October 9, 2009

Friday Morning Excuses

My life will never be easier than this. As I sit at my laptop, coffee nearby, I watch my roommate's black lab convulse on the floor, rolling back and forth over a tennis ball trapped beneath her back. Her mouth open, legs splayed, she looks possessed. Her white teeth gleam with saliva, and the taut skin around her eyes reveals her inner wild animal. Her name is Beya, and I think we have a lot in common. Our days consist of sleeping, eating and trying to get exercise. Our bathroom time is scheduled, and it's hard to keep anyone paying attention to us.

For us, life is pretty dang easy. Save the language learner's equivalent to water-boarding, absolute use of case, I don't have much to worry about. Yes, once I have memorized the specific and correct (well, correct to someone) usage of no less than 30 German prepositions, each of which belongs to a specific grouping of prepositions, I will be ready to conquer the free world.

Cursing the evil man who composed our German book, I've been thinking a lot about a video we watched in the Writing Center called "Writing Across Borders." Aside from the plethora of helpful hints and strategies for working with ELL students, this video offered the first accurate description of English articles (a/an/the, etc.) that I've ever heard: Articles are simply to show who is a native speaker and who is not. Not only do I believe this whole-heartedly, but I also think that many elements of language are constructed to damn language learners to a hellish study that yields marginal results.

Since the dog and I don't have many responsibilities, I have enough free time to ponder the importance of articles, prepositions and many other seemingly trivial aspects of language. It's amazing how little of a language that you actually have to know to be understood. With my two months worth of French vocabulary, I feel confident that I know enough to get myself in trouble. Unfortunately, an increased knowledge can also be problematic. A practical decade of German studies has shown me that I still don't understand how to use the right adjective ending, nor the correct preposition for colloquialisms (that's an entirely different issue of location, age, and formality…different day, different blog).

Perhaps the irony of all this is that native speakers are guilty of many a language sin, and in fact, these infractions are generally worse than non-native speakers'. So, here's to missing articles, ill-placed commas, sentence fragments and faulty organization. If it weren't for language mistakes, I wouldn't have anything to study, think about, or talk about with students at the Writing Center.