12 July 2011

English Is a Disease: Catch It!

From a previous life. Intended for ESL students. Part one of a trilogy. 

Remember SARS? From one apartment block in Hong Kong with dirty water slopping floor to floor, a killer disease spread around Asia and the world. It was in the newspapers every day, and everyone talked about it all the time.

English Corner at Taipei City Hall's Department of Information is that apartment building in Hong Kong. But it's clean. And there's no dirty water or sickness here—just great English. At English Corner, we speak great English, listen to great English, and write great English. English is the disease, and we're giving it to people every day.

Think about it. Diseases are bad—they make you tired, unhappy, and dead. But English is good. It makes you smart and interesting, and it can't kill you. Languages and diseases spread the same way: from person to person. Someone with a cold coughs on you, you catch a cold. Someone with good English speaks to you, you catch that, too. Lucky!

It will start slowly, but everyone in Taipei will catch the English. First, a few visitors to English Corner will catch the English. They'll talk with each other, and their English will get stronger. Then, those people will take the English back to their departments at City Hall. Without knowing it, they will pass it to their colleagues. And in all those offices, the English will begin to grow.

Soon, every part of Taipei City Hall will have caught the English. We'll be giving it to thousands of new people every day. The newspapers will take note: "Hey, City Hall's got the English—where did they get it?" The high school teachers will perk up: "City Hall's got the English—we want it, too." People all over—in Kaohsiung, Tokyo, and Seoul—will be looking at Taipei, asking, "How can we catch the English?"

Every day you pass by English Corner you can grab a new piece of English. The place is like a barbecue with all its delicious verbs and nouns sizzling and smoking. Pick one up and pop it in your mouth. Better yet, pick one up and pop it in your friend's mouth.

07 July 2011

English Is a Shirt: Iron It!

From a previous life. Intended for ESL students. Part two of a trilogy.

We all know the world is getting warmer and warmer. We drive in cars, we eat tasty hamburgers, we go to Julia Roberts movies. All the while, the big pieces of ice that cover the North and South Poles are getting smaller and smaller. They are melting.

Global warming will give us some problems. Every time you turn on the TV, Bangladeshis will be crying. The oceans will get higher, and we will have more floods and heat waves, typhoons and hurricanes. While this is happening, remember one important thing—you need a clean and wrinkle-free shirt.

The English language is that shirt. Think about it: when you are ironing it, you can whistle a happy tune. Everything is right in the world. English is the same: when you are learning it, your worry about other things flies away.

Ironing shirts is complicated, and English is complicated, too. On a shirt, you have to be careful around the buttons. They require skill. English grammar is just like that. Once, at a party, I tried to use the simple past (I ate a pickle) but instead used the future perfect progressive (I will have been eating a pickle). What a mistake! Everyone looked at me with hard eyes. But when they did, all they saw was my great-looking shirt—and they smiled.

Global warming is beyond your control. Can you reduce how much garbage you produce or pollution you create? No one can. Instead, worry about the things you can improve: your shirt and your English. The United Nations will do the rest.