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Thread: 17 issues - from direct experience of teachers teaching English in Chiang Mai

  1. #31
    Senior Member Array Matthew's Avatar
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    Very brief thoughts:

    I’ve just started working as a kindergarten teacher and the Thai female teachers keep telling me how sexy I am. Am I right to feel flattered or are they trying to tell me something?

    Feel flattered and just take it as a complement from folks who don't realize the subtle lack of appropriacy in how they're expressing that in English.

    My Thai supervisor tells me I have to pass every student! Some students don’t even show up for class, how can I pass them?

    You're not in the USA or wherever anymore, the same ethical standards don't apply here. Use it as grist for the philosophical mill and don't cause a scene. If the feeling of complicity in something you think is fundamentally WRONG takes over, find someone to talk it over with and see if you can work it out.

    I have been told that I have to teach my 3rd year nursing students how to translate medical journals. Some of them cannot even use the present perfect tense correctly. Translation is a skill ……… a job you do when you are fluent! How can I teach this? I’ve been told its in the curriculum and I have to teach it.

    No, don't 'teach translation' when you can't. Come up with lessons on the medical jargon that'd help them and do those in place of some other nonsense.

    Half my students don’t come to class who do I speak to about discipline?

    If they don't put any effort into discipline/attendance where you work, that's because they don't care; it's not part of the system. If you can't accept that, move on. Work with what you've got and monitor your emotions closely. Consider, perhaps, the fact that this was an entirely agrarian, largely pre-modern society in the not-so-distant past...

    Will the students only respect me if I speak Thai?

    No, but they may respect you if you speak the RIGHT Thai in the RIGHT way (authoritatively, for real) at certain junctures. It's a lot in your stance. If you don't feel like your Ss respect you now, don't chock it up to your inability to speak Thai. There are lots of other possibilities, and most of them are not your fault in the slightest. But you can always work on changing their attitude and behavior towards you.

    My students keep calling me ‘fat’ and it really upsets me.

    This is an unfortunate cross-cultural glitch wherein for them the faux pas of it goes entirely over their heads. Again, learning experience. Monitor emotions closely, use it as a kind of cognitive-behavioral test of mindfulness.

    I sent a student out of class for talking and a Thai teacher sent him back in. I feel undermined, what should I do?

    See above re: the function of 'discipline' in an entirely alien 'educational' universe (hint: it ain't a Judeo-Christian cosmos, judgement and punishment and their seemingly inherent positive functions/consequences aren't the belles of the ball...in fact, a ball was never organized...) If you're in this for the long haul, start strategizing now, and eventually report here on your cunning plan.

    Or: don't send students out into that world of non-sensical non-discipline out there. Figure out a new/better way of doling out your justice within the confines of your classroom.

    Best: figure out lesson-based ways to prevent students from talking (in Thai/out of place/turn, that is) during your class.

    I don’t understand about this whole concept of losing face ….. can I not single students out for bad behavior?

    You can, but you've got to be all jujitsu skywalker about it. (Sorry, that doesn't help)

    Why do my students smile at me when they tell me they have not done their homework? I feel like they are making fun of me!

    Google 'the thai smile' or something - perhaps find a copy of 'culture shock thailand' and educate yourself on such things.

    I have just realized that I have been mispronouncing a word in Thai for the last 2 months! Why did no one correct me?!

    They were just happy you were trying. ALmost nobody around here seems particularly concerned with bettering the human race vis a vis the slow and steady perfection and dissemination of intellectual knowledge and accuracy wherever possible. That's our bag. See above re: pre-modern agrarian Thailand.

    The students laugh at me because I sweat, but it’s hot! What am I supposed to do?

    Laugh with them. Try not to take it personally. They don't realize, at all, the ego-stuff involved in the exposure of bodily functions etc. for you and I.

    I’m not sure if my Thai co-workers are older or younger than me, Should I Wai first or wait for them?

    Go on ahead and wai first. Eventually you might ask them, conversationally, how old they are.

    If someone Wai me and my hands are full of books, what am I supposed to do? I don’t want to insult anyone.

    Don't worry about it. Nevermind waiiing then. Smile will do just fine.

    The Thai teachers at my school let the students talk and eat during the lesson. I don’t think this is appropriate. Is it Ok to have different rules for my classes?

    Yes. Be clear about the rules for your classes. Be consistent. And be understanding. Turn it into an Obama-esque 'teachable moment' (cringe!) and explain school etiquette in your country.

    I tried to arrange a teachers meeting at my school to talk about some of the naughty students, but none of the Thai teachers showed up! Why?

