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How important are the learning materials you use?

February 7, 2018 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

How important are the learning materials you use?

Very important.

Waaaaaaay back, more than 10 years ago, I taught some primary school English classes. I was given this textbook to use and a list of things they kids needed to learn to say. One of them was: “Do you know Ken Dama?” And the answer: “Yes I do.”

If you’re thinking, who the hell is Ken Dama?!, then you’ve made the same mistake I did.

Who is Ken Dama?!

Someone famous in Japan??

Well, no.

Watch this video, and I’ll explain:

The thing is, no native speaker will ever hear the question, “Do you know Ken Dama?” and NOT think of a person called Ken.

And not because the word “Ken” can also be a boys name.


The chunk, “Do you know” without a determiner (the, a) is pretty much only used ask if you know a person in English.

So right away we’ve got a problem — What you’ve learned is confusing native English speakers. But the problem goes much, much deeper than this.

You see, if you translate the chunk “do you know” into Japanese, you get, “… o shiteimasu ka” which doesn’t have the same nuance as English. But the textbook designer has just assumed it does and translated the sentence… “kendama o shitemasu ka” into English — “Do you know kendama?”. So now only have we learnt something confusing, but we’ve also created a bad translation habit — A = B (but actually doesn’t).

I’ll talk a bit more about what makes for good learning materials in a future blog post. But the point I want to make here is…

They matter.

In fact, they mater a lot.

And this is something I talk about in my new book: Think English, Speak English – How to Stop Performing Mental Gymnastics When You Speak English.


P.S. If you’ve got Kindle Unlimited, you can read Think English, Speak English for free – here.


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