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15 weird sample dialogues from old English textbooks

old-english.jpgFor hilarity, no book intended for English learners will ever match English As She Is Spoke, the unintentional viral hit of the 1880s, written by a non-English speaking Portuguese man armed only with a French-English phrasebook and a French-Portuguese dictionary. The examples in the book are so outrageously incorrect, there is no way anyone could possibly learn to speak English from them. (How do you can it to deny? The meat ist not too over do. I am catched cold in the brain. Why you no helps me to? It must never laugh of the unhappies.)

But there were also plenty of useful, competently written books on English that held their own kind of strangeness within. The practice of learning through example dialogues from everyday life was new in the 19th century; before that people generally studied other languages by reading and translating passages from literature. Someone had to decide what situations to represent and come up with these dialogues. Sometimes they didn't quite hit the mark. Here are 15 dialogues from old English textbooks that are not so much ridiculously wrong, as weirdly off.

1. On declining an invitation
You shall stay and dine with me.
Though ever so willing, I cannot.
What prevents you?
An engagement on an important business.
Do you say the real truth in speaking to me this?
I give you my word for it.

2. On skill in English
You have much disposition to learn English very well. As to your cousin, he is not a great proficient in it.
It is but a year since I began.
I wonder at it.

3. On Germans and English
How do you like my pronunciation?
Indifferent, but you will soon learn the language; for I have observed that all Germans are able of learning our language in a short time.
I know the reason of it: Because in the English are a great many words and phrases resembling the German, and they originally derive from it.

4. On the difficulty of French
The French is far more difficult to Englishmen.
I am persuaded of the contrary. I can hardly believe it.
Experience shows it us every day.

5. On reading
I spend the greater part of my time in reading.
You are then every day pouring upon the books.

Read the full article from The Week.



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