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向学习英语者讲话 Hints for Learners of English(英语部分手动输入版)


What to Read
Suppose you have two friends, A and B, both of whom have been learning English for some years. Both are clever young men, and both are anxious to acquire a good knowledge of the language. But now they have got very different results from the several years of study: A can write short letters and read easy news items but cannot read any passage in the classics, while B can read here and there in some classics but cannot write short letters or read easy news items. Reader, which of your two friends would you prefer to be like? I believe you would prefer to be like A rather than B. You should. I am sorry to find that among Chinese learners of English there seem to be more like B than like A. The trouble lies chiefly in what is read. Well, what do you read? I mean to ask what you take as your chief reading matter. Is it a novel or a volume of essays written more than a hundred years ago? If it is, my advice to you is to change it for something else. Your chief reading matter must have been written far less than a hundred years ago, a few weeks ago if possible, must have been written in simple English, and must have been written by an English man or an American. I am not going to give a list of books here. But I think I have to make some general marks. Your chief reading matter need not be a literary masterpiece. Nor need it be written by a famous author. A volume of short pieces of narration or exposition is better than a novel or some long argumentative essays. You must have noted that in the above I have talked about only what your chief reading matter should be. You have a book or two for your chief reading matter. You should also read something else, which may be a little more difficult, but which still had better not be a classic of more than a hundred years ago.

Reading Aloud
Do you ever read aloud? The chances are that you do not now read aloud. You used to read aloud when you were a small child. But you ceased to read aloud after fourteen or fifteen. If I?m not mistaken, among certain boys and girls late in their teens reading aloud is now a lost art. You may protest, “What if I were to read aloud, when I do not read aloud and yet understand?” Well, much would come of reading aloud. Reading aloud helps you to learn by heart, and learning by heart is essential to all who aim at writing well. Reading aloud helps you to cultivate good pronunciation and intonation, and good pronunciation and good intonation are essential to

all language learners. Reading aloud helps you to discover certain beauties of language that you may fail to see in your silent reading. Unless you read aloud, you cannot learn to write naturally or to appreciate literature. And I think that it is partly because they do not read aloud that many Chinese learners of English cannot read poetry. A certain English man of letters has said that a poem is not a poem until it is read; and evidently by “read” he means read aloud. A poem is something to read aloud. There are many poems that you may learn to like and enjoy by reading them aloud, though you find several difficult points in them. On the other hand, you may understand a poem merely as understand a piece of matter-of-fact prose, if you do not read it aloud. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, for example, is a very beautiful poem. But its beauty depends largely upon its wonderful music. Below is its first stanza. Try first to read it silently as though it were a business letter and then to read it aloud, and compare the two impressions. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “Tis some visitors”, I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door” Only this and nothing more”

Can You Read Englishmen’s English?
I have heard several people tell me that in reading English-language newspapers they find Chinese news far easier to read than foreign news, and that they are often at a loss to discover the meaning of even a very short piece of news from some little town in England or America. I also feel that there are many who can read without much difficulty articles written by Chinese on Chinese subjects but cannot read those written by Englishmen on English subjects. The trouble with such people is that while they have acquired a knowledge of the English language, they have not learnt much about the English mind, the English character, English life, the English traditions, and so forth. They have not got, so to speak, the spirit of the language. Imagine a man who knows several thousand Han characters and a great deal of Han syntax and yet is entirely ignorant of the Chinese mind, the Chinese character, etc. Do you think this man could read even the ordinary Han-language newspaper and general literature in Han? Reader, do you think you are among those who know English but as a rule find great difficulty in reading Englishmen?s English? I am afraid you are. I would advise you to read as much as possible in general English literature and to cultivate the habit of thinking in English. I would also advise you to

read some concise history of England and commit to memory every bit of knowledge about English life and thought that you may find in reading or study.

What Kind of English? There are English English, American English, American English, Scotch American, Irish American, and other kinds of American. Examples: ”half past three” is English American, “half after three” is American English, “bairn” is Scotch English, “I am after having my dinner” is Irish English, “nor gold nor silver” is archaic English, “Thank you for same” is business English, and “I don?t know nobody here” is vulgar English. Advanced learners of English ought to pay attention to such details, and I think they will find it very interesting to go to subject. But every learner of English is not an advanced one. I call it foolish of one to attempt the subject before one has acquired the ability to speak, read and write English as it is used by the average educated Englishman or American of today. One has yet much to learn before one can be properly called an advanced learner of English so long as one cannot read the news or cannot express oneself intelligibly to Englishmen or Americans in speaking and writing. By “English as it is used by the average educated Englishman or American” I mean everyday idiomatic English. It is practical, if that means actually used but not if that means specially adapted to Chinese psychology. I have to mention this because it seems that many Chinese students have the mistaken idea that while what is written about things Chinese is practical, what is written about foreign is not practical. The fact is, however, that, one cannot master English – that is, what I call practical English – by reading about things Chinese only. I would advise those who are in the habit of confining themselves to Chinese news when reading newspapers in English, to give up the habit.

The Question of Background If your reading in English is not confined to things written by Chinese about Chinese life – I hope it is not – you must often meet with difficulties quite apart from the meaning of words and phrases. These difficulties arise from what I call for want of a better term the background of English, which I believe deserves the attention of all learners of English – all but those who do not care to read anything in English that is not written by Chinese writers on Chinese subjects. By the background of English I mean the sum total of all points other than linguistic that are quite natural to those born to the language and

brought up on it. For example, the name Grub Street – a London street (now called Milton Street) formerly much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems and so giving rise to its use as an epithet referring to literary hackwork. The subject is indeed a very large one. It includes history, geography, mythology, the Bible, characters and facts in fiction, proverbs, customs, games and sports, superstitions, and other things. And in order to understand fully the works of any author, one needs to possess as much knowledge of these things as he does. This is practically impossible with the average Chinese learner of English. What I think must be considered carefully is what parts of the background of English are more important and how they may be made available to Chinese learners so as to enable them to read general literature in English. Would you like to acquire such a knowledge?

