- In: blogging
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- In: foreign languages
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Francisco Marmolejo’s “Deficiency in Foreign Language Competency: What Is Wrong with the U.S. Educational System?,” which appeared on The Chronicle‘s website yesterday, is worth reading. I won’t summarize it here, but I do wonder if the attitudes he describes have anything to do with a comment I sometimes hear when I ask a student if he or she knows another language or plans to learn one: “I’m no good at languages.” I thought the same thing of myself thirty years ago. Fortunately, life circumstances and patient teachers later taught me that motivation and practice mattered more than mere aptitude.
One would think that the British and Americans could easily communicate with one another. After all, we share much media, and the occasional differences in vocabulary are more fun than disruptive. Still, as Vicki Hollett recently pointed out in the case of Tony Hayward’s bungled appearance before the U.S. Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, there is often more to it than mere words. See “A British Apology” on Vicki’s similarly themed blog, Learning to Speak ‘merican.
Perhaps our very commonalities cause trouble in the first place. At least when someone speaks with a non-native accent, we can make some allowances for cross-cultural differences—well, some of the time, anyway. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s empathy for the “small people” affected by the mess in the Gulf of Mexico still rubbed Americans the wrong way.
I have been editing an interesting manuscript over the past couple weeks. While I cannot comment about the specifics, one simple truth has emerged from the process of editing and interacting with the author that I think is worth sharing. Please forgive the lack of examples.
Problems in thoughtful, but still unpolished manuscripts frequently offer authors opportunities to become clearer in their own minds about what they want to say. While it can be frustrating to discover that something one sweated over for hours will not work, it helps to embrace the problems that emerge, because they frequently force one to make connections one had not seen before. The result will be not only greater clarity in the author’s own mind, but a sharper, crisper, more interesting manuscript.
Some of you might see a contradiction between this video and my previous blog post, Tough Love, since that post pushes students to learn how to write standard English well. There is no contradiction, however, because using language is all about communicating effectively with your audience. If you strive to make a good impression in a professional work environment in an English-speaking country, then standard English you must learn. But if you are communicating with friends and family and in other informal occasions, you can treat English much more flexibly. Of course, any deviations you produce will still tend to occur within the language’s flexible, but not arbitrary grammar and syntax, but that’s another story for another day.
[hat tip for video: kalinagoenglish]
Here is some tough love from an English professor that is worth passing on to native speakers, whether still in college or out in the workforce:
Everything one needs to know to use the language clearly, correctly, and even stylishly is available in thousands of places, often free and rarely at a price of more than a few dollars. The nation is full of secondhand bookshops where $15 will get a used dictionary, an old copy of The Elements of Style, and a grammar handbook. Learning to write and speak clear, standard English is mostly a question of will. Some subjects require face-to-face instruction from an expert and hands-on practice under expert supervision. But when the subject is one’s own language, ignorance is a choice.
In some ways this idea applies to non-native speakers too. While you might need classes with a teacher, you should also study a lot on your own.
- In: punctuation
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If you begin an independent clause with however, you need to preface it with a semi-colon.
I would like to spend the winter break on the beach; however, I do not have enough time or money for such a vacation.
I would have turned the paper in on time; however, my little brother’s dog ate my computer.
Sometimes, however, people prefer to put this word in the middle of a clause, like I just did. Then it needs to be set off by commas.
I would like to watch a movie. I can’t, however, because I have more papers to grade.
If you use however is at the end of a clause, it also needs a comma.
I would like to eat some candy corn. There is none in this apartment, however.
I would like to eat some candy corn. There is none in this apartment, however, so I will have to live without it.
There is no semi-colon before the however in the last example, because however does not begin an independent clause. Compare it with my first two examples. It is at the end of the first clause, as I hope the second-to-last example makes clear.