Before my friend visited me, he proudly told me about how he’d tried to learn a few “essential” phrases from some phrasebook he found. He said something unintelligible that was supposed to be “Can you speak English?” I laughed and told him not to bother, because there’s an easier way to see if someone speaks English— ask them in fucking English.
To his credit, the sentence may have been intelligible, but if it it was, it must have been something much wordier than the simple “영어 말해요?” Which is also part of my point.
The way I see it, phrasebooks should be aimed at tourists, people who aren’t really trying to learn a whole language but who want to be able to communicate enough to get by. Yet consistently, they pull shit like the above, teaching long, complex versions of phrases you can easily do without to begin with. When my dad visited, I taught him how to ask for the bathroom before I taught him hello, and I didn’t even bother with “화장실 어디에요?”— “화장실” on its own sufficed. I don’t understand why phrasebooks ignore these simple, beginner’s short-cuts.
I mean, sure, they can and should throw some niceties like “Nice to meet you!” and “What’s the weather like?” in there, but don’t put them right in the front of the damn book. There are smiles and windows that can probably take care of that if necessary. Put them in the back, and keep the “survival” language skills you’ll probably actually use at the front— saying “thank you,” ordering food, directing a taxi, saying where you’re from, asking how much something costs…
Now, textbooks are another animal. They’re for people who actually want to learn to speak the language, I’d assume, for the kind of people who do really want to know how to ask if someone has any children or what time it is without resorting to miming it out. However… you’d still think they’d put the more common stuff at the front. Since it’s more useful.
Yet today I was flipping through my Korean textbook and came across the lesson on asking how much something costs, which went over ordering food, shopping, and how Korean money works— aka, language skills I use every damn day. What chapter was this? 10. That’s right, TEN. Right after the chapter on asking “What time do you usually go to school?” and “When is your birthday?”
I suppose there are people somewhere who want to learn a language with no real interest in ever going to the country of origin. Maybe they have a friend they want to chat with, or just find it interesting. That’s cool. It can happen. But is it so common that more people think to themselves, “Ah, thank god I just learned how to ask for when someone’s birthday was, otherwise this would be so confusing!” instead of “Thank god I just learned how to order food at a restaurant in a way that doesn’t make me look like a mute idiot!”
I guess there’s probably some grammatical reason for the textbook stuff, and I should just start skipping around in the book a bit more rather than going straight through. But I stand by the phrasebook thing. That shit doesn’t make a single ounce of sense.