Books on English and Books in English “On” and “in” – well, there is often a wide difference between these two little words. A book on English is one that deals with the English language; a book in English is one that is written in the English language. The former may be written in Han, French, German, or any other language; the latter may deal with any subject under the sun. Books on English are intended for learners of the language; and it is very gratifying to note that for more such books are now available than fifty years ago or more. I myself have written several, and am glad to say that I often receive letters telling of their usefulness to learners of English. But I must give a word of warning here. Language is not an exact science, nor a mere matter of principle, rules, exceptions, definitions, formulas, and diagrams. Books on English are helpful, but no one can master English by reading such book only. Perhaps the very fact of there being so many such books today accounts for the frequency with which we meet with people who can talk and write about English without being able to talk and write it. This is due to their ignorance of the fact that without wide and careful reading the mastery of English is impossible. I would advise all learners of English to devote more time to reading books in English and less time to reading books on English. What book in English are you reading? Is it a book of stories or essays or travel sketches? Or is it a biography or a diary or merely a textbook of history or geography? Well, if you happen to spend your days and nights on books on English, it is time you acted on my warning.

An Easy Sentence to Study

Before reading on, please consider the following sentence: “They cannot see enough of each other”. What do you think this sentence means? Well, please consider and consider before reading one. This is a very easy sentence, indeed, and I think every English or American schoolboy or schoolgirl understands it. In fact, it occurs in a story-book for children. But I have been asked to explain it by a young man who, so far as I can see, has been learning English earnestly for years and has acquired a fair knowledge of grammar and a fairly large vocabulary. Why, after all, did the young man fail to understand this short sentence? My answer is that it is because its way of expression does not have its corresponding way in our own language. There are many ways of expression in English that have no corresponding ways in Han. These are puzzling to most Chinese learners of English. The above-quoted sentence means that the two persons love each other so dearly that though they see each other often, they think they see each other but seldom. By the way, the of in the sentence also deserves attention. “See enough of each other” means see each other often enough. “See much of you” means see you often. In your reading you will do well to pay special attention to those ways of expression for which you do not find corresponding ways in Han. This will help you both in reading and writing. I am sorry to find that many Chinese learners do not realize the importance of doing this, with the result that while they can read English by Chinese authors and write long and tolerably grammatical essays, yet they may not be able to understand an Englishman?s social letter thoroughly or write a short paragraph in purely idiomatic English.

What dose “Would of Come” Mean? Once a young man found the expression “would of come” in a magazine and asked me to explain it. Do you understand it, reader? Have you ever seen such expression as “would of come”, “should of gone”, “might of done”, “could of learnt”, “ought to of known”? You may or may not have seen such expressions. They are not uncommon in short stories and dramas. But grammars do not usually mention them. So I am afraid that you do not understand them. You think they are simply ungrammatical. Well, they are ungrammatical. But there are many ungrammatical expressions that are worth to knowing. You ought to learn to use English correctly. But you ought as well to learn to understand the incorrect

expressions that are common among Englishmen or Americans. It is partly owing to their ignorance of such incorrect expressions that many Chinese learners can parse and analyse well without being able to read a single page in an English-language magazine published in England or America. Substitute “have “ for the “of” in each of the abovementioned expressions, and you will understand what it means. “Why is ?of? used instead of ?have??” you may ask. Well, the mistake is but natural. In “would have”, “should have”, etc., the “have” is unemphatic and is often pronounced like the unemphatic “of”. On the other hand, the “have” in “I have it” is emphatic, and such a sentence as “I of it” is never spoken or written. Need I add that “of” used instead of “have” is always wrong and that you should not use “would of”, “should of”, etc. in your own writing? There are many mistakes that are common among Englishmen or Americans but from which we Chinese are absolutely free. As I have said, you ought to understand them, but you ought not to adopt them as ornaments of style.

“More Presently” A friend of mine called my attention to what he called a mistake in a biographical sketch of a literary man: the name of a person followed by “of whom more presently”. In fact, there is no mistake at all in the expression. “More presently” is elliptical for “more will be said presently”. My friend did not know this idiomatic ellipsis, having apparently taken “more” to be adverb modifying “presently” and thought a subject and verb ought to have been supplied so as to make a complete clause. Equipped with a knowledge of grammar, Chinese learners of English are apt to think they are quite able to read general literature without much difficulty so long as they have a good dictionary within reach. What is more, they are too ready to dismiss as wrong any combination of words that does not seem to him to be capable of grammatical analysis. Important as grammar is, there are many turns of expression that are generally considered blameless English though they not quite defensible form a narrowly grammatical point of view. So that the mastery of English grammar in its narrow sense dose not enable one so much as to read English intelligently. When you come across in good writing any construction that you do not find grammatical, I would advise you to note it down instead of calling it a mistake, and to see if you will not meet with a similar one in your reading. You will very soon, perhaps, and then you will most likely understand the construction.

Double Negatives in Current English An English editor of a famous classic says in his notes to the book: “Double negatives in Elizabethan grammar amount, not to an assertion as they do in current English, but to an emphatic negation”. It is true that in Elizabethan literature, a double negatives amounts to an emphatic negation, rather than to an assertion, as the man in the street may think. Thus, “I don?t want nothing” is only an emphatic form for I don’t want anything or I want nothing. This sounds quite unreasonable, but it is the fact. What I wish to tell you is that this unreasonable fact is not peculiar to Elizabethan literature. It exists at present. Double negatives used as an emphatic assertion may be said to be found in current English, unless by current English is meant English current among educated people along. Have you ever found such double negatives in your reading, reader? I believe you have, if you have read a modern novel or drama or short story. I do not want you to use this unreasonable construction (I want you to talk and write like an educated person). But I believe every learner of English should know it. There are several English usages that every learner of English should know, but which many, or even most, Chinese learners do not know, because they are not to be understood by means of mere logic and are not to be found in ordinary grammars. The double negative is one of them.

