BELLA. We made a pumpkin pie with whipped cream and an apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
BEN. Those look great! Good job, Bella.
BELLA. Thanks! I love baking. I like seeing everyone’s happy faces.
…………………………………………………………..(NHK Kiso Eigo 2, Lesson 112)
The problem with “everyone’s happy faces” is that, unless you’re friends with a bunch of Buddhas with multiple faces, the implication is pretty bizarre. And yet, this was exactly what I heard, together with my kid, when listening in on NHK Radio’s English Learning Course broadcast.
I had one heck of a hard time trying to convince my kid that the expression was actually grammatically skewed. After all, it was my word against theirs–NHK’s team of experts comprised of a university professor with years of teaching experience, a bilingual actor, and an American university graduate who studied creative writing in her mother tongue. And it wasn’t just my son who couldn’t believe that they had made a mistake. A friend of mine, an English teacher at school, was fooled too: “Well, since ‘everyone’ does refer to all people, it conveys the right meaning within this context, doesn’t it?”
Yeah, right. They’re people hired by NHK; how could they possibly screw up like you and me.
But you know what? I have the supreme authority at hand to back me up: Fowler’s Modern English Usage. So nyah!
I wish that NHK would make corrections when they find mistakes in their own English courses, because the ramifications are far from negligible. Thousands of Japanese junior-high-school kids have now been imprinted with the wrong notion that the word “everyone” acts as a plural pronoun. When they realize later on that this is in fact not so, they are going to be stupefied.
In our language, words do not carry the sense of quantity in the same way that the English words do. Getting to grips with the notion of quantity in nouns and verbs and then constructing sentences with the correct subject-verb agreement is a thing of a nightmare for the many of us. If the kids encounter too many unexplained anomalies that abrogate perfectly sensible grammar during their course of learning, then some will turn their back entirely on tedious grammar and instead resort to hassle-free rote learning. I mean seriously, does the world really need yet more of our gift-wielding “parrot people”?
But hey, perhaps I am being too captious. NHK has a long history of providing its listeners with well-thought-out language programmes that are filled with wit and charm. A few boo-boos here and there would not set off a catastrophe. Sure, I’m just a disgruntled Babel fish on a zero-hours contract, venting her frustration through this petty act of nit-picking. Even so, I doubt if any one of you will deny the fact that had the program’s team acknowledged this daft mistake, they would have sent out the best message possible for the listeners to get to hear.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. See? Native speakers get it wrong all the time!