Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Teaching English as a Second Language

Well, I haven't had any students confess to eating the family dog, but they have still been interesting. There was the girl who got offended when I called her a guinea pig. There was the student who was totally confused by "the right to bear arms" (I could tell by the look on her face that she was struggling with a rather odd mental image). I have students who translate directly from their native language (generally idioms or expressions), usually with mixed results (yesterday it was "lying on one knee" to express giving in to someone).

But this is what I really love:
I will look at a student's sentence, and something about it will seem wrong. So I look at the grammar, but that is fine. Then I start to look more closely at the sentence, and I realize that it is a completely new way of expressing something. And the more I look at it, the better it seems, until finally I can't imagine saying it any other way. There is a certain unintentional poetry that a non-native speaker can occasionally obtain. And this poetry makes me see how much we native speakers are limited by our superior experience.

Really, our perception and expression is controlled by our language. And our language is controlled by our experience.

(By the way, that reference to a student eating the family dog--it really happened.)


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