. And it would be the mind of a lunatic that could expect the owners of these in no way pushchairs to grasp the concept of `road use`. Tooling around causing endless accidents with no blame attached can become a life`s path. Simply show the traffic cop your baby teeth and all is forgiven. `I`m sorry officer but my mother never let me out of my pram.` The perfect excuse for reckless driving. `I don`t have a car.` It must be the mistake of the other person. The motor vehicle was to blame. No other was involved. I don’t have one. `Yes sir. Very sorry sir.` agrees the policeman afraid of the likely headline in the local paper `PRAM HITS LORRY, BABY ARRESTED`.
`Sam Bow` blazes the legend on one such vehicular fantasia. Well, so long as it’s you Sam. Another even styles himself `Baby`. They know. You see? Collaborators in our scorn. We are co-conspirers they are telling us. And oh so not fooled by you with your `political correctness` and UN cool looks. Having presumably survived cot death it’s tacitly agreed by the pramenader cognoscenti that it’s safer to remain beneath the pram’s hood having made it thus far and, with painted-on death’s-heads-a-plenty as a memento mori of those that didn’t make it out of the cot, these baby buggy conventioneers buzz and fart purposively around us while we peer hesitantly inward at them as if to reassure ourselves that the arrested developer beneath the hood of the pram is still continuing to emerge stealthily.
Sudanese women have my great admiration for this. In training their babies to maintain into adulthood their own prams they have taken the art of belittling their male offspring into the realms of Scientific Romance. I am rapt. But please don’t inveigle me with tales of Sudanese street sadness and the culture of the dayglo motor tricycle with pram add-ons as if it were an integral part of the `scene`. It’s Woman’s car joke on men. Why do they let themselves be driven around in a joke car? Secret laughter.
In order to obtain a language degree, of course, it’s thought to be usual that one leaves one’s pram to do so. Back at the Universe City more ambulatory babies are reported to be worried that they may have to do more than look moistly and far away when the topic of `books in English` are mentioned. The tactic was in fact recently employed by a candidate for a teaching position at OIN, K, S, where the infamously pedantic Dr Rusher invited the interviewee to name a writer. Eventually, after much glistening of optic equipment and staring deeply away, the applicant hit on the appellation `Chickens` and went on to belabor the good doctor with the weighty title of the fictional tome `Greet Eggs Pecked Dalmatians`.
Fears at OIN, K, S, over perhaps having to write words down have in fact resulted in the parakeet that had been put forward as `the most likely to replace Dr Rusher` being shot and stuffed. Stud`nts, however, finding the bird to be `still too bright` took it off into the garden to have its feathers removed while they discussed the possibilities of employing a pre-recorded `voice-over` for the former `learning by repetition` expert. The additional benefits of this measure became clearer when it was discovered that the stud`nts had decided to also have pre-written responses prepared - though judging by a taped sample there remains still some doubt over whether they can produce `words on paper` in some way relatable to the requirements of the taped material, and thereby perform the requisite `matching exercise`.
A Tape sample:
Parroting English with Dr Rusher
Side 1 Lesson 1 `Talking at Cross Purposes`
Supposed West African parrot: `Polly put the kettle on. Polly put the kettle on…`
Stud`nt: `Where in England do you from?`
Supposed West African parrot: `Suky take it off again. Suky take it off again…`
Stud`nt: `Ah! Then I have no further interest in you.`
Supposed West African parrot: `We’ll all have tea. We’ll all have tea…`
Stud`nt: `All English is drink tea!`
Supposed West African parrot: `I rather prefer coffee actually [squAWk!].`
Stud`nt: `Here is no liquids. All gone. Far from this place. Many miles we travel. I may take you. Fifty dinar. No! More!`
Supposed West African parrot: `They’ve all gone away! They’ve all gone away..!`
One stud`nt, much ridiculed at the time by his fellows, but obviously – at least to me - an expert in Universe City exam technique, had written in his test paper, even italicizing the correct form of the verb `to be`, in the sentence `What is the capital of England?` The conundrum he’d been given to solve had been `What is the capital of England?` As is customary at the Universe City here I awarded him full marks for being able to memorize such a complicated series of alien hieroglyphs. And for reminding me that I’d forgotten and felt obliged to him for being prompted into remembering that the capital of England is of course Austerlitz.
Quite often I’m launched into a lengthy explanation of some tedious point of grammar only for the satisfaction of seeing a stud`nt collapsed and defeated because they’d sought to prove their educator didn’t know his own language. `We know English.` I was informed by a future Cockwise graduate. `Yes I know you’re not.` I returned. Entering into the spirit of the game of `beat the teacher` (with the nearest handy stick if poss) I felt.