    Because, as above, it's not particularly important to them. The ultimate social hierarchy in the Thai world will descend upon the good and the bad anyway. (That's only three-quarters true)

    My Thai supervisor always says ‘up to you’ whenever I ask him a question. My questions are very direct, how can I get a direct answer?!

    Ask him again after suggesting to him politely that 'up to you' is an insufficient answer. If you make no progress, scratch him off the list of helpful people to ask questions of.

    Things don’t start as planned... How can I introduce the importance of time management?

    You are here in this wonderful land to introduce Thais to the English language as a native speaking foreigner. Organization-wide training in Western style time management, largely a product of an industrial age that barely scratched the hazy rice paddy cloud lining of pre-modern Thailand until after the Vietnam war and then no, not so much, is not, I think, exactly in your wheelhouse.
    Last edited by Matthew; 18th January 2012 at 12:56.

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  3. #32
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    My students keep calling me Ďfatí and it really upsets me.

    This is an unfortunate cross-cultural glitch wherein for them the faux pas of it goes entirely over their heads. Again, learning experience. Monitor emotions closely, use it as a kind of cognitive-behavioral test of mindfulness.

    How does this go over "their heads"? It is a common way of talking to ones friends and those that we know. It is not uncommon to say " you look fat" to someone in Thai. It is not the same as obese. When it is used it only means that you look healthy or that you look like you have been eating well.

    My only suggestion is that you tell them that in most western cultures that can be considered rude so that they might not want to use that saying. If it is a coworker, then just smile and say "you look nice too". Correcting others blatantly by telling them what they say is rude is counterproductive. But telling them the words that you want to hear often works best.


    My Thai supervisor tells me I have to pass every student! Some students donít even show up for class, how can I pass them?

    You're not in the USA or wherever anymore,

    You obviously haven't taught in the US ever or in a very long time. "No on left behind" What do you think that means? It is not unethical to pass someone who is below what you think is standard. Failing someone doesn't help them either. Instead try not being a suck ass teacher. If you have more than 10% of students actually not learning, then you are not actually teaching. Covering material is not teaching.

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    Senior Member Array Matthew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by frankly speaking View Post
    How does this go over "their heads"? It is a common way of talking to ones friends and those that we know. It is not uncommon to say " you look fat" to someone in Thai. It is not the same as obese. When it is used it only means that you look healthy or that you look like you have been eating well.
    That's what I'm saying FS - the people telling her she looks fat aren't aware that for her it's an insult. Not their fault, really. They haven't read 'Culture Shock: America" or whatever.

    ---Update---

    Quote Originally Posted by frankly speaking View Post
    Correcting others blatantly by telling them what they say is rude is counterproductive. But telling them the words that you want to hear often works best.
    I agree and def didn't mean to imply otherwise above

    ---Update---

    Quote Originally Posted by frankly speaking View Post
    You obviously haven't taught in the US ever or in a very long time. "No on left behind" What do you think that means? It is not unethical to pass someone who is below what you think is standard. Failing someone doesn't help them either. Instead try not being a suck ass teacher. If you have more than 10% of students actually not learning, then you are not actually teaching. Covering material is not teaching.
    Seems slightly rantish to me but I'll respond to your response anyway..even taking into account the current NCLB standards and educational atmosphere of US classrooms (..btw..no, I've never been a US classroom teacher)..the American educational system is built around the idea of accountability and 'earning a pass'. If a student simply does not attend classes, they don't pass. Even if NCLB in the public school system is making this a more complicated proposition...you're discounting the bulk of educational history in the USA, what we're taught to expect/believe (hence my response to her shock above, based on my assumption about her assumptions), not to mention the myriad private schools which aren't covered by NCLB.

    Honestly I don't see how my post above directed as a basic, short, nutshell response meant to serve as food for thought for a newbie teacher in Thailand leads you to your point exactly, but that's cool. You do have a point, one which might provide yet more food for thought for someone asking the question we're all here to ponder on.

    ---Update---

    Hadn't noticed LDMA's post above..I echoed a lot of what he already said. Exactly 13 Thai smiles, eh?

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    Senior Member Array russellsimpson's Avatar
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    Great feedback on this thread.....

    So many questions....

    I'm looking for a couple of points in the OP that I could comment on....

    I like the cross cultural exchange demonstrated in this thread.

    Good on you OP.

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    Quote Originally Posted by frankly speaking View Post
    My only suggestion is that you tell them that in most western cultures that can be considered rude so that they might not want to use that saying. If it is a coworker, then just smile and say "you look nice too". Correcting others blatantly by telling them what they say is rude is counterproductive. But telling them the words that you want to hear often works best.
    tell 'em the best word for 'fat' is 'gorgeous.'
    Imodium can't stop me.

