Today, I’m responding to the prompt from The Daily Post! It’s actually perfect for me today, because this story has been making me chuckle for weeks now.
Second-Hand Stories: What’s the best story someone else has recently told you (in person, preferably)? Share it with us, and feel free to embellish–that’s how good stories become great, after all.
–The Daily Post
At the Writing Center on our campus, we get a lot of non-native English speakers making appointments. Reasonably so: it’s a safe and nonjudgemental place to discuss questions and problems about language and writing. It can be a relief (for any writer) to talk to someone who does not determine the final grade. That means, though, that we often get requests to be the grammar-checkers for papers. Although that is indeed a very important part of writing, it is not the only thing. Therefore, whenever a writer asks for full-scale grammar corrective action, I do try to take a look at other things that could improve the paper as we go along. I do it sneakily, so that we do still mostly pay attention to grammar, but they still get a lot out of the session.
Recently, a fellow tutor shared a story with me about a session he had with a another writer. During one of our slow times without any other writers around, he said, “Oh hey, I’ve got a story for you. You’ll enjoy this.”
I asked, “Oh? Why’s that?”
“You’ll see. So I had a session with this one student whose first language was Chinese. I sat down with her, and the first thing she said was, ‘Please help me with the grammar in my paper. I don’t know what to do!’ So I asked her my usual question about what parts of grammar she struggled with the most…” And at this, he had to pause to indulge in a laughing fit, which he tried to control so he could continue the story. When he recovered, he crossed his legs, folded his hands over his knees, lifted his chin, tipped his head in a dainty manner, and smirked. “And she said, with a very serious face: ‘All of it.'” After hearing this, I couldn’t keep it in. I cracked up for a solid five minutes. Usually answers to that kind of question are different but just as general…and very few are so blunt as to say it up front like that. Plus, to handle more than a couple grammar items per thirty-minute session is ambitious…oof!
It was refreshing and wonderful and hilarious. Apparently the writer had a good sense of humor about her and was openly willing to admit that she was just lost. Good for her! I would have been so shy. (Although I still love languages, it’s hard to admit that I need help.) I’ll be studying in Spain next semester, so I’m trying to draw from the strength of the students currently studying here at my university. I admire them so much, especially the ones who are taking non-sheltered Grad school or masters courses here instead of in their home countries. There are a variety of reasons for them being here instead of there, but can you imagine the drive and bravery it takes to do that? Upper level courses (like those of the grad school curriculum) are hard enough in your native language. Wow. They’re so cool. I recently met with another writer (whose first language also happened to be Chinese) as she was preparing to do a presentation for her grad class. She shared with me that it was her first semester in the U.S. She was worried because her classmates (who are at least mostly native-born Americans) speak English so well, and that it was going to be so difficult for her. My jaw dropped–she was doing such good work already (as could be seen in her own writing)! I told her that I thought her speech and writing was excellent (which wasn’t a lie), and that if this presentation were in Chinese she would totally OWN them on language skills anyway. That seemed to help!
I hope to be as adept in my second language (Spanish) as these amazing linguistic role models someday. I also know some German, and I want to learn to speak Tamil. Those are my top languages of the moment. So, dear reader, any experiences with that? If not, talk to your friend from another country and ask them what their experience has been like. Cheer them on if they need it (or even if they don’t), and plan to be that awesome someday. If you are that person who has learned to live in a completely new place, rock on. I want to be like you someday.