Do you speak a language?

“I just don’t get these ESL students.”

I looked up from the essay I was grading, unable to ignore what I’d just heard. Having taught ESL for so long made me perhaps a bit maternal and overprotective of those I thought of as “my students.”

“Why don’t they understand grammar?”

He was an older man, a fellow adjunct in the English department, and he taught the same remedial writing classes as I did that semester. I’d encountered him before at these test scoring sessions, and based on the conversations we had at the table, he seemed reasonably intelligent and well-read.

“I mean, it’s all the same, isn’t it? Well, except for the vocabulary.”

Wait…what? Did he mean that? No, no, I must have misunderstood. It’s not possible that an educated professor of English could have such a profound misunderstanding of how language works. Could he? Continue reading