Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Set phrases

A friend of ours / came round / the other evening / and / it took us ages / to get rid of him.

The man who wrote that sentence on the blackboard (yes, this was a long time ago) during a teacher-training weekend gave me a fine piece of weaponry in the battle to teach English to foreign learners. I stole his idea - we called it eclecticism in those days - and drummed that sentence and a hundred like it into the heads of generations of young folk. I like to think that even today in Zurich or Stuttgart or Toulouse there are ageing bank managers and tooth doctors and masseuses who, at the drop of an idiom, can talk about a friend of theirs and about it taking ages to get from here to there and how they'd love to get rid of dandruff, etc.
It was a new idea but the methodology was as old as Moses: to commit to memory sentences containing whole phrases which, individually, did not yield easily to analysis. Go on, mock if you wish, but it worked. And if you are a teacher of English as a foreign language, please eclect.

Envoi: the writing of this piece was provoked by discovering two of my old workbooks from the nineteen-sixties, their pages creased and yellowed just like me, but full of happy memories and good stuff. Just like me.

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