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I never made it to Bhutan or Korea, but I did see the wedding pictures. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to learn to write comfortably in a second—or third or fourth—language.I don’t think could do it, and I admire your grace in taking on that difficult task. We all know what’s considered “good writing” in our own country.
Let me read you three typical letters I recently received in the mail. He bought the house almost thirty years ago for his parents, and after their death he lived there with Marilyn Monroe. Get rid of every element in your writing that’s not doing useful work. And here’s Joan Didion, who grew up in California and wrote brilliant magazine pieces about its trashy lifestyle in the 1960s. This passage is from her collection of early magazine pieces, There are always little girls around rock groups—the same little girls who used to hang around saxophone players, girls who lived on the celebrity and power and sex a band projects when it plays—and there are three of them out here this afternoon in Sausalito where the Grateful Dead rehearse.
(I keep letters like this and save them in a folder that I call “Bullshit File.”) The first one is from the president of a private club in New York. They are all pretty and two of them still have baby fat and one of them dances by herself with her eyes closed [Somebody said that if I was going to meet some runaways I better pick up some hamburgers and Cokes on the way, so I did, and we are eating them in the Park together, me, Debbie who is fifteen, and Jeff who is sixteen.
Those are the damaging habits I want to warn you about today. The English language is derived from two main sources. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe.
The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. How do those Latin words do their strangling and suffocating?
What’s considered “good writing” in Spanish is not “good writing” in English.
Essay English As A Second Languages Fences Essay
So what is good English—the language we’re here today to wrestle with?The Spanish language is a national treasure, justly prized by Spanish-speaking people.But what makes it a national treasure is its long sentences and melodious long nouns that express a general idea.It’s not as musical as Spanish, or Italian, or French, or as ornamental as Arabic, or as vibrant as some of your native languages.But I’m hopelessly in love with English because it’s plain and it’s strong.That’s when I realized that when foreign students come to me with a linguistic problem it may also be a cultural or a political problem.Now I think it’s lovely that such a decorative language as Arabic exists.Much of the anxiety that I see in foreign students could be avoided if certain principles of writing good English—which nobody ever told them—were explained in advance. We grow up immersed in the cadences and sentence structure of the language we were born into, so we think, “That’s probably what every country considers good writing; they just use different words.” If only!So I asked if I could talk to all of you during orientation week and tell you some of the things my students have found helpful. I once asked a student from Cairo, “What kind of language is Arabic?It has a huge vocabulary of words that have precise shades of meaning; there’s no subject, however technical or complex, that can’t be made clear to any reader in good English—if it’s used right.Unfortunately, there are many ways of using it wrong.