‘London is the Capital of fog.’

‘London is the Capital of fog.’ It saying in middle school textbook. We studying chapter from Charles Dickens’s novel Foggy City Orphan. Everybody know Oliver Twist living in city with bad fog. Is very popular novel in China.
     A soon as I arriving London, I look around the sky but no any fogs. ‘Excuse me, where I seeing the fogs?’ I ask policeman in street.
     ‘Sorry?’ he says
     ‘I waiting two days already, but no fogs,’ I say.
     He just look at me, he must no understanding of my English.

Oh god. It’s Sunday evening again and here we are marking. And it’s all so depressingly awful. I mean where do they get this from? Not from my classes, I assure you. I don’t teach them to use the gerund for everything. But there again, perhaps that’s how Chinese works, although that doesn’t solve my basic problem as to how to mark this.

Marking! It’s the bane of our lives. It’s the cloud that darkens so many Sunday evenings, no matter how brightly the sun’s been shining earlier in the day. Go on. Say it! Get it out of the system. Student writing ruins Sunday after Sunday. And worse still when we hand it back, it frequently ruins Monday after Monday, initially for us as we come face to face with just how badly they can write, but also for our students when the see the endless red ink on their page.

Just off your head, though. The text above is from a student in London who’d been doing English for a few years before landing in the UK, albeit in a very Grammar-Translation way within a very traditional school system. The task (I’m guessing) was ‘Write about your first impressions of London.’ or something similar. So as an experienced teacher, what would you give it out of ten?

Well Vintage Books, a London-based publisher, decided to give its top prize – publication. ‘Fog’ is a chapter in the story of Chinese novelist and film director Xiaolu Guo. She arrived in the UK in 2002 on the back of an educational scholarship from the British Council. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers describes her experience in the form of a semi-fictionalised diary, and was published in 2007.


As a story in its own right, I found Xiaolu Guo’ s first novel in English both entertaining and thought-provoking. But as an English language teacher, it served as a useful reminder of just what you can do with still limited English if you are given space to be creative, and are awarded marks for having been so.

You can find more about the novel at: