Monday, October 15, 2012
Why Did You Say That?
I think I can speak for a lot of students when I say, "Yeah, I know English pretty well and consider myself a good writer. Growing up in America and going to a school where English was the language used for class instruction, I'd become accustomed to the bombardment of grammatical rules and exercises that highlight K-12 English classes. Honestly, I never enjoyed those classes, especially high school level English, because classes often felt like one big grammatical exercise and my 10-11th grade teacher was pretty ruthless in the area of essay grading. After endless paper critiques and error filled grammar worksheets, I eventually came to accept the rigidness of English class, "sucked it up," and started making an active effort to ask why rules were put in place in certain instances but not in others, what exceptions there were to different rules, and how I could utilize what I was learning to create a final product that I was proud of and enjoyed writing.
From there I've worked to make each piece of writing a product of meticulous, cautious yet imaginative, always alliterative creation. I don't so much think of the why while writing anymore but rather the how this can be crafted in my usual writing style while addressing the given purpose. This brings me to the feeling of sudden discombobulation that I experienced while tutoring one day when an ESL student asked me, "How do you know when you're supposed to use in which and in that instead of just which or just that?"
I was unable to produce an immediate answer because that wasn't something I had thought about for a long time, and I found myself mumbling up a storm as I thought out loud. While attempting to "jazz up" a piece of writing, I usually don't consider why saying a certain phrase in a certain instance is grammatically correct, I just think of the "fanciness" that I am thereby conferring to my paper. Instead of wasting more time trying to recall specifics, I used situational examples to illustrate how each phrase (that, which, in that, in which) could be used and how the meaning would be changed if one were used in place of the other. Although my initial confusion also inspired fleeting disappointment, as I like to be as specific and informative as possible, I was still able to elucidate some light on the complex process of writing, and for that the student (and I) were content, because we both learned something that day. Even though life is pretty yucked up with rules, sometimes you just have to go with what you know.