Friday thought #76 English grammar rant…!

I love languages, they are endlessly interesting, and I am always comparing and questioning different aspects of language. In particular I love the English language. This probably has a lot to do with it being my first language, and also the fact that I spend a lot of my time teaching English to foreign students… ! But even so, I think it’s a fascinating language; so complex, so expressive, and much of it with seemingly no rules at all!

Teaching advanced English has been a very interesting experience for me as it has really made me stop and ponder questions that as a native speaker I would never even consider. It also makes you realise just how many mistakes we make as native speakers, mistakes which have, over the course of time, become acceptable. With the enormous rise in popularity of blogs, I find myself seeing more and more mistakes, and not just typos – we are all guilty of occasionally typing too quickly and not having time to proofread – but serious grammatical errors that are clearly not thought of as incorrect by the writer. Why is it now ok to say “there’s lots of people?” Spoken slang is one thing, but I can’t tolerate poorly written English. Another of my favourites is “I should of gone home earlier”. We all went to school and learnt how to read, write and speak. No wonder so many foreign speakers find English so difficult to learn.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 17.30.21

And don’t even get me started on apostrophes. Why do so many people think if a word ends in ’s’, it must need an apostrophe?

“Sofa’s for sale”

“Fresh drink’s available”

“Live sport’s shown here”

IMG_20160817_171512

The list is literally never-ending; outside bars, restaurants, even at universities. True story, I once saw this sign at a British university:

“Student’s Union”

Just for the one student then?

Apostrophes have very simple rules, we all learnt them at school, yet it seems most people have completely forgotten them by the time they reach adulthood.

I would never claim to always use flawless spoken or written grammar, far from it, but I think laziness, far too much time spent typing on phones, and the rise of slang is starting to destroy our language. And what a beautiful language it is, I hate the thought of it slipping away. If grammar is not your strong point, no problem, but just ask someone to check it before you publish it!

Then there are occasionally grammar points which present themselves and become the subject of debate, such as the following safety precaution commonly found on the back of headrests on aeroplanes. Is one right and one wrong, or are they both acceptable? And if they’re both ok, why?!

IMG_20160712_182742IMG_20160715_171011

It’s a wonderful language, but it could be made a whole lot easier if there was just one word for something, rather than 10, and if each word just meant one thing, not 10…!

Friday Thought #1 How sure do you have to be before you up sticks and move abroad?

I’ve decided I’d like to write a pondering thought each week, something that will give us food for thought over the weekend so I think Friday seems the obvious choice! Here’s number one –  enjoy!

Of course moving house is a big deal. It’s time consuming, it’s incredibly stressful and it can be costly. Add to that the travel logistics involved if you’re moving a long distance to another town or city. Throw in to that mix a new country, a new language, a new currency and a completely new culture and you’ve created for yourself a situation that many would describe as their worst nightmare and simply shudder at the thought. Whatever your reason for relocating; whether it’s for a job, a partner or simply on a whim, the whole experience is riddled with unanswerable questions; what will the job be like? Will we like it there? Will we have any friends? Have we made the right decision? No-one can answer these questions for you and the only way of finding out is by going and giving it a try.

Filling in tax returns, registering with a doctor and opening a bank account seem commonplace and mundane, but in a different country and in a language that is not your mother tongue, it can be terrifying. Having lived in France now for almost my whole adult life, I feel fairly comfortable with the French way of life and how things work. But I can’t deny that day to day life would be so much easier if we lived in Britain. From buying standard household essentials to trying to use public transport after 7pm, life in a busy French ski resort is far from straightforward and despite the exotic image of the ‘French Culture’ I can fully understand why so many British expats still rely so much on the UK and the things that are familiar to them. So why do we do it to ourselves? I can only speak for myself at this point, but despite all the annoyances and irritations, the benefits of living here massively outweigh the downsides and our quality of life is superb. After a while you even start to find it almost endearing that the local bakeries close for lunch or that the waiting list at the opticians is over a year long!

So how hard is it to move somewhere new and unknown? The truth is it can very tough and the initial few months can raise a lot of questions as to whether it was the right decision. And how sure should you be to up sticks and move home hook line and sinker? My answer would be that there’s no such thing as no going back. If you go somewhere and give it your best shot and it doesn’t work out, you can always move on, try somewhere else, or return to where you came from. If circumstances allow it, you have to try. I will never forget a quote from Mark Twain that I read as a child and still remember to this day: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do”.

The reason I’m thinking about this is that I won’t stay here forever. At some point a small ski town will inevitably run its course and it will be time to move on. Where to, who knows? But there are a huge number of things to consider and it may well involve starting completely afresh, even learning another new language. At first this thought filled me with dread, but the more I’ve thought about it the more it excites me. I think you have to put yourself out there sometimes. Throwing yourself in to new things, even if they are scary, is what keeps life interesting.

So it could be dreadful, it could be the best decision you’ve ever made or it could be somewhere in between, but to quote a strong cliché, if you don’t go you’ll never know. No-one can tell you what it will be like and no-one can make that decision for you. The only way to find out is to try. What’s the worst that can happen?

If you don't go you'll never know...
If you don’t go you’ll never know…

National identity and a sense of belonging

I am fascinated by the idea of national identity, and where people claim they are from. I am intrigued by those who don’t feel any sense of national pride, versus those who fiercely defend their family’s heritage, regardless of whether they have ever lived there themselves. I spend a lot of time with children from a whole host of backgrounds, religions, nationalities, and with more spoken languages than I can keep up with.

Across my small class of 18, we have 13 nationalities, and 8 different mother tongues, and what makes it all the more mind blowing, is that each one of these children speaks fluent English as a second, third or even fourth language. This never fails to amaze me, as they have no real concept of just how impressive this is. Without so much as a second thought, they will speak one language to mum, perhaps another to dad, a third to their teacher, and even a fourth to a nanny or a cleaner.

In addition to this, although some of them may have lived their whole lives in one place, the majority of these children have spent their short lives moving from city to city, school to school, and have lived in more countries than the average person has holidayed in. They have the most wonderful stories, a whole wealth of life experience, and more knowledge about the world around them than you could ever imagine from someone three times their age.

On the face of it, this sounds like such an exciting and fascinating existence, wonderful preparation for the future, second and third languages on a plate, and exposure to children from all corners of the earth, so prejudice and bullying is almost non-existent. But when you scratch the surface of this enviable existence, where do these children come from, and who are they?

It is interesting for me to watch where their allegiances lie, which football teams they follow, and which country they will support of given the choice, because it is not always so clear cut. When it suits the situation they will back the USA no questions asked, but will fiercely defend the Spanish if needs be, or the Ecuadorians if the issue is raised. One of the most interesting parts of the school year is sitting down on the first day and asking the class what their nationalities are, and what languages they speak at home. You would imagine this would be a 5 minute task, yet in reality there is so much to discuss, and so many children that just aren’t sure, that before you know it, an hour has passed. Is your nationality where you were born, where you live, where your parents were born? Because for some this could provide up to four different choices.

I am in two minds as to what I think about these phenomenally bright, interesting, multi-lingual, multicultural children. Are they living the dream, a once in a lifetime opportunity reserved only for the lucky few? Or are they lost souls, destined for a life of globe-wandering, never sure who they are or where they’re from? Do we need a national identity? Is where you come from really that important? Or is it enough to just be?

The need to belong
The need to belong