About the Study of Grammar I have been told by more than one bookseller that, here in China, so far as books on English are concerned, grammars sell better than other kinds of books except readers and dictionaries. And it seems to me that nearly every Chinese who learns English at all reads a grammar. I myself am a serious student of grammar; I have read I cannot tell how many English grammar books, by Chinese, English, American, Japanese, Danish and Dutch authors, and am always on the look-out for new ones. The object of this article, however, is to advise you not to devote too much time to the study of grammar. I study grammar for grammar?s sake, but I do not think every student of English should do so. You study English in order to be able to make practical use of it. This object is not to be attained by mere study of grammar. I do not even think I should now be able to write such simple English as that of this book if I have read nothing but grammars. Grammar tells you some general rules, some exceptions to rules, and perhaps some idioms. But the correct use of English is not a mere matter of such. For example, grammar has what is called the double object, as in “He gave her a pen”; but it would be wrong to say “He introduced her a friend”,

in which “her” and “friend” seem to form the double object. The fact is that “introduce” cannot take the double object; but this point is not to be learnt from grammar but only from careful reading. Many Chinese students write sentences that might be justified by one grammatical rule or another but are certainly wrong. I believe you have already read a few grammars, and probably have spent a great deal of time on the subject, though you may not now be able to write anything – say a short letter – grammatically prefect. Grammar may help you to use English, but only to a certain extent. Do not look on the study of grammar as all or nearly all that you have to do in order to master English. Careful reading and constant practice are far more important.

Knowing Just Enough Grammar to Go Wrong Many Chinese learners of English know just enough grammar to go wrong. “It seems I have seen such an expression several times”, they say to themselves, “but surely it is not grammatical. I must alert it so as to make it grammatical.” Their narrowly grammatical conscience, however, often causes them to change idiomatic English into unidiomatic English. For example, they may find “The boy acts contrary to his parents? wishes” ungrammatical, and to make the sentence grammatical change the “contrary” into “contrarily” – with the result that the sentence would not read like an English sentence to an Englishman. It is true that from a narrowly grammatical point of view, the adjective contrary here should be replaced with the adverb “contrarily”. But idiom has decided that the adjective is the word required here, and idiom there is no disputing. (Perhaps it would be better to say that here idiom insists on the use of the adverb “contrary” instead of the adverb “contrarily”.) There are several forms of expression that are purely idiomatic and do not admit of grammatical analysis. The word “busy”, for example, may be used immediately before a gerund looking like a participle, as in “He is busy writing letters”. In your reading, reader, take care to note down those idiomatic constructions that you do not find grammatical enough. Commit them to memory and try to use them in your writing. Above all, remember that you may happen to be one of those who, as I said in the above, know just enough grammar to go wrong. You must not think, however, that idiom and grammar are always incompetibles. What is idiomatic is far more often grammatical than ungrammatical. I mean simply that not every idiomatic construction is grammatically explainable, nor is every strictly grammatical construction idiomatic.

The Language Is the Main Thing When you read a story in English, do you read it for the story or for the English? This is a question that is not so foolish as it may seem. For I find that many English learners pay more attention to the story than to the English. They read and enjoy and for a long time afterwards remember the story, but do not care to study the use of words and phrases in it. For instance, they keep in the memory how the mystery of the eternal triangle is solved, but do not remember a single sentence in the story and cannot tell what preposition is used before or after a certain word in the speech of a certain character. Of course, it is all right to read and enjoy and remember a story, and so long as one wants to know the story only, one need not bother about the language. But the case is quite different with a learner of English. I mean a student of English as distinguished from a student of stories or what is called the general reader. Whatever a learner of English reads, he should, in my opinion, regard the language as the main thing. For instance, on reading this preceding sentence, besides understanding its meaning, he should notice such points as the concessive use of “whatever”, “in my opinion”, “regard…as…” and “the main thing”. In this way, he does learn some English though what he reads may happen to be otherwise uninteresting or uninstructive. It may safely be said that this is a far better way of learning English composition that to read and consider the so-called principles of the subject.

Logic and Usage What do you think is the real meaning of the often quoted line from Shakespeare “All that glisters is not gold”? The strict sense would be that glistering proves a substance to be not gold. But the real sense is that glistering does not necessarily prove a substance to be gold. In other words, the proverb should, logically speaking, be “Not all that glisters is gold”. But Shakespeare wrote in the illogical way, and this illogical construction is not now uncommon. For example, if you hear an Englishman say “All my friends do not know the Han language”, you must not understand him to mean that all his friends are ignorant of Han. He may very well imply that most of his friends can speak and write it very well. This is indeed illogical. There are Englishmen who do not use this construction and fall foul of those who do. Probably it will pass away in time, for logic has time on its side. But it is natural and idiomatic English today, and I think every learner of English should know it. There are a number of other illogicalities in English that are quite idiomatic. Please read the first sentence of the second paragraph of this article again. Perhaps you will think that “is not now uncommon” is not so good as

“is now not uncommon” would be. According to logic, indeed, “not” ought to modify “uncommon” instead of “now”. But according to idiom “is not now uncommon” is more usual. With the word “only”, illogical and idiomatic constructions are also common. An Englishman may say “I only arrived only a few days ago. As I have said, logic has time on its side. But how many years the English language will take to become a perfectly logical speech!

