“Lost in the Language”
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My freshman roommate in the dorms was a girl named Sung-Ah, from Seoul, South Korea. She was silly, strange, serene and sweet. English was not her first language, but the way she used it fascinated and delighted me, offering hints (I thought) at another language, culture, and mentality–another way of seeing the world. She often expressed things in a way that never would have occurred to me, and to wondrous effect.
On my 19th birthday, she told me “Today you are the main character.”
(Can you imagine any better birthday sentiment?)
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So often we see foreign language learning in terms of limitations, impediments. We forget that native speakers are limited, too, boxed in by our preconceptions of how “our” language works, how it’s supposed to go. Verbs right here and nouns over there, adjectives in this order…until it sounds “right.”
As an English teacher, it’s especially hard–my job is to make corrections, to gently guide students towards “proper usage” (whatever that is).
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I have a student who emails me every week, multiple times a week, just to practice his English, unassigned. He often clarifies what he’s saying by letting me know what he’s NOT saying. Example:
“My sister said “I’m going to go out side”, so I spent a day alone. It’s sounds sad, but it’s not. I need my free time…by the way it doesn’t mean I don’t like my sister or people.”
To show him that I understood, I sent him a link to the Andrew Bird video for Lull, highlighting these lyrics:
“Being alone, it can be quite romantic / Like Jacques Cousteau underneath the Atlantic / A fantastic voyage to parts unknown / Going to depths where the sun’s never shone / And I fascinate myself, when I’m alone”
He wrote back: “I love slowly song, so it fit into me.”
How could I correct that statement?
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When I first heard “Lost in the Light,” I had the strangest sensation: I could feel the place in me that had been wanting just such a song, an absence shaped just so, the type of need you don’t know you have until it’s unexpectedly met.
This song fit into me. I could feel it click into place.
This, Friends, is how we learn.