Friday, 18 December 2009

Delightful Turns of Phrase

One of the perks of my line of work is the fact that new speakers of English (especially of university age) have well-thought-out intellectual positions and critical thinking faculties (well, some of them do) and a whole bunch of relatively new words to put such thoughts into, but little experience with doing so or with the turns of phrase and conventions of expression that obtain among native speakers of English. This leads to some curious ways of putting things, which can sometimes be by turns striking and endearing.

An example from today's class. One of my students gave a seminar on "Family Decision-making During Adolescence", looking at the ways parents and teenagers relate to each other and make decisions during the teenage years. The student in question was from Vietnam (those folk have a thoroughly charming if at times incomprehensible accent- they seem to be allergic to final consonants). Some delightful turns of phrase ensued. The family, we were informed, is "society's cell", and good family relationships are necessary to "make us full-fledged". Teenagers tend to be of the opinion that "parents get nothing in the modern life", but in fact they are disadvantaged because "teenagers only think near future; they don't think far away far away future".

Sure, some of you may not fully appreciate the simple delights of such unorthodox English usages. It may also be that you have never gotten an euphoric rush from finding a new word by chance then using it in a sentence (such as, say, prolix- a word I learned for the first time earlier this week). In that case, you have my sympathy, and I can only describe the glee with which I attended (and marked) this Vietnamess's seminar this afternoon by comparing it to the unexpected joy of putting honey and peanut butter together on a sandwich and finding they not only go quite well together but in fact enhance each other. What sweetness to hear the thoughts of academia translated into language being stretched and tested like a new limb. Like a blind man looking out with newly-healed eyes and seeing men walking about like trees.

I love my job!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Work with a lot of Vietamese. It is a bit of fun pimping the english language (just today explaining he word thermometer and the neat logic behind the name. Thermo- heat, meter- measure), and learning a bit of theirs (unfortunaly the word I learnt today was a bit less polite :p). Ironically I find myself rolling my eyes whenever my sister starts talking about some new word she learnt off a Japanese comic. Why is that? Must be because it's on-the-job.