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Teach Yourself Semi-Modals in Non-Stative Verbs

  Sun 21st January 2018

I discovered I had a drinking problem yesterday.

I hide my empty bottles behind my armchair, as I'm not sure whether NDN comes in occasionally to have a look round the flat. When I checked on them yesterday I found that that they'd started their own breeding programme, a theory confirmed when I saw that each bottle in addition to the ones I had purchased was of the same brand of beer as the one I favour.

Protesting about being taken outside, they meanly broadcasted my relationship with alcohol to the occupants of the lift by settling loudly in erratic outbursts of clanking. Outside in the rubbish collection area, I slipped on the ice and they escaped, slithering joyfully to all corners of the courtyard, which is overlooked only by three forty-storey blocks of flats.


Life out here is not without its difficulties. On the bus, and in the street, I get stared at. At school, my colleagues go "s-s-s" to me as they pass me, which confused me at first until I realised that it's the polite form of "hello", reduced by the cautious native volume to sibiliants. It reminds me of meetings for the over-60s I had to go to help with when I was young at the Salvation Army. The one sound that sliced the room during the otherwise quavering hymn-signing were their shiny sibilants. The old rugged cross's last phoneme sang round the hall on a superfluity of saliva, the last fluid to be exhausted.


On Thursday I got to school and couldn't find the USB stick containing my lesson plans. I made up a day's lessons with half an hour, some paper, a pen and my imagination.

I set the first group a role play game in which we were in a restaurant. They had to choose their occupations, and I would be the waiter. There's one bright lad who wants to do well, and he's dragged down by the others. Same everywhere.

For another, much younger group, I made up a shit animal crossword, then did an equally pedagogically pointless "guess the city" game using hangman. A more advanced group is on modal verbs again, so building on my confident and thorough knowledge of them, I read through a grammar textbook in five minutes beforehand to refresh my memory about how they are used with non-stative verbs and the exceptions involving semi-modals.

There was one little light in the day though. During a break in lessons, when I was using the Kazakh teacher's classroom, she came in to collect something, just as I was trying to work out how to pronounce some of the phrases she had laminated onto the wall. She lighted on me and helped me though them. My eight- and nine-year-old pupils gathered round to listen to me mangling the simple Kazakh phrases on the wall, proffering the correct pronunciation and laughing at me or congratulating me according to the degree of my error.


But now... I'm off -- to an address I know I will be wandering
around and around trying to find -- to meet some of the other restless flotsam which has washed up in Astana for some reason, to meet and chat and, I hope, dance at a meeting for "global minds" at a "conceptual bar", at which DJ Lemonpie, no less, is playing.

One of my favourite house nights is on in Glasgow tonight, one that I've never missed since day one, so my heart will be in the Merchant City tonight, but despite having already got through my one-a-day, plus the Saturday supernumerary, and my feeling that everyone will be soberer in every way and that there's a possibility that I will act in a manner there that does my future here no good, I want very much to start socialising.


Update: it didn't happen. I found Akmeshit St, (great name), wandered up and down in minus 17 and could not find the place. Mind you, It was described as a "conceptual bar", so maybe we'll all get a text soon saying "hope you enjoyed the joke last night folks. It's a conceptual bar -- it doesn't exist! Geddit? Never mind, next Saturday, we're going to a real one." I got in, opened some beer and felt a bit lonely and down, knowing that had I been at home, I'd have been at this great little basement club in Glasgow I go to.

10 comments

Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

Hey, I *am* enjoying these Letters from Our Man In Astana.

I have half a degree in languages and I’ll be buggered if I can remember what a modal verb is. Never heard of a stative verb in my life. Just how advanced ARE these learners?

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 12:16
Comment from: [Member]

I’d never hear of stative verbs before Thursday either. Modals are things like would, should, can, will, ought. Foreigners tend to shy away from them because they’re confusing for them. ("I think it is better we take the Northern Line” rather than “we should take the Northern Line.") It’s a credit to my year 9’s (i.e., 16-17-year-olds) that they want to get to grips with them. They’re not easy to teach either – especially if you’re going back into teaching after spending a few years out using yourself as an amusement park.

Every subject that I’ve come across, the children here are at least as good as you’d get in a very good English selective school. You should see their Maths books – fecking Nora.

Which language(s) did you do? Or was it Linguistics? I actually went to Uni to do Linguistics at first, then could hardly stay awake in the lectures, and changed to Music and Philosophy and loved it.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 12:24
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

I started off doing 50/50 French and Italian but changed after a year to French and Sociology as i couldn’t be arsed to go abroad for a year.

