I realize this is an esoteric topic, but the English Time series of ESL books have been a part of my life for the past fourteen years. I don't know if they're the best ESL books on the market, but for an English Teacher in South Korea, they serve their purpose well enough. There are a few instances, however, when they get weird, and even a little disturbing.
Any book with fill-in-the-blanks can be Mad Libbed into comedy by someone with the time and inclination to do so.
Other times it's fun just to misinterpret the intended meaning.
But that's not what I want to talk about here today. I'm talking about five times when English Time legitimately lost its shit.
1. A sociopath laughs as a child drowns.
Near the end of English Time Level 1, there is a unit meant to reinforce subject pronouns and introduce the words "can" and "can't". I can't drive a car. He can play the guitar. That sort of thing. And that's all fine until you get to the last review section of the workbook.
There's no two ways to interpret this. This is clearly a little girl casually enjoying watching a child drown. That's more than an English lesson. That's the most horrifying tale ever told in three words and an illustration.
Of all the verbs they could have chosen. They could have shown a kid in a wheelchair, and had the girl mock him for not being able to walk, and it still would have been less horrible than this.
2. Level 3, Unit 8 is deliberately fucking with you.
The first half of English Time 3 gives students a pretty thorough guide on how to use the simple present tense in its affirmative, negative, and interrogative forms. In my opinion, they do that very well.
In the second half of the book, they kick things up a notch by introducing countable and uncountable nouns. That can be complicated enough for a kid to wrap his or her head around, especially in a foreign language. Throw the differences in grammar into the mix, and it can be a real headache.
One would think, then, that it would be prudent to avoid any unnecessary additional complications. English Time 3 thinks differently.
Hey, what's that in the center of the picture? It's a goddamn mountain. Sure, the boy isn't pointing at it, but why is it there at all? How hard is it to not draw a mountain? I don't draw mountains all the time. Hell, even as I type this sentence, I'm not drawing a mountain right now!
Think I'm being excessively picky? Then how about this?
There's a shit ton of grass! There's more fucking grass in this picture than there is river.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with this one. But really, why would they choose "wildlife" as an example of an uncountable noun? That conversation always goes the same way.
Student: What is "wildlife"?
Teacher: Animals that live in nature.
Student: Why is that uncountable? I can count animals.
Teacher: Because we're not talking about the individual animals. We're talking about the collective... you know... life in general of the... Fuck, I don't know. Ask one of the Korean teachers.
3. Children are insolent little shits.
Who raised these little brats? I get that the book series isn't called "Tact Time" or "Show Some Fucking Respect Time", but kids are already prone to blurting out the first thing that comes into their minds. They don't need an instruction manual on how to be an asshole.
You think the juggling midget in the wife beater needs this shit in his life? How much restraint is he showing right now by not hurling those balls into those kids' faces?
That woman in picture 2 is clearly fantasizing about cornering these two kids outside the tent after the show, and giving them a healthy and proper fear of clowns.
And that poor old man who just wanted to take his granddaughter to the circus. Look how he keeps his gaze pointed straight forward, grinning as he pretends he doesn't hear the two little shitheads next to him talking about his age, as if there's nothing more interesting going on at the circus.
4. A doughnut vendor makes assumptions about a customer's personal life.
The problem here is a recurring one. It's difficult to express negatives in a way that makes sense. We saw the same thing happen way back in English Time 2...
"You are singing. You aren't crying." Yeah, it's true, but it's an odd thing to say. The implication is that the observer has some reason to suspect the observed has a reason to be crying.
Here, however, it's worse, because this is the future tense. Not only is what this guy saying totally inappropriate, but he shouldn't have any idea what this woman's plans are after she leaves the store with her doughnut.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it struck me as creepy.
5. Bread is really exciting.
A couple of years ago, English Time put out a second edition. They updated the art, added some "Cross Curricular" sections, and made what looked to me to be some arbitrary changes here and there.
They changed "hamburgers" to "burgers" in the food unit. I guess that was more hip or whatever.
They changed "film" into "lotion" in the drugstore unit. In this digital age, I suppose fewer and fewer students would even recognize a roll of film. So that makes some sort of sense.
And they obliterated every reference to pigs in the entire series. In the farm unit, "pig" gets replaced with "goat". In the phonics section covering the short "i" sound, a picture of a pig gets replaced with a picture of a fish.
I didn't think much of it until I was teaching a student from Level 4, and he was reading the conversation section of Unit 1 in his 2nd Edition book while I was following along in my old 1st Edition book.
Only when my student read it, he said "bread and eggs" instead of "bacon and eggs". I had myself a little chuckle at his mistake. It was especially funny to me with the following "Yum! My Favorite!", as if anyone would ever use exclamation points to express their feelings about "bread".
Fanatic love of bacon is a tired old trope by now, but bread? The only food less exciting than bread I can imagine is tasteless nutrient sludge for Cold War-era Soviet astronauts, and even that is something that I'm making up right now.
So I go to point out the mistake to my student only to find that he hadn't, in fact, made a mistake at all. The second edition had gone and changed "bacon" to "bread".
That's when the pig thing finally clicked. English Time was probably trying to expand its reach in the Middle East, where culture and religion often forbids the consumption of pork.
And that's fine. With an abundance of money and non-English speakers in the region, it makes good business sense to make a few barely noticeable changes to your book so as not to offend so many potential customers. (Mind you, I'm only speculating on this motivation behind the pig thing.)
What bothers me is the laziness. There are other breakfast foods they could have gone with. There's cereal, pancakes, waffles, leftover pizza, whatever. Even "eggs and toast" wouldn't have been too bad. At least then some effort was put into the bread. It's as though whoever was updating the file said "I'm only going to push the 'backspace' button four times, so you need to think of a five-letter-word that begins with b."
No non-starving person has ever been excited to see "bread" as the main course of a meal.