Something Unnatural H. G. Wells calls Sinclair Lewis?s Babbitt “one of the greatest novels I have read for a long time”. I do not think Wells has ever believed it possible for his remark to be misunderstood. Indeed, it is very simple and very clear, and perhaps no Englishman or American would ever think it capable of a meaning other than the real one. But a Chinese learner of English, who reads and writes English carefully enough, has recently told me of his imperfect understanding of this remark. “Why for a long time?” he said. “I simply cannot understand what Wells thinks the greatness of a novel has to do with the length of the time he has spent reading it.” The learner misunderstood Wells?s remark. As a matter of fact, the critic does not mean to say how much time he has ever devoted to reading any novel. The remark might be paraphrased as: “For a long time past I have read many novels, some of them being great ones. Babbitt is one of the greatest.” The learner, being a careful one, doubted whether he was not somehow twisting Wells?s words. I should fancy that he would have eventually got the right meaning even if he had not asked me. Chinese learners of English often misunderstand or fail to understand a group of simple words put together in a simple way. My advice is to stop to think again when you find something unnatural in an expression. That something is perhaps not in the expression itself but in your interpretation of it.

A Good Knowledge of Bad English So many books and persons profess to teach good English! But none profess to teach bad English. I am almost sure that anyone who should advertise lessons in bad English would be called crazy and would get no pupils at all. Nor do I think you have ever thought of learning it. Perhaps you think that bad English is not worth learning, and that the English of the average Chinese learner of the language is bed enough without his ever making any effort to learn to be bad. Well, please read the following story: An old Negro approached a white man in a Southern town and asked:

“Marse Tom, you ain?t seed anything of dat ole mule of mine, is you?” “Why no, Henry, I haven?t seen that mule. Have you lost it?” “Well, Ah doan know ef Ah?ve lost him or not, but he is shore “nuff gone.” “Henry, I think the best way you can find that mule would be to put a want ad in the paper for him.” “Shucks! Dat wouldn?t do no good, Marse Tom.” “Why not?” “Why, Marse Tom, you all know puffickly well dat dat mule cain?t read.” Do you understand the Negro?s speech without the help of my notes? If not, you have not got much knowledge of bad English, and I hope you realize that as a student of English you ought to get more of it. By bad English I mean English as used by English-speaking persons who somehow do not use good English. It may be called illiterate or uncultured English. It is not found in formal writing, but is very common in modern fiction and drama and in the writing and speech of uneducated English-speaking persons. It is quite different from your English, which, if it is bad, is bed in the Chinese way, so to speak. Bad English means bad grammar, bad spelling, bad usage, and bad pronunciation. All these things form an interesting and useful study. Without a good knowledge of these, one will miss much in modern literature and will fail to understand any uneducated Englishman or American one man have occasion to have anything to do with.

Reading Dictionaries At the very sight of this title you would perhaps say to yourself, “Only fools would do that. I know better.” But I have read of several famous men who did read dictionaries. They gloried in dictionaries and read them with the delight that some travelers find in guidebooks and timetables. Robert Browning, the illiterate poet, when he determined to make poetry his career, read every word in Johnson?s dictionary. John Ruskin, the English author, wrote to the editor of the Great Oxford Dictionary that he had read and studied every word in its first volume. Henry Thomas Buckle, the English historian, once solemnly stated that a certain dictionary was “one of the few dictionaries I have read through with pleasure”. These men were not fools! I can hardly say that they could not have been the masters of English they were had they not been dictionary readers, but I am sure that reading dictionaries is, after all, not so foolish as you might think. I myself have never read any dictionary through; no, not even those that bear my name on the title-page. But, I used many years ago to read through

many articles on common words in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. I found that very helpful in the mastery of common words and phrases. Such common words and phrases can be very easily picked up by English-speaking boys and girls. But they are not likely to be acquired by Chinese students without any special effort in this respect. The reading of articles on common words in dictionaries is not doubt a great aid.

Make Your Own Dictionary I must thank very sincerely the many readers who have written to inquire about my Dictionary of English Usage. It was always going to be published, and it has not yet been published. This is partly because of my occupation with other literary matters; in fact, I work on the book only off and on. But the chief reason is that being a conscientious learner of English I am always careful to avoid slipshod or perfunctory work. I take notes for the book almost every day – both from reading and from the questions about usage that I am asked by persons interested in the subject. Very often a seemingly simple question reminds me of some important point that I might not otherwise think of. I hope that the delay in publication will be compensated for by the richer and better contents of the book. Now I think that every learner could make his own dictionary of usage. He could keep a notebook in which to record, in alphabetical order, such points of usage as he might find of particular interest to him. Such a book would serve him as a constant companion to composition, though many things in it might seem quite dull or useless to others. And I think that every learner could make his dictionary of usage as large as the sum total of the books he reads. I mean that he might make a usage index, so to speak, to those books. For a particular point he would have to record only the book, the page, and the line concerned. He would some day be able to point to his library and say “This is my dictionary of English usage”. What a great work! Indeed, I wish I could find time to do this. And I believe that I could thus lay the foundation of a live and original dictionary – quite different from those based on nothing but one or more dictionaries.

Make Another Dictionary of Your Own! Some time ago I suggested that every learner of English could make his own dictionary of usage. I have since thought of another kind of dictionary

that every student of English could make for his own use. For want of a better name, I think we may as well call it a topic dictionary. I mean a dictionary in which a certain number of topics are arranged in alphabetical order and useful phrases and sentences about each topic are grouped together. For instance, under the topic “books” may be grouped phrases and sentences having to do with books but not necessarily containing the word “beok(s):. This can be done by reading and making notes. It is not necessary to copy the phrases and sentences. It is enough to jot down the page number and the line number, and give one or two words as a hint. In this way, any book may be turned into a topic dictionary by merely providing it with a topic index. And several such dictionaries may be turned into a fairly complete topic dictionary. What I call a topic dictionary does not seem ever to have appeared in this counter before. I wonder why nobody has even thought of compiling one. It would be of great use to all who write English. For we are often at a loss for the right expression about a certain topic, and an ordinary dictionary cannot meet our need. I wish I could have time to carry out my own suggestion!

