Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learning Engrish

For language learners, Twitter seems like a good medium for sharing words and idioms, almost flash-card like (any of you youngsters remember those?). I stumbled across a Twitter feed by “Nakayama” whose goal is, in his own words, 出ない順 試験に出ない英単語」が発売されました — that is, to assist Japanese speakers in learning uncommon English words that never come up in standardized EFL testing. He even has a book for sale.

This is a laudable goal, and I think it’s a great idea using a Twitter feed to share these. Nakayama posts the word, and then uses it in a sentence. And this, my friends, is where the magic happens. The “Engrish” magic. Nakayama’s sentences are brilliantly oddball nonsequiturs, usually grammatically correct (or close enough), but so funny, strange, and surreal. His choice in vocabulary is often strangely sexual or fetishistic too, which may give some insight into Japanese culture (or else what they thing of American culture). Anyway, have a look and see if you aren’t hooked.

A few examples —
  • Bad breath: The manager’s bad breath can cloud your judgement.
  • Barbed wire: “What a nice barbed wire!” “Thank you. I knitted it myself.”
  • Cockroach: The cockroach looks mature but it is only three months old.
  • Fart: This new technology makes it possible to keep a backup copy of your fart.
  • Parsley: All the parsley you can eat for 3,000 yen.
  • Porno magazine: The porno magazine is full of distortion of historical facts.
  • Reindeer: “Hehehe, Santa Claus. You are sadly mistaken if you think reindeer are weak.”
  • Sexual pervert: Bob is a sexual pervert, but he never breaks his promise.
  • Urinate: Please urinate anywhere you like.
And a few that are just inexplicable —
  • Naked bridge pose: To mark the start of the ceremony, the chairperson struck a naked bridge pose.
  • Super Zeus: No one really knows why the senior staff became known as Super Zeus.
  • Mirror of Ra: Bob tried to look up a Stefanie’s skirt with the Mirror of Ra and caused a big fuss.
Interestingly enough, there’s an argument to be made that the very strangeness of the sentences can serve as a memory aid in learning these uncommon words. There is clear evidence that one of the most efficient mechanisms for learning is novelty. This is certainly that, wouldn’t you say?


  1. There's a sort of precedent in the form of Latin teachers using, as Peter Jones puts it, 'potty sentences' in tests. There, though, the point is that you have to attend to the grammatical structure, not that the sentences illustrate the meanings of words memorably.

  2. An amusing approach to teaching!

  3. Then there was the occasion when Stalky & Co. got a hold of the set type for the Latin examination and creatively rearranged it, producing such wondrous sentences as "Mutatosque deos flebit in antro."