Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Intercourse and Erections

No, it's not what you think.

A colleague was working on summary writing with her class. She asked the students to discuss their favourite leisure activity. Many Chinese students will not discuss a topic without first checking their dictionary aps at length, often in mid conversation. As this is extremely trying for the listener, it is discouraged or forbidden in most classes - a ban difficult to enforce in a large group. Anyway, after the students had discussed their preferred activities in pairs, the teacher asked one or two to tell the whole class what they like to do in their spare time.

A Chinese female student says 'intercourse.'

'Sorry, did I hear that right?

'Yes, intercourse. I enjoy it very much here. It's not the same in my country.'


'My country, no time for intercourse, but here even strangers doing intercourse, specially in the pub. I like very much.'

You, dear reader, have understood by now that she had looked up 'socialising' in Chinese and chosen the wrong word from the list of decontextualised items her dictionary proposed. How my colleague dealt with the matter her e-mail (from which I took the exchange above) doesn't say. I'm not sure how I would have handled it either. 'You've just told a large group of near strangers that you really enjoy a good fuck, sweetheart. Do you want that to stand or would you like to amend the statement now?' Universities are prudish and censorious places these days, deeply into censorship and repression in the name of diversity and inclusion. To correct the error might be seen as 'lexis-shaming' or 'connotational colonialism' or something.

A while ago I was teaching a group of Chinese students language for presentations. Such phrases as 'moving on now' and 'I'd like to turn now to...' are known as 'signposts'. I drew a signpost on the whiteboard and asked if anyone knew the English word. My question, as usual, met silence. Then one timid young lady offered:

'An erection?'

Saturday, 15 October 2016

By the way,

I need to point out to my new Taiwanese student that in English, we put given name first and family name last. This way 'Hung Dennis', as he signs himself, will avoid overselling himself on campus. I also have a Queen Wang. So fancy that.


I'm teaching a module on research methods for our TEFL MA. I have not done this before and was afraid of being shown up as less than omniscient - see blog title. The first two sessions with a group of extraordinarily enthusiastic people went well. I could congratulate myself for successfully stimulating and moderating some very lively debate. I do, sometimes. But most of the time I feel more like I put up enough front to fool everybody, and got away with it.


HR sent me a form to complete for my contract. There were sections requesting information about one's religion and sexual orientation and these annoyed me, as it seems to me that neither is relevant to any of the teaching I do and therefore nobody's bloody business. Back in the 80s I would have ticked the box 'Gay Man' with pride and probably highlighted it in pink. Of course nobody would have attempted to elicit the information then; it was necessary for us to be in-your-face about it to dispel the miasma of prejudice and lies about those of us who are homosexually inclined. I now agree with the view expressed by Gore Vidal thirty-odd years ago that gay and homosexual should be adjectives to describe acts rather than nouns to designate people. I'm a gay man only when having it away with another man in reality or fantasy and 'gay' does not apply in any other circumstance. HR is basically asking what makes my cock stiff, and they can fuck off.

I am reluctantly and resentfully ploughing through a compulsory on-line 'training' course in diversity and some other-buzz word that temporarily escapes me. Along with some useful stuff pertaining to the law, there is an intolerable deal of poker-faced piety. You are asked if you think it's OK to shake a student's hand. I don't know what the university's official position on hand shaking is: maybe these days it counts as 'inappropriate touching'. But when you work with people from Saudi Arabia or Algeria and quite a few other countries, you could give offense by not shaking their hands, so it depends. Context doesn't appear to matter to the designers of this course, though. They want to know if you think it's OK to make jokes about someone's sexual orientation. Well, again, it depends. Who's making the joke? What is the joker's relationship to the one at the receiving end of the joke? Is it a good joke? Obviously if you want to pass the course, you cannot say what you think. You will have to whip out the sal volatile and flute 'gracious me, no, whatever next?' This small measure of self-censorship grates on me and I fear an even greater degree of tongue-holding may soon be required of us if university students over here become as censorious and irrational as the ones in this nauseating video from Canada.


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