• Sat
  • Nov 1, 2014
  • Updated: 4:48am

English fan takes XXX approach to teaching ABCs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am

David Tung Tak-wai really does have proper manners - although people who read his book might not know that.

In The Art of The English Quarrel, he introduces English insults, nasty names and swear words, along with spoken Cantonese translations. He gives examples of how to initiate a fight and how to use your wits to avoid a fight. 'Being only able to say 'It's none of your business' just won't do,' said Tung, who was born and brought up in Hong Kong. 'Not in a world in which people say, 'Get outta my face'.'

A piano tutor with two master's degrees, including one in music, Tung has a passion for English, and it pains him that many teenagers turn off to the language. Rather than shove grammar and tenses at the kids, he hopes to inspire them with lingo from life. 'I didn't write the book to encourage people to swear and squabble, I just hope to raise people's interest in learning English,' said Tung, who studied in London for three years of college.

His target readers, he said, are mainly secondary school dropouts.

'I didn't focus on foul language, but it's what you'll hear in the streets. You should at least know it when you're being insulted,' said Tung.

Phrases like 'I might as well save my breath' may come naturally to a native English speaker. But many Hongkongers who learn their English in classrooms often struggle to find the right word. Tung says he used to be one of these people himself.

'From kindergarten to secondary school, we had learned many polite English phrases like 'What's your opinion?' which we always use in English oral exams. They're not wrong, but they're really boring and insufficient for daily use,' he said. 'We should know how to respond to people's unreasonable demands. Like you can say, 'Go above my head if you want', meaning, 'Complain to my boss if you like'.'

Tung shows how different English expressions can be used in different scenarios - such as what to say when one is not happy with insincere apologies (He suggests 'Sorry doesn't mean anything anymore'. Or 'That's it? That's your apology?').

Or how to tell people to keep their mouth shut. ('Shut up' works. His other recommendations contain swear words.)

In the preface, he said he wrote the book because he had had enough of seeing Hong Kong people being verbally abused by foreigners and unable to fight back in English.

He backtracked a bit in an interview. 'Well, it's a way of attracting people to pick up the book,' he said, chuckling. 'Actually, many of the foreigners I met in the UK were friendly people.'

'Sometimes it's the so-called upper-class Chinese who deliberately use English to embarrass you. You should have one or two phrases in hand to get back at them, and tell them, 'I won't be afraid of you just because you speak English',' he said.

His book, published last year, suggests phrases like, 'You'll wish you were dead!' to threaten people, and, 'Yeah? What are you gonna do?' to answer to people's threats.

Tung said some of the examples came from his experiences. 'When I come across new and interesting English phrases, like when I'm watching a movie, reading a book or magazine, I have the habit of writing them down since I was in secondary school,' he said.

He researched other examples for two years. 'I would look up slang dictionaries and study how people use them, such as from foreign online forums,' he said.

The Art of The English Quarrel is his second book. His first was about English slang. His third, about English-language jokes, will be published next month. 'I'm not qualified for English education,' he said. 'I just want to share my learning experiences and help people who are going through difficulties which I had gone through. It's my mission.'

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