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    Hi guys,
    I am back. I have read all of your posts and I think you guys already know how to deal with these issues better than I do!
    I will try to think of what I can add in here and contribute.

    I am a man. My real nickname is 'Oh', not 'kaew' which is mostly used as a girl's nickname. My surname contains 2 syllables one of those is 'kaew'. When I was in high school, it was pretty common that high school students (especially boys) would not call his friends’ real name or real nickname. They will make fun of one another by coming up with a name they think it is short and easy to call or funny. One of my friends, his real name is ron-na-chit. Al the students in the class ended up calling him ‘I-shit’ instead because we know what ‘shit’ means in English and we all made fun of him. (‘I’ is an impolite title to call a man. A polite version is ‘khun…’). Another friend, his name is ‘Way-sa-rush’. It was probably too long, so his ended up called ‘I-way’ which has no meaning whatsoever in Thai. It is just shorter and easier to call him with a three-syllable name. In my case, I ended up being called ‘I-Gaew’ which was kind of funny for the other students in the class at first, because it sounds like a girl’s nickname or an old fashion name. But later when everyone has become familiar with the name, the name has no longer sounded funny anymore. Thais at young ages love to provoke and make fun out of not only teachers, but their friends (at least in my generation, I am now 32 years old). I was not a good manner, but many times they did just that only because I was fun. When we grow up, we somehow know what and when to call one another properly. If we are together, we will call one another with those funny names. In front of strangers, we call one another politely by real nickname or name. So I what I want to say here is do not take it too seriously. Thai kids sometime do not chose properly what to call others because they only want to be fun. And if you as a teacher are made fun by calling ‘fat’, ‘mr. ……’, etc, it is not only you specifically who are made fun of. They are doing this commonly to their friends too.

    There is one thing works well in shaping Thai students behavior. I remember when I was in high school one teacher often informally announced a good act of students in front of the class (do it in front of the class – I think this is the key. It makes we proud of what did well), then asked all of the students in her class to applaud(clapping hands) to that. I was in the class and experienced this too. For example, she announced those who finished homework every day for the whole week and the girl who kept a pencil and brought it to the teacher to announce for the real owner. After she was doing this small campaign for a while, it seemed like we all tried to do good acts to show her competitively with everyone in the class in order to receive that moment.

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    Sorry for thinking that you were a girl but your user name kaew is typically a woman's nick.

    Keep adding your perspective though. It is a good thread.

  12. #38
    Senior Member Array Matthew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    There is one thing works well in shaping Thai students behavior. I remember when I was in high school one teacher often informally announced a good act of students in front of the class (do it in front of the class – I think this is the key. It makes we proud of what did well), then asked all of the students in her class to applaud(clapping hands) to that. I was in the class and experienced this too. For example, she announced those who finished homework every day for the whole week and the girl who kept a pencil and brought it to the teacher to announce for the real owner. After she was doing this small campaign for a while, it seemed like we all tried to do good acts to show her competitively with everyone in the class in order to receive that moment.
    Nice. There's a name for that: positive reinforcement.

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    ^ I like the positive reinforcement approach, too. I teach adults and young adults so it isn't as relevant fo me.

    I-Kaew - it's great to get your perspective on things. I hope you'll continue to post on here.