More about What to Read Since it is with a view to learning composition that you read, and since it is in present-day English prose that you ought to learn to express yourself, what you read must be present-day English prose. Expressions in common use a hundred years ago may not be so at the present day. Likewise, expressions in common use in verse may not be so in prose. The term “present-day English prose”, however, requires qualification here. Since it is in standard English that you ought to learn to express yourself, what you read must not contain too much slang, whatever significance one may attach to the word. Again, since it is things in everyday life that you ought to learn to write about, what you read must not be of a technical character. One limitation more. What you read must be fairly easy for you; too much time and energy spent in reading between the lines and finding out all kinds of references and allusions would very likely distract your mind from your purpose, which is to learn English composition.

Reading to Learn the Art of Expression When you read a short story, you may read it merely for pleasure. When

you read a biographical sketch, you may read it merely for information. But are you are a learner of English, I think you should often read to learn the art of expression. And for this purpose you may read either a short story or a biographical sketch, either an essay or a news item, indeed, anything that is written in good current English. Even from a short paragraph you may learn several forms of expression if you are observant enough. Try to read the following paragraphs from BBC Modern English and notice the points of usage listed below: Over 100 years ago she opened the first British hospital for women. There are still very few of these hospitals in England. This hospital is in Euston Road in London. Its situation means that women from all over England can reach it quite easily. Her aim when she opened the hospital was to provide a place where women could go and receive treatment from female doctors and nurses. She also wanted the hospital to provide jobs for female doctors at a time when it was very difficult for them to find work. Recently the authorities have tried to close the hospital. They say that it is old-fashioned and wasted a lot of money. However, the Government has decided that the hospital will stay open. Many people feel very glad that the valuable service offered by this hospital will continue. 1. “Over” More than. 2. “in Euston Road” “in … Road”. 3. “means that …” “Means” takes an object clause introduced by “that”. 4. “from all over England” “all over England” “from all over England”. 5. “receive treatment”. Patients receive treatment. 6. “wanted the hospital to provide …” “We want them to do it”. 7. “at a time when …” “at a time when …” 8. “Recently the authorities have tried.” The present perfect is here used with “recently”. 9. “the Government has” “the Government” can be considered singular. 10. “decided that …” “Decide(d)” takes an object clause introduced by “that”. 11. “stay open”. “Stay” can be a copulative verb. In this way you will learn the art of expression very quickly; perhaps one or two paragraphs a day will teach you hundreds of forms of expression in a month, and these forms of expression will greatly improve your writing. And if you can – I believe you can – commit to memory one or two paragraphs a day that you have already read in this way, the results will be still greater.

Learning English Conversation by Imitation I know some people who once studied in English land or America and

yet do not speak English correctly; they make mistakes in grammar, idiom, and pronunciation. But the other day I met a Chinese woman who spoke perfect English. She does not seem to be very well up in English, but I believe she speaks it more like an English person than I do. Upon inquiry I was given to know that she has never even been to college but had been taught English by English teachers only. She does not speak English as a foreign language. She speaks it in the way she does, not because she thinks it is the right way but because she knows no other. She is free from, and probably ignorant of, the thousand and one mistakes peculiar to Chinese students of English. This woman learnt to speak English by imitating unconsciously. It is no doubt the best way. But not all Chinese learners have the chance of learning in this way. Well, there is the second best way; I mean learning by imitating consciously. If there are people who spent years in England or America but who do not speak English correctly, it is because they did not do much conscious imitating when abroad. They have carried their mistakes over and then carried them back, though they ought to have left them there. I am perhaps in danger of being understood to mean that all who go to England or America ought to do so for the sole purpose of learning English conversation. No; I simply mean that by careful imitation one can very well learn it – and that not only in countries where English is the mother tongue but also in some places in China. Nor do I mean that one?s object in learning English is simply to speak it. But it needs to be generally realized among Chinese learners of English that good speaking leads to good writing and that language is essentially something spoken.

Imitation, Good and Bad Too often a learner of English who has read one or two classics tries to imitate their style. The fact, however, it that style cannot be imitated. Different authors have different styles. They do not endeavor to write the way they write. So the imitation of any style often results in affectation. And the result will be till worse if the style imitated is that of a work written a hundred years ago or more. We are of the eighties of the twentieth century, and we should not write the English of the eighties of the nineteenth century. I would advise you not to aim at a special style. Take care to write correct, simple, idiomatic, and clear English, that?s all. But imitation is not always bad. Very often it is important to imitate something. Where personal style is out of place, imitation is the only means by which correctness may be secured. In writing and advertisement about something, for example, you have to imitate some such advertisement that you have read. You cannot possibly write a good one if you have never read

any, though you may have read very widely in general literature. You will do well to collect a number of short advertisement formal invitations and announcements, receipts, IOU?s business contracts, etc. When you have occasion to write one of such, you have simply to do a little imitating and adapting. The following is an ordinary formal invitation: Mr. and Mrs. M. S. Adams request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. L. J. William?s company at dinner on Saturday evening, May the seventeenth, at seven o?clock, 86 Star Street. This invitation is from Mr. and Mrs. M. S. Adams to Mr. and Mrs. L. J. Williams. Surely, with this piece before you, you can write a new one. You have simply to change the names, the day, the date, the time, and the address.

Tongue and Pen “Do you speak English?” This is far more commonly asked by Englishmen and Americans of the Chinese with whom they come into contact than “Do you write English?” They would perhaps laugh at the idea of having studied English for years without being able to speak it. In fact, language is essentially a spoken thing. To study English without trying to speak it is not advisable. And it is absurd to read a conversation book in just the same manner as to read a grammar. Besides, as ordinary written English is not quite different from ordinary spoken English, to learn to speak is a very good way to learn to write. One who speaks good English writes good English too. The pen cannot go wrong where the tongue goes right. Many everyday phrases and everyday constructions come natural to one who uses them in speaking. For example, one who says “in fact” and “as a matter of fact” cannot possibly write the non-existent phrases “in a fact”, “as a matter of the fact”. And if the surest sign of those whose English is not perfect is their misuse of prepositions, good speaking is of great help in learning the idiomatic use of those little tricky words. One who says “sick of”, “interested in”, “perfect .. to .. “” will write the same right prepositions in right places without any conscious effort. I think it would be a very good method of learning writing as well as learning speaking for a pupil to talk to his teacher in English about whatever subject the former is interested in and to have himself corrected whenever he makes a mistake. I am only sorry that I do not think it practicable in a classroom where there are many pupils.

