Taboo or not taboo in English language teaching materials

Writers of published English language teaching materials have a list of topics that they must avoid, and these are generally referred to by the acronym ‘PARSNIPS’. This stands for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms (such as communism or atheism), and pork. The result is often a sanitized blandness, which Mario Rinvolucri has described as “the soft, fudgey, sub-journalistic, woman’s magaziney world of EFLese course materials”.

EnglishIsNotEasyBook01A recently published book called Englisch ist Nicht Easy by Luci Gutiérrez (Verlag Antje Kunstmann GmbH, München, 2014) breaks all of the taboos by including cartoon illustrations of naked men, women with beards, gambling machine addicts and cannibals, and that’s just for starters. The book, which is basically an illustrated grammar, includes examples sentences like:

Tom gets quite horny when he drinks coffee.

I have been cheating on my wife since she started snoring.

Meritxell used to take drugs, but now she doesn’t even smoke.

So far my lover hasn’t found out that I am really a man.

EnglishIsNotEasyBook07But Luci Gutiérrez is not the first to spice up English grammar in this way. A Practical English Grammar by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet (1st edition Oxford University Press, 1960, 4th edition 1986) was, for many years, the world’s best-selling reference grammar for students and teachers. covers_244213The world of Thomson and Martinet was one of gin, spying, marital infidelities, explosions, gas leaks, queues, bombs, plane crashes, industrial disputes, strikes and political demonstrations, going to the opera, homeopathic remedies, tree-planting, wolves, smuggling and receiving stolen goods, muggings, floods and extreme weather, pearls and diamonds, icebergs, SOS calls and the problems of sea travel, disguise, tax and tax avoidance, identity parades, escaped prisoners, English weather … and more gin.

As you read through the selection of sentences from this book, can you identify the grammar point that is being exemplified?

  • Would you like some gin?
  • One shotgun is no good (I need two or three.)
  • Bring a knife to class tomorrow.
  • He opened the drawer and took out a revolver.
  • As he was cleaning his gun it went off and killed him.
  • The mob fell on the killers and clubbed them to death.
  • He stole, not because he wanted the money but because he liked stealing,
  • Have you given up drinking whisky before breakfast?
  • He drank beer, which made him fat
  • BILL (looking at Tom’s cellar): You’ve got over 400 bottles. How long will that last you? Two years? TOM: Not a hope. I drink eight bottles a week. I’ll have drunk all these by the end of this year.
  • She begged him not to drink too much, reminding him that he’d have to drive home.
  • He was too drunk to drive home.
  • The drunk man stepped into the road right in front of the oncoming car. The driver couldn’t stop in time and ran over him.
  • The pills made him dizzy. All the same he bought/has bought/is buying some more.
  • His plan is to keep the affair secret.
  • Hardly/Scarcely ever did they manage to meet unobserved.
  • Who should come in but his first wife!
  • They drink too much gin.

Corpus-driven, this certainly isn’t! But one cannot help thinking that it’s all a bit more memorable than the sanitized tedium of many contemporary materials.

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