My French is nowhere near as good as it ought to be because I am a lazy twat and mostly chose literature modules where you could just buy the translation.. My best mark in my finals was 74% and I hadn’t even read the book, just parroted back the lectures. I scraped a third in the oral exam.

Hey, at least it was free in the 90s.

I often wish I was doing my degree now; I’d be so much more engaged than I was when it followed straight after 13 years of school.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 18:20
Comment from: [Member]

I went to Uni when I was 22. No-one knew whether I was mature or not. I was so glad I had six years off – as you say about your own experience, the last thing I wanted to do when I was 16 was to carry on studying. I got in to Uni through studying at home with the Open University. I did a course on The Rise of Modernism in Music and also got Open College certificates in Sociology, Psychology and Meteorology, which was enough to persuade Lancaster to let me in. Contemporary classical music is one of the thrills of my life, from my teenage years to today and I’m so glad I’ve managed to pursue it at Uni. I’ve got an MA in it now.

All of this was free too – I graduated in 1989, the last year when you were *paid* to go to Uni. I put the fees for my MA on a credit card then just point blank refused to pay it back.

My French is functional. I never use English when I’m there. It’s a way short of fluent, but I every time I go there I can tell it getting better at the end of the two weeks.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 18:45
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

Ditto; I never think my French is very good until I hear my husband (who did it to O-level) try to stumble through a conversation. It helps, being immersed in it.

I have more problems in Spain because people assume I’m Spanish because of my hair; embarrassingly my stock of ten Catalan/Castilian phrases is quickly exhausted.

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 18:53
Comment from: [Member]

I don’t like Spanish. I just really don’t like how it sounds. My second language is Portuguese – I feel more at ease with it than French, and Spanish sounds like baby Portuguese to me, like they haven’t learnt how to move their lips yet. This prejudice has nothing to do with the fact that I lived in Madeira for two years and loved the place and wanted to reject any kind of language interference from Spanish. I do think though that it is Europe’s ugliest language.

This crap about “even a few words of language x will be gratefully appreciated” is shit. No – everyone should set the bar higher. It’s a bit colonialist to expect the host to be grateful for the least effort in his/her language.

Which is all well and good, but Kazakh is fucking hard. The numbers to ten are
1) buh
2) yerki
3) ushh
4) turrt
5) bess
6) alti
7) zhetteh
8) sereez
9) tochlz (I really can’t say this at all, it just sounds like a load of phlegm)
10) on.

HTF are you supposed to remember them?

Sun 21st January 2018 @ 19:12

I would think that life out there, initially, at least, would be nothing but difficulties! Hence the drinking, I suppose. Getting hissed at is ‘hello?’ How is that? Did you announce your departure to many back home or did you just do the aul Irish goodbye?

Fascinating comment thread. If I’m being honest (and since you are a total stranger, I feel at liberty) I’m a little put off by your running-up your credit card and just refusing to pay your debt. That’s a bit unsavory.

Mon 22nd January 2018 @ 11:54
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

No…how would drinking help to deal with my difficulties? I don’t see drinking like that. Drinking’s a pleasure to me, I love it.

My difficulties here will be solved by learning the language, teaching in a way that engages the children and gets good results for the school, and making friends. My drinking will carry on through all of that. It’s unrelated.

The Kazakh for hello, politely, is something along the lines of — salyem suv er rerr it’s iz” but they talk so quitely out here that you only get the sibilants.

The credit card? I could not give less of a shit about it. They (treating credit card companies as a collective demon) had had all the capital back and a wodge of interest too. I can’t find any moral qualm about letting Visa pine over 12 grand.

Mon 22nd January 2018 @ 12:03
Comment from: kono [Visitor]

This post brought back flashbacks of graduate school linguistics class… needless to say those were not pleasant flashbacks…

as for the credit card? fuck the behemoth banks and the fucking bankers, criminals each and every one, fucking pricks had no problem holding out their hand when their schemes went tits up back in 2008, fuck ‘em all!!! i applaud your actions sir…

Thu 25th January 2018 @ 00:30
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Yes, anyone who comes out with a decent degree in Linguistics is one bright student. It was just too technical for me. I’m a bit lazy – I don’t stick at anything that needs actual effort, unless I’m enjoying it.

About the credit card – over the years those companies have had hundreds, I’d say more like thousands of pounds off me in interest. So they can do one, and good luck to the bailiff who tries to find me in Kaz.

Thu 25th January 2018 @ 10:22


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M / 53 / now in Astana, but from Lancaster ("the Brighton of the North").

"Looby is a left-wing intellectual who is obsessed with a) women's clothes and b) tits." -- Joy of Bex.

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