Simply Didn’t Know You have a fairly good knowledge of grammar. You have a vocabulary of

three or four thousand words. You know one or two thousand idioms. You are rather careful about usage. You ought to be able to write fairly well. But are you? If you are not, why not? One of your troubles, I think, is that you often cannot express what you want to say. You cannot, but when you have seen your meaning expressed by someone who can express it, you will most probably say to yourself “That seems easy enough. I simply didn?t know.” You are right. You simply didn?t know. Just a few common words arranged in a simple grammatical order by someone who is at home in English. That expresses your meaning, and yet you simply didn?t know which common words to choose and how to arrange them. This is a very common trouble with Chinese learners of English. It is due to the fact that they do not read widely enough, nor carefully enough . There are thousands of useful expressions that are not generally considered idioms. They are so easy to understand that they are apt to be neglected. But those who neglect them will forget them, and fail to use them when they need them. You cannot learn to write with much freedom of expression till you have laid in a stock of useful phrases and sentences, and you cannot do it without reading widely and carefully.

So Many Points! Having read much of what I have said about points of usage, some readers have given me to understand what they think it simply impossible to remember so many points, about which there seem to be no rules at all. They wonder whether all who write correct English know them all by heart and pay regard to them whenever they write, and whether it is at all possible for one to learn to write English fairly well without bothering about these tiny points. Yes, most of the points seem to be tiny ones. But it is just these points that show whether one is really at home in English or not. Occasional errors in grammar, which should of course be avoided by all means, may most probably be due to mere carelessness and not at all peculiar to those whose English is imperfect. But lapses in idiom always betray one?s unfamiliarity with correct English. It follows that the seemingly trifling points of usage are well worthy of the attention of all who wish to write English correctly. As to knowing them by heart, those who are born to the language may not need to make any conscious effort. They learn correct usage by intuition, so to speak. They speak English every day, and the use of many idiomatic expressions and constructions are second nature with them, so that when they write they cannot possibly be incorrect where they are correct when speaking. The case is certainly different with Chinese learners of English, who are most of them English-reading rather than English-speaking. They must take

care to master many points of usage that are quite natural to those whose mother tongue is English. What I call points of usage, however, are not so formidable and enemy as they may seem to you. Close attention to them helps to conquer them. Besides, what English-speaking persons get from speaking you may get from reading aloud, which will help you in the same way as speaking would, though perhaps less quickly. And there is an advantage in reading aloud over speaking in the fact that in reading good written English you are not in danger of getting those common solecisms, barbarisms, and improprieties in the speck of persons of limited culture.

How to Say It Your question is not what to say but how to say it. You may often have an idea or a thought that you do not know how to express. For instance, you may not be able to express the idea of the glass tube measuring temperature if you do not happen to know the word “thermometer”. To take another example, suppose you wish to apply for a position that requires the applicants to apply in written English but you feel you cannot do so. Now suppose you ask a friend to write the letter for you, and he writes it. You read it and understand it all right. You come to realize that you did not think of arranging those simple words in that simple order. You did have something to say, but you did not know how to say it! Hence the importance of studying composition. As a matter of fact, many of the ideas and thoughts you often have occasion to express have already been expressed by others before you. Read any page in any book carefully, and you will perhaps find some expressions that will help you to say things. Many such expressions may seem to you to be too simple to deserve much attention, but the fact is that you cannot invent them, nor can you use them unless you have noted them. There appear to be many Chinese learners of English who have read a number of books on grammar and composition and done many exercises in correcting and improving sentences and yet cannot write even tolerable English. The trouble is that they may either not have read widely enough or not have read carefully enough or not have committed to memory enough words, phrases and sentences that they may have found too easy to understand to be worth remembering.

A “Foolish” Principle of Composition Books on rhetoric may tell you many principles of composition. But the principle that I am going to explain is one that I have not found in any book

on rhetoric. I discovered it myself, and I acted up to it as soon as I discovered it, many years ago. I have found it so helpful that I believe you will do well to adopt it. The principle is that you should use not construction, no form of expression, and no combination of words, that you have not seen in your reading. It seems to me that the average Chinese learner of English has a fair knowledge of grammar and a fairly large vocabulary, and that when he writes English, he makes sentences according to his knowledge of grammar and his understanding of the meaning of words. The result is that his that his English often seems to be correct enough but is not really correct. For correct English is a matter of usage, not merely a matter of grammar and vocabulary. In composition correction I have often been asked why I had changed a certain word or construction to another. I have substituted that word or construction simply because this is the word of construction that an Englishman would have used there. Suppose you are on the point of writing “He was rich to live on luxury”. Is this sentence correct? “He was” is certainly correct; you have seen it many, many time. “He was rich” is also correct; you have seen it more than once. “He was rich to ..” – well, you have never seen it, have you? NO, you have never seen it, and therefore you should not let it pass. “On luxury” – well, you have never seen this expression, and so you should not use it. Now, the correct sentence is “He was rich enough to live in luxury”. Do you think my principle very foolish? It does look so. But I regard it as very helpful, and I hope that you will try to put it into practice. The question may naturally arise: Shall I not find it practically impossible to write anything because I do not always remember whether I have ever seen a certain construction or form of expression or combination of words? Well, you should remember. You should read carefully. You should learn the art of expression from your reading. I hope you have not forgotten my article entitled “Reading to Learn the Art of Expression”.

