We hope that readers of the last few issues of this newsletter have been entertained by the extracts from teaching materials of bygone days. In this issue, we turn our attention to one of the greatest and most prolific of materials writers. Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff has the rare distinction for a grammarian of having his name enter the English language. In H.G. Wells’ ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’, Wells writes:
The word ‘Ollendorffian’ was also used by Joseph Conrad, George Orwell and the rather less well-known Israel Zangwil. It refers to the bizarre and artificial language that is occasionally found in phrase books and language teaching manuals. Well-known examples include ‘Stop, the postilion has been struck by lightning’ and ‘Unhand me Sir, for my husband, who is an Australian, awaits without.’
Ollendorff, born in Poznan in 1803, is sufficiently important in the history of language teaching for A.P.R. Howatt, in his ‘A History of ELT 2nd edition’ (Oxford University Press, 2004), to devote a section to him. The first version of Ollendorff’s ‘Method’ appeared in 1835. It was called ‘A New Method of Learning to Read, Write and Speak a Language in Six Months’ and was intended for French and English speakers who wanted to learn German. The exercises in these books were written for the student to translate into the target language, and they were then practised with the teacher in what Howatt calls ‘a kind of manic interrogation’.
For anyone who wants to try out the method in class (and for anyone who enjoyed Ionesco’s ‘The Bald Soprano’, which consists almost entirely of Ollendorffian language, inspired by Ionesco’s attempts to learn English with the ‘Assimil’ method), we have decided to reproduce an extended exercise from Ollendorff. Forgive us! In the words of our author, ‘each man amuses himself as he likes’ (Ein jeder vertreibt sich die Zeit wie es ihm gefällt.)
Why does this officer give this man a stab with his sword?
He gives him a stab with his sword, because the man has given him a blow with the fist.
What does he do when you speak to him?
He sits behind the oven, without saying a word.
Where does that dog run to?
It runs behind the house.
What did it do when you gave it a beating?
It barked and ran behind the oven.
Why does your uncle kick that poor dog?
Because it has bitten his little boy.
Why has your servant run away?
I gave him a beating, so that he has run away.
Why do those children not work?
Their master has given them blows with the fist, so that they will not work.
Because they have been disobedient.
Have you fired a gun?
I have fired three times.
At whom did you fire?
I fired at a bird which sat on a tree.
Have you fired a gun at that man?
I have fired a pistol at him.
Why have you fired a pistol at him?
Because he gave me a stab with his sword.