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    Senior Member Array Classic-Chassis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    (Female) Iíve just started working as a kindergarten teacher and the Thai female teachers keep telling me how sexy I am. Am I right to feel flattered or are they trying to tell me something?
    IMHO it's a compliment. The word "sexy" means so much more in the west and if colleagues call you it you often have a problem at work. People lose jobs in the west for looking too sexy at work, male colleagues get fired and taken to court for sexual harassment in the west if they use the word. In Thailand its use is more diluted. I've heard parents of young children use it to describe how their kid looks or is dancing in the past. If it bothers you, change the way you dress.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    My Thai supervisor tells me I have to pass every student! Some students donít even show up for class, how can I pass them?
    Sorry, but this is the norm in Thailand, especially for conversation classes. Find a way. Score them on everything they do. This point is one of the most spoken about amongst western teachers, and IMHO makes newer teachers think that education is a joke. For me it's not what they do in the test that's important, but what happens in the classroom in between tests that you need to focus on. Just because they all past doesn't mean you don't really need to teach them useful skills.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    I have been told that I have to teach my 3rd year nursing students how to translate medical journals. Some of them cannot even use the present perfect tense correctly. Translation is a skill ÖÖÖ a job you do when you are fluent! How can I teach this? Iíve been told its in the curriculum and I have to teach it.
    Turning water to wine is often a request you get in any subject while teaching in Thailand. The bottom line is you can only do your best at doing what is asked. As long as you do some work in that area, and give a test with scores you're covered. The fact that further down this list is a question about a manager telling you' "Up to you" should give you the answer you're looking for regarding this point.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    Half my students donít come to class who do I speak to about discipline?
    Your co-teacher, or head of Department for that subject. Most of the time they won't do what you expect, but you're trying your best, which is all you can do.
    There are things you can do your self, like keeping a register. The kids will not know who told you to do it and why, bluff them, tell them the Department head has asked for it because if they don't attend 80% of lessons they fail or parents will be called. The kids don't know.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    Will the students only respect me if I speak Thai?
    No they will respect you because of who you are and how you act. Speaking Thai just stops them from swearing at you without your knowledge.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    My students keep calling me Ďfatí and it really upsets me.
    This goes back to the "sexy" point. It's how you interpret the word that is offensive, not thew word itself.
    If you ask the kids to stop, they should.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    I sent a student out of class for talking and a Thai teacher sent him back in. I feel undermined, what should I do?
    Communication is king. Speak with the teacher but do not talk down to them. Most teachers I've met have been OK, as long as they can see your actions as justified there should be no problem.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    I donít understand about this whole concept of losing face Ö.. can I not single students out for bad behavior?
    Do you single the same student out week after week? That's doesn't help anyone. Your job is to get the best out of all students, singling out a student will only get the worst.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    Why do my students smile at me when they tell me they have not done their homework? I feel like they are making fun of me!
    It's called the land of smiles for a reason. Thai kids smile for any reason, nervous, scared, happy........
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    I have just realized that I have been mispronouncing a word in Thai for the last 2 months! Why did no one correct me?!
    Welcome to learning a language, mistakes are ok.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    The students laugh at me because I sweat, but itís hot! What am I supposed to do?
    Cotton T-shirt under a shirt if you're male. Never get damp patches again. Stop drinking beer.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    Iím not sure if my Thai co-workers are older or younger than me, Should I Wai first or wait for them?
    If in doubt Wai, it's no big deal. They're probably thinking the same as you.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    If someone Wai me and my hands are full of books, what am I supposed to do? I donít want to insult anyone.
    Do it with a foot. Only joking. a nod is fine.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    The Thai teachers at my school let the students talk and eat during the lesson. I donít think this is appropriate. Is it Ok to have different rules for my classes?
    Yes as long as you don't undermine the Thai teachers, and clearly explain your system to the kids first.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    I tried to arrange a teachers meeting at my school to talk about some of the naughty students, but none of the Thai teachers showed up! Why?
    I wouldn't attend either. Are you a knight in shining armor come to rescue the poor Thai education system? I think you can't control your classes and so do your Thai colleagues.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    My Thai supervisor always says Ďup to youí whenever I ask him a question. My questions are very direct, how can I get a direct answer?!
    Why complain about an easy life, why make it difficult for yourself? Watch and learn.
    Quote Originally Posted by kaewishere View Post
    Things donít start as planned... How can I introduce the importance of time management?
    This is Thailand, not the west. Why try to change things that have nothing to do with you?
    Last edited by Classic-Chassis; 19th January 2012 at 09:32.
    Those that want to read whatever they can want all freedoms, but have to understand they can have freedom, but it must be within the law.

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    No tang, no falang Array Fleabag's Avatar
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    I don't think telling them 'fat' equals attractive in some way is doing the best for the students. Although we are here to teach English and usually not necessarily farang culture, I think there's a point at which some things should be approached honestly and properly for theirs as well as our own good. No wonder so many veterans sound like timid sheep sometimes in their stance of us as guests having to accept their culture almost to the extreme of compromising ourselves.

    The fact is, irrespective of the cultural side, the meaning of 'fat' is more than just overweight. It does carry a cultural connotation that has become wider than farang culture. My Chinese colleague also commented on how the Thais began to call her fat because she put on some weight. She's not obese by any means, it's just their way of expressing themselves with limited English. However, to the Chinese person the word 'fat' carries the same connotations as it does for us. This is not about British or farang culture, it's about teaching properly.

    It is ridiculous to say we shouldn't teach them the subtleties and different flavours of meaning if they are capable of understanding them. Don't be so damn patronising. Fat is a description but it must be used with care because it's often taken in a negative light. If you only teach them the descriptive part you are selling the students short: if you are only doing this because it's 'not in their culture' you are selling yourself short as well as them, in which case you're probably one of these farangs with no balls in Thailand too timid to ever draw a line.