An Aid to Composition Do you often meet with a word or phrase or construction that you understand fully without being able to translate it into readable Han? I believe you do; I believe you have read enough English to have this experience. I myself often meet with such. You have perhaps seen such a sentence as “They will not return for many days to come”. You know that it means that they will return many days from now, or that they will return only after the passage of many days. But can you translate it into readable Han? In the very common expression “Simply cannot”, I find the word “simply” very hard to translate into Han. I also find it very hard to translate into Han the very common word “probable” as contrasted with “possible”. As to such a sentence as “You cannot be too

careful”, I think it is even untranslatable. All these and many other words and phrases and constructions do not seem to have what we call Han equivalents. You understand them, but you cannot translate them into readable Han; that is, you cannot translate them both exactly and clearly. I do not mean to advise you to try and translate such hard things. Do not try to translate them, I say. Just commit them to memory. They will often come in useful when you write. They will help you to write more idiomatic English. By the way, “society” is a much used word among Chinese learners of English. But I have seldom seen it used by any of them in the sense of companionship, as in “The old man enjoys the society of young people”. This is because Chinese learners do not usually use an English word in a sense that cannot be easily translated into Han. I hope you will now profit by may hint.

Some Mistakes to Consider Do you, reader, find any mistakes into the following sentences? 1. He is studying for serving the people. 2. I have met him for five times. 3. Pardon me for I give you so much trouble. 4. For I am a Chinese, I love China. If you do not find any mistakes in them, you have yet a poor knowledge of companionship. All these sentences are wrong, and, so far as I know, are not to be found in any Englishman?s English, though I believe you may think they are quite grammatical. Let me explain: (1) “For” expressing purpose may take a noun (as in “for pleasure”), but not usually a gerund. (2) While “for the … time” is right, “for … times” is wrong. (3) “For” as a conjunction is very weak and cannot introduce any important reason. (4) “For” is a coordinating conjunction, not a subordinating one. Now read the sentences as corrected: 1. He is studying (in order) to serve the people. 2. I have me him five times. 3. Pardon me for giving you so much trouble. 4. I love China, for I am a Chinese. Now that you have been told of these four common mistakes in regard to the use of the word “for”, I hope you will take care to avoid them in your own writing. Such mistakes are not usually mentioned in books on grammar and composition. But they are not uncommon among Chinese learners of English. And I find that there are similar mistakes in the use of many other common English words. I am of opinion that discussion of such mistakes ought to form

a large part of every composition book specially intended for Chinese learners, and it is a matter of regret that many, many Chinese learners are studying rules and principles of grammar and rhetoric without caring a bit about such mistakes. A good English composition book remains to be written. Would you like to see such a book published?

Some More Mistakes to Consider After reading my article “Some Mistakes to Consider”, a read wrote to ask me to give more mistakes to consider. I hope you will be interested to read the following four sentences and see what mistakes they contain: 1. May I introduce you my brother? 2. Please favour me an early reply. 3. I will inform you the result by and by. 4. He has presented me a book. I think you have read about the double object in grammar. You have been told that a verb may take two objects, one called the direct and the other called the indirect. You have seen such sentences as: 1. Can you recommend me a tailor? 2. Please send me an early reply. 3. I will tell you the truth by and by. 4. He has lent me a book. But have you ever seen sentences like those in the first group? I have often seen them in the English written by Chinese leaners of English, but never in any Englishman?s writing. In an Englishman?s writing, these sentences would read: 1. May I introduce my brother to you? 2. Please favour me with an early reply. 3. I will inform you of the result by and by. 4. He has presented a book to me. He has presented me with a book. Now you can see that the verbs “introduce”, “favour”, “inform”, and “present” cannot take the double object, though the verbs “recommend”, “send”, “tell”, and “lend” can. Grammars mention the double object and give examples of it, but they do not tell that only a few verbs can take the double object, nor do they mention any verbs with which this construction is impossible. It seems to me, therefore, that the four mistakes that I have just mentioned are quite common among Chinese learners, even among those who have studied grammar carefully. To tell the truth, grammar does not help you much in writing. It tells you what is right, but it does not tell you much about what is wrong. When you

have seen a certain construction in your grammar, you try to make use of it in your own writing. Possibly you have made no mistake, but it is also possible that you have made a mistake.

Better Short Than Long Once I read an essay by Hilaire Belloc in which the author says “I cannot refrain from remarking that all the discussions of the silly critics as to whether the sentences in English should be long or short are mere spoiling of paper”. I fully agree with him. A sentence is not good or bad merely because it is long or short. Length is a false test of a sentence. It is wrong to think that a series of long sentences is a proof of one?s good command of English. It is equally wrong to think that simple and clear English requires every sentence to contain a certain number of words at most. I remember that I myself formerly acted on these wrong opinions one after the other. For some time I tried to use as many words in a sentence as grammar and sense could justify. The result was an obtrusively dignified style. Then followed a period in which I tried to make every sentence a grammatically simple one and as easy to understand as those in first books for beginners. The result was affected simplicity. However, which I would warn all learners of English composition against these two mistakes, I think that that of writing long sentences is the commoner one. And learners ought to take more care to avoid it, not merely because in the hands of those who have not had much practice in the use of words and phrases and idiomatic constructions, long sentences are much harder to manage than short ones. It must not for a moment be supposed that an error in grammar or idiom embedded in a long sentence can easily escape detection.

