The other day, one of my students made me mad. Hopping mad. Believe it or not, this is actually pretty hard to do. While I am what some might call a
bitch little feisty in ‘real life’, in the classroom, I like to think that most of the time, I’m pretty cheerful and well-balanced.
Being an English teacher, one must put up with a lot of irritations. Students forget books, don’t bring a pen or paper, don’t do their homework, arrive late, leave early, don’t put their phones on silent, have phone conversations in the middle of a lesson, interrupt me or another student, don’t write down the pearls of wisdom I impart, cancel 5 minutes before the start of the lesson (or 5 minutes after), answer in monosyllables…
All of these things, I brush off.
There are really only two things you can say to me that will make me angry:
1. English is easy.
Result: A flash of temper and a verbal stomping.
2. English isn’t a rich language.
Result: A ‘red mist’ descends. May God have mercy on your soul.
Let’s get something straight. I LOVE the English language. I practically came out of the womb reading. Before I became an English teacher, I worked as a copywriter for almost 5 years. Saying either of these sentences to me is pretty much the same as telling a mother her baby has a face like a smacked arse.
Okay, you think English is easy? I agree. It’s probably the easiest language in the world to speak – badly. If you say something like “I going on shops yesterday for to buy a breads”, somebody will understand you. English-speaking people, for the most part, are pretty forgiving when it comes to non-native speakers and will, on the whole, make an effort to understand what you’re saying.
The “problem” with English is that it’s everywhere. Songs, movies, TV shows – most people pick up at least a few words. Sorry, but just because you can understand a few episodes of Friends, or sing along with Rihanna, doesn’t mean that you know everything there is to know about the English language.
If you think English isn’t a rich language, it’s because you don’t know enough of it. If you say something like “He walked from A to B”, congratulations. The sentence is grammatically correct and I know that the person you’re referring to made it to his destination on foot. Now tell me – did he amble, did he stroll, did he stride, did he meander, did he plod, did he hotfoot it, did he tiptoe, did he zigzag, did he shuffle, did he limp…? Because each of these verbs conjures up a different image in the mind of the listener.
The fantastic thing about English, and many other languages I’m sure, is that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I really like my students, and enjoy our lessons. However, there’s one student that, for me, stands head and shoulders above all the others. This woman positively devours the English language.
We meet twice a week but the rest of the time, she’s watching movies, reading books, chatting online, and testing herself on public transport with little cards that she’s made. She never ceases to amaze me with the range of her vocabulary. A few weeks ago, I nearly choked on my tea when she said that she was going to “spend a penny”. Sure, she could have just said that she was going to the toilet, but, for her, that’s too easy.
When she asked me the difference between “small” and “little”, my knee-jerk reaction was to say that they are synonyms. And in a lot of cases, they are. But then again, they’re not. If I told you I owned a small cottage, you’d probably think “Hmm, sounds a little poky, not big enough. Probably not as big as the other cottages in the area.”
If I told you I owned a little cottage, you’d conjure up images of a cosy little place in the countryside with cheerily-lit windows; a home that offers a welcome respite to any weary travellers passing by.
Or maybe you wouldn’t. That’s the beauty of the English language – those little nuances that are lost on most.
That the English language can still make me think like this after close to 36 years of speaking it is what makes it amazing. If you don’t think so, I advise you to keep your opinions to yourself. As you’ll have gathered by now, telling me that English is easy or not a rich language has a rather adverse effect on me.
It angers me, irks me, irritates me, riles me, ticks me off, pushes my buttons, infuriates me, peeves me, exasperates me, enrages me, needles me, provokes me…
You get the idea.