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Getting a word in

Here in Spain the language is cared for by a committee of the great and the good, the Royal Spanish Academy. Every now and then they publish a new dictionary or a new grammar. In reality though it doesn't matter much what the academics say because native speakers the World over are, as I delight in telling my students, the owners of their own language. So if my nephews want to describe a thing as sick, meaning that it is good, then so be it.

Yesterday morning my Spanish class was a real headache; the teacher spent a couple of hours explaining the use of a verb structure to me that required not only a relatively complicated grammatical construction but also a philosophical understanding that was way beyond me.

In the evening I went in to work for my evening teaching sessions. What had originally looked like a free hour was assigned, at the last minute, to a young woman who had asked for extra tuition in preperation for an English exam. Her grammar text book was in Spanish but it was easy enough to understand. The thing she was having trouble with was "I wish" and the constructions associated with it such as I wish I had been there, I wish you could have seen him, I wish it were Christmas every day, etc.

Try as I might I couldn't find the logic or a simple rule to explain the construction to her. I'm confident that I can use the English faultlessly but the grammar book said that I was getting it wrong. Even worse my blundering description kept bumping into the way that the language she drank in along with her mother's milk deals with "unreal" situations. It was exactly the same difficulty that I'd had with my Spanish class but from the opposite viewpoint.

I came away feeling really depressed. Trouble understanding Spanish, trouble understanding English and maybe those grey suited men, and not my nephews, really do own our languages after all.


  1. this is REALLY important Chris - YOU are bang on with the first observation! also there are many ways to teach and to learn a language, as you know. the way that ethan learned spanish - completely orally, is very different from the way that you and i learn it. the way i teach my kids is totally differnt from the way that your language teacher bangs on to you in the morning. what is undoubtedly true is that english is, and is regarded as, more flexible, malleable and less rigid. as maggie will tell you, any poor kid with the slightest speech "defect" is marched of daily to the therapist!
    all that's important is that we can comunicate and enjoy doing it! bollox to the men in grey suits; up with your nephews, my kids and our mutual struggles with castellano!
    by the way; roy woods wizard - i wish it could be christmas every day. wish upon a star. all i want for christmas is my two front teeth. a musical lesson? sure to be on ueh tubeh (you tube) all!


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