Something More Important Than Enlarging One’s Vocabulary “How to enlarge my vocabulary?” – this is one of the commonest question that I have been asked. Ture, the average of Chinese learners of English has a very limited vocabulary, but I think he has something more important to do about his limited vocabulary than to enlarge it. He has yet to know many more words before he can master English. Nor can he master English till he has acquired a better understanding of most of the words that are in his vocabulary. For he may think he knows a word when he does not really know it. By knowing a word I mean knowing its true sense or senses instead of merely knowing one or more of what we call its Han equivalents. Take the word “student”. Very often it is misused and misunderstood by us Chinese. It is

misused and misunderstood by those who call all schoolchild students and take offence at being called students of English simply because they are no longer at school. As a matter of fact, a schoolchild is not a student, but one who studies English is a student of English though he may be an old man and may have already written many books on it. We are apt to neglect common words. Apart from the possibility of misuse and misunderstanding we are apt to neglect their various senses, or rather idiomatic uses. Take the word “read”, which you of course think you know very well. Bu do you know all the senses (or uses) as illustrated below? Can you read dreams? The baby cannot read the clock. He is reading her thoughts. The sentence reads like a paraphrase. Don?t read too much into the text. The thermometer reads 68。 If not, you can hardly yet be said to know the word “read”.

Make the Word Your Own A word is not your own until you can use it correctly. You may know one or more Han equivalents for a word and yet you may not be able to use it correctly. I am afraid that of all the English words that the average Chinese learners can translate into Hans, less than half may really be called his own. To give a few common words at random, “wise”, “probable”, “congratulate”, “equip”, “personality”, “novel”, “nevertheless”, “meanwhile” – all these words many Chinese learners may “know” without being able to use them correctly. Do you think you can use them correctly, reader? Please read the following sentences carefully and see whether you find any mistake in any of them. I have to tell you beforehand that all the words in italics are misused, and that if you fail to find any one of these wrong, that proves that that word is not yet your own. 1. The boy reads the book very well, and so he may be called a very wise boy. 2. He is probable to pass the examination. 3. Let?s congratulate her success. 4. A radio has been equipped in the hall. 5. He never pay has debts; his personality is bad. 6. I don?t like such novels as there short stories. 7. Nevertheless poor, the girl was neatly dressed. 8. I bought some bananas and meanwhile some apples. How many of these italicized words are your own? And how many are not? Loop up those that are not your own in a good dictionary in order to find out why they are wrong in these sentences, and to learn their correct uses.

Remember that not every word that you think you understand well is really your own.

A Warning Regarding the Use of Words Once in an essay written by a man who had studied in England for several years I saw the word “destruct”, which was evidently used in the sense of “destroy”. At another time, I saw the same word, evidently used in the same sense, in an illustrated magazine published in Shanghai. At still another time I saw the word “destroyal” used in the sense of “destruction” by a man apparently well educated in English. In fact, however, the verb is “destroy” and the noun is “destruction”, and there do not exist the words “destruct” and “destroyal”. I do not think that the users of these non-existing words did not know the correct words. They were careless enough, though. They just seized upon a combination of letters that looked like the word they wanted. It is true that these non-existing words may be understood by all who see them. But, of course, they cannot therefore justify themselves. Often in the English written by Chinese I find words that do not really exist. They use such words either because they do not know the correct words or merely because they are careless – or even because they believe they have a good knowledge of English word-building. At any rate, this is a very bad fault peculiar to those who are not at home in English. I would therefore advise you to use no word that you are not sure you have seen used by standard authors, and to consult your dictionary in cases of doubt. One word more of warning. It is possible that you sometimes use a word that is recorded in your dictionary, but which is not in common use, and which you use not because you are sure of its existence but simply because you think it is the word you want. For instance, because you know the noun “aggression” and the adjective “aggressive”, you may use the verb “aggress” – which, however, is a very uncommon word.

The Word In doing a piece of translating the other day, I experimented with several words before I got the word that expresses the shade of meaning intended. The word was “admonish”, and the words I have experimented with were “advise”, “counsel”, “warn”, “exhort”, “reprove”, “rebuke”, and “reprimand”. “Admonish”, roughly speaking, means “exhort” or “reprove”, but it carries the implication of kindness or gentleness coupled with seriousness, and also of warning and counsel. Sometimes I fail to get the exact word in spite of much thinking and

weighing. In such cares I have to content myself with using the word that I regard as being nearest to the meaning I want to express. This is a common experience with writers of English, and is one they ought to feel sorry for. They study of synonyms is no doubt very helpful in the careful choice of words, which is essential to precision, one of the qualities of good writing. But there are two mistakes against which I think learners ought to be warned. One is that of trusting to the so-called Han equivalents as given in English-Han dictionaries. The other is that of studying the explanations in articles on synonyms but neglecting the illustrative examples. Correct English, however, is largely a matter of the use of common words, the correct use of which depends not so much upon their “meanings” as upon what is known as usage. For instance, a writer of correct English may not be able to tell you in detail how “for” and “to” differ from each other, but he never fails to use the right one instead of the other. He uses the word as a matter of habit rather than as a result of the careful choice of words. The study of synonyms is of no help in this matter. One can improve only by the careful reading of idiomatic English – which no amount of word study can supplant.

What “Literary English” Means Books on rhetoric and composition tell us that English may be roughly classified as (1) literary English and (2) colloquial English, and that literary English should, and colloquial English should not, be used in writing. Yes, we – I mean you – should learn to write literary English. But what, after all, does “literary English” mean? What is literary English? I am afraid that many Chinese leaners of English may think that literary English is a distinctly elegant sort of English. They think that it is absolutely different from English used in speaking, in addressing a class of students, or in writing to a business house to order goods. They think that in literary English a face is not a face but a visage and a man never goes but always repairs, and that it consists mainly, if not entirely, of figurative expressions. The idea is wrong, however – and this wrong idea prevents one from writing natural and pure English. Literary English, if you please, does not mean English confined in its use to literature. It is not a distinctly elegant sort of English. It is just the ordinary English that well –educated Englishmen and Americans use in writing – not necessarily for literary purposes, but often for practical purposes. In literary English, a face is almost always a face and very rarely a visage, and a man almost always goes and very rarely repairs. While “colloquial English” means English used in conversation, it does not follow that English used in conversation is necessarily too colloquial to be used in writing. The majority of the words and idioms used by well-educated English and American people in conversation are certainly literary English.


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