    As is often said, one must choose one's battles carefully here. The same goes for teaching: we can show them the real 'us' (whether that is not wanting to go to a social event or wanting to teach them a word properly) but we must use decent judgement and do it in the right context.

    Fat has a negative side to its descriptiveness, largely because of how it is recieved by the subject of the description, not just in Farangland but in Asia too, so grow some balls, don't treat them like they're stupid and teach it to them properly.

    One final point: to say it's how you interpret the word that is important and not the word itself absolutely must include connotation as well as denotation. As far as fat is concerned, in many cultures around the world it has a negative side and to teach the word properly we have to cover this. The truly important factor here is how the Thais then choose to use the word within various contexts once they're been empowered with the proper vocabulary (rather than fat = beautiful )
    Last edited by Fleabag; 19th January 2012 at 12:10.

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    Senior Member Array Matthew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleabag View Post
    Although we are here to teach English and usually not necessarily farang culture, I think there's a point at which some things should be approached honestly and properly for theirs as well as our own good.
    Yeah..to have learned a word or chunk of language is to have learned it's 'FUMP'..1. form 2. use 3. meaning 4. pronunciation...and under the 'use' category comes negative connotation. It ain't really laying culture on them so much as informing them of the socio-semantic value the word carries in the majority of the world where English is spoken, hence 'the English language' in snapshot...or at least, that's my assumption...If someone can show that the word 'fat' is only now so derogatory in North America, I'd reconsider the important of this data attached to the FUMP of the word because that'd change the balance in terms of it's universal use.

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    have been told that I have to teach my 3rd year nursing students how to translate medical journals. Some of them cannot even use the present perfect tense correctly. Translation is a skill ÖÖÖ a job you do when you are fluent! How can I teach this? Iíve been told its in the curriculum and I have to teach it.


    This one gets me a little. Translation is a skill, but it isn't something that you do when you are fluent. Translating English to Thai requires only a small knowledge of English perhaps a vocab of about 3000 words. You must be fluent in the language you are translating into. Being able to understand basic context and content in the original language but fluency in the target language is more necessary. I would definitely prefer to read a paper in English if it were translated by a native English speaker with upper intermediate ability in Thai, than a paper translated by a native Thai speaker with upper intermediate ability in English.

    Teaching students how to gather context clues and be able to translate the overall content/idea of a piece isn't above (shouldn't be) the ability of a 3rd year Uni student.

    However if the students were translating Thai text into English that might be far above their ability.

    Fleabag, I do agree with your point. However if it were students saying someone is fat, it would be acceptable to teach the students about cultural inference. But if it were colleagues, it is best to understand that they mean no ill by it. Saying fat (uan in thai) is a normal thing to say to a colleague, friend or relative that has gained some weight. It is not condescending or rude. Think about the Thai feeling of guilt (krengJai) if they truly meant ill with it they would feel bad. Thais generally don't like stepping on others toes and are not quite as blatant as most westerners with their displeasure. So it is also important for foreigners in Thailand to understand Thai culture too. Forgiveness and a thick skin will save most newbies from a lot of conflict.

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    I have been told that I have to teach my 3rd year nursing students how to translate medical journals. Some of them cannot even use the present perfect tense correctly. Translation is a skill ……… a job you do when you are fluent! How can I teach this? I’ve been told its in the curriculum and I have to teach it.
    Quote Originally Posted by frankly speaking View Post
    This one gets me a little. Translation is a skill, but it isn't something that you do when you are fluent. Translating English to Thai requires only a small knowledge of English perhaps a vocab of about 3000 words. You must be fluent in the language you are translating into. Being able to understand basic context and content in the original language but fluency in the target language is more necessary. I would definitely prefer to read a paper in English if it were translated by a native English speaker with upper intermediate ability in Thai, than a paper translated by a native Thai speaker with upper intermediate ability in English.
    Please note khun kaew that if you only get frankly speaking 'a little' you are doing pretty well.

    I agree though - and assuming that the students are translating from English into Thai it is simply not true that their English needs to be fluent. The knowledge of 3000 words I'm not so sure about. In the case of translating medical journals or any kind of ESP you need a knowledge of the terminology more than any pre-set total of words.

    You certainly don't need to know how to use the present perfect tense consistently. The key word there being 'consistently'. The simple fact is that pretty much all native Thai speakers will slip up with the present perfect once in a while. You can either accept that or let it inwardly infuriate you - the result will be the same.

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