Why yes, I do speak a language.

To start off one of my writing courses this semester, I had my students read an article called, “Getting it ‘write’: Essay styles vary by country, creating difficulties for international students.” It explains some of the ways that writing philosophies differ in various cultures, and how awareness of this fact helps students understand their task a little bit better as they try to adapt to an American education.

We’re all in the same boat.

Many of my students have had higher education experience in their native countries and thought they knew how to write. Then they arrived here and found themselves placed in a developmental writing course. Many of them believe it’s solely due to their grammar or vocabulary but don’t realize that there are other factors involved. Having them start the semester with this article gives them a chance not only to adjust their expectations, but also to make them feel better about why they need remedial work. Continue reading

Universala lingvo? A universal language?

When we last left our intrepid linguist, she had presented you all with a puzzle: Merkredon, vi legos pri konstru lingvoj.

The language is Esperanto, and it means “On Wednesday, you will read about constructed languages.” Congratulations to M.Howalt who correctly identified the language and was able to sort out at least part of the sentence! If anyone else wants to devise some clever Esperanto party tricks, or just mess with people (something Yours Truly would definitely approve of), you can find a translation website here.

I remember first learning about Esperanto as a teenager and thinking how cool it would be if everyone really did learn it. I loved the idea of a tool that would make communication possible with anyone and everyone. As with many other things, however, this was a romanticized idea, though it would take me years to understand why. Continue reading

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