One has to thwart constantly I find. You know those mixed up sentences `Are you how?` And the stud`nt that gets it wrong. `How you are?` So you have, in all conscience and conscientiousness, to write it out for them. `How are you?` And how furious they are because you know the answers. But help is at hand for both teachers tired of answering the questions themselves and stud`nts trying to get the teacher to answer the questions for them.
New proven research by National Geographic indicates that only the first and last letters of any written word are actually needed for the eye to recognize and understand so long as all of the other letters are present. If, for example, the stud`nts` dead parrot should appear to parrot (thanks to the cassette provided) the word `responsibility`, all the stud`nt has to do is get the first and last letters correct – roipsniebitsly - and the jumble and mish-mash will be accounted as of being PhD standard material by National Geographic.
Doubtless stud`nts will next only be required to place a tick in the box next to the puzzling `Are you how?` in recognition that all of the words needed to make a complete sentence are present. It is thought that, although the Sphinx will probably keep its riddle, stud`nt difficulties in writing the number two as `tow` will later be resolved by such and similar research by major thinkers attempting to resolve the problem of giving stud`nts marks for nothing at all.
Some recently arriving teachers will of course have been puzzled by the constant barrage from small street children shouting `Who are you?` It is the opinion of this scribbler that originally they’d been taught to politely say `How are you?` upon meeting an acquaintance, but that subsequent contact with Englishness resulting in merely the declaration `Fine, thank you.` has resulted in frustration and some angst over not being understood well enough. Clearly the words are meant to mean `Please explain the impact of the Industrial Revolution on Western Europe and the role of the United States as a democracy up until the beginning of the Third Millennium.`
Nowadays, of course, our pleasant phrase has degenerated into a demand. The seemingness of `How are you?` discovered in the mouths of locals quickly giving way to the seethingness of `Who are you?` And, inevitably, unintelligibility, and threats. This Englishman was perfunctorily asked about his madness by one of two apparent weightlifters while he sat recuperating from the midday sun upon a wall. `I’m fine.` I replied. `Who you are?` he continued. Obviously a failed level three candidate I mused while I deliberated on a suitably noncommittal yet polite reply. `I’m not going to tell you who I am.` I decided to tell him. `Why for do you come?` he remonstrated with me. I strolled nonchalantly off and left the phrase `For pleasure.` hanging mildly between us.
I suspect he remained angered by my incomprehensibility. Which of course is entirely the point. Parroting and parrots can only make for lack of communication and conflict unless at least one of the parties to the dialogue is understanding about it. Naturally one cannot comprehend being mugged. And two of my teachers have experienced that too. It could be argued that this is why we are here. [ - to be mugged? – ed.] To improve communication and prevent misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and to improve through head chuck occasions the possibilities open to people so that crime becomes a less attractive proposition. [ - oh - hum – ed.] I, personally, don’t buy into that. Come in. Sit down. Open your books. Open your ears. I’ll teach you a few things. That’s all.
There’ll be new teachers arriving soon but the stud`nts are already prepared. They’re reported to be once again taking their placards to the airport. As Mr Blitherland embarks for pastures new it seems that he’ll be given the traditional `English Go Home` send off from the stud`nts who, old hands at this and used to the singular turnover of `native speakers` at OIN, K, S, are fully prepared to show the obverse inscription `Welcome English` on their placards should an arrival on the next plane attempt to surprise them.
It’s rather a sore point with me actually. I expect native speakers to represent cargo cults in the South Seas where one such still worship Americans as gods because of the good things like Coca-Cola and Hershey bars the USA brought with them during WWII. I speak English because I’m an Englishman and Canadians speak English because they used to be. It’s feasible that an Australian could be found speaking Urdu or that an American may be unearthed for whom Latin is his mother tongue but I’d venture that neither are likely to be seeking a TEFL position. It might be argued that large numbers of Americans speak Spanish. I don’t mind. They’re not likely to be wanting to teach me English. The phrase `native speaker` arises from a basic lack of knowledge about geography, demographics and history. You have to tell some people where Canada is. It would be asking a lot for them to also know what language it speaks. Often they’re too dumb to realize that it is the English that speak English. But I am an English speaker, not a native speaker. I don’t speak `native`, I speak English. Having said that, I fully anticipate our latest native speaking English teacher will arrive saying `Accommodation I no want share.` And he’ll be a Polynesian from Bromley.
Dr Parrot 20th Apri