Crazy for English

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…. My friend’s photo of a rare snowfall in Chengdu, seen outside my building. Heavy winter storms and freezing temperatures have created disasters in China, but locally the snowfall was not serious, just pretty.

There’s a good reason why I’ve been out of touch: I just returned from spending 8 days on an island. I’m not talking about a balmy, south-seas island with swaying palms; I mean a tiny, freezing cold patch of ground called Flower Island, in a lake about 90 minutes southeast of Chengdu. My purpose was not to relax, but to teach for Crazy English during its week-long winter intensive camp for 60 students.

The week was COLD – we arrived on a snowy day with temperatures hovering below zero. My shared room had a heater that didn’t work, and felt like a walk-in freezer. Even during the day I huddled under two comforters wearing warm clothing. However, the room and all meals were provided for the week, and I made a tidy sum of money for my teaching efforts. It wasn’t quite “back to nature,” but at least it was nice to see water and to be out of the city.

Flower Island’s just large enough to hold a Holiday Inn and a few winding paths. I had signed up to be the token foreign teacher, handling 3 classes a day. The rest of the instruction was carried out by 6 Chinese teachers of English, and quite a responsibility they had: spending up to 10 hours a day with their students, in classes of 20, ages 13 to about 17. “Intensive” doesn’t quite describe the curriculum; it was more like an endurance test and boot camp rolled into one. Students got up at 6:30 AM to repeat their sentences outside in the pre-dawn darkness and cold, and instruction ended at dinnertime. Students were tested 3 times a day, and walked around constantly with books in front of their faces, reciting sentences in English. There were activities every evening.

I’m convinced that young Chinese students work much harder than their American counterparts. I can’t imagine myself at age 13 doing anything remotely as demanding as this. My one and only language camp experience, at a French camp in Minnesota when I was about 8, was just playtime by comparison. Chinese children, though, are under a great amount of pressure, particularly in middle school and high school, up to the time they complete the intensely competitive college entrance exam. After that, university is sometimes thought of as “relaxation.”

I’m not sure what I think of the “Crazy English” method, which is known here for its emphasis on shouting – yes, SHOUTING – English phrases to overcome shyness and imprint them on the brain. I was free to teach whatever I chose, but the remainder of the English classes were mainly choral repetition and rote learning, including many seemingly unconnected sentences and sayings, such as

No doubt about it

No pain, no gain

My father has never traveled abroad

She really gives me a headache

He is from a poor family

China and America should cooperate together

I love money

However, when it was my turn to take over, I gave the students incredibly useful language tools such as how to make animal sounds in English (moo, oink, meow, cock-a-doodle-doo – you get the picture), how to put together a mad-lib story (make a list of specific kinds of words – nouns, adjectives, etc., then plug them into blank spaces in a pre-written story), and lists of words ending with the suffixes –mania, -phobia, and –phile (pyromania, arachnophobia, bibliophile).

The camp included the requisite KTV (karaoke) night, a speech contest, and English Corners (speaking practice and games). I now have some new friends, mostly in their early teens, and have already been offered a spot in the summer camp, which I may consider. Oh yes, I also got in some quality ping-pong and badminton practice.

After a week of seclusion far from the madding crowd, I was actually ecstatic to be in the midst of great crowds of people again in Chengdu, all rushing to get home on the eve of the holiday week for Spring Festival – the Chinese lunar New Year. My best friend stayed in my apartment with Xiao Gou Gou, who seems to have had a good time in my absence. Now I just have to figure out what to do with the dog when I go to Beijing in March for about 5 days to meet my father and stepmother on their China tour.

Long, longer, longest

So what IS the longest word in the English language? I taught my Crazy English students one often-cited example, which I learned in high school: ANTI­DIS­ESTABLISH­MENT­ARIAN­ISM. After I wrote it and pronounced it, though, the students naturally wanted to know what it meant. Whoops. I had no clue, so today I looked it up. It’s supposedly the belief which opposes removing the tie between church and state. As with most really long words, though, it has possibly never been used, existing primarily just as an example of a long word.

Had I thought harder, though, I would have realized that SUPER­CALI­FRAGI­LISTIC­EXPI­ALIDOCIOUS (courtesy of Mary Poppins) actually beats ANTI­DIS­ESTABLISH­MENT­ARIAN­ISM by 6 letters. However, the plot thickens:

At 45 letters, PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­CONIOSIS (also spelled PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­KONIOSIS), a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of siliceous volcanic dust, is the longest word in any English dictionary. Don’t even think of asking me to pronounce it.

…However, it was coined by Everett Smith, the President of The National Puzzlers’ League, in 1935 purely for the purpose of inventing a new “longest word.” The Oxford English Dictionary described the word as fictitious. Nevertheless it also appears in the Webster’s, Random House, and Chambers dictionaries.


The formal names of chemical compounds are almost unlimited in length – I found an example on the internet that had 1,900-something letters, but I won’t take up space by reproducing for you.

I know that you’re just itching to know the longest one-syllable word in English. Take note:

The one most commonly cited is screeched (nine letters). However, one ought to mention also scratched, scrounged, scrunched, stretched, and the plural nouns straights and strengths (all with nine letters). The complete Oxford English Dictionary also indicates the existence of scraughed, scrinched, scritched, scrooched, sprainged, spreathed, throughed, and thrutched.


In addition, There are two 15-letter words that contain no letter more than once: uncopyrightable and dermatoglyphics.

So there. I’d love to chat some more, but I have to go amaze some friends with my new words.


One response to “Crazy for English

  1. Jason in L.A. here. I was wondering if Chengdu was hit with the massive snow storms, too. Glad to hear that the bad weather didn’t reach there. Come August I will be spending a lot of time working in Zhangjiajie (湖南张家界). The news coming out of that part of the China wasn’t pretty at all.

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