November 21, 2005

Reposted:Two of My Good friends: Edison and Hilda -- by Bruce Lin

Edison is very knowledgeable in English. He can easily spell out difficult words and their phonetics. He has a clear understanding of grammar -- he is quick to point out others' grammatical mistakes. Edison has hundreds of English dictionaries and reference books and he uses them thoroughly. The problem is, he does not APPLY those rules to real situations; he does not use the language in life; he does not even read.

When Hilda speaks English, you would wonder whether she has ever studied English. She mispronounces almost every word and there are tons of mistakes in her expressions. Yet she uses the language to the fullest to get her messages across. Believe it or not, Hilda is a tour guide. Armed with her broken English, she brings people to different countries around the world. When she talks to foreigners, she is confident and earnest, and her hand gestures are always there to help communication. Once I heard an American commenting on Hilda's English: "No one's English is better than Hilda's." The irony is, Hilda is unlikely to pass any English test.

Edison is strong in his linguistic ability, but not his communicative ability. Hilda is just the opposite. Then, one question arises: What is the purpose to learn a language? "Well, to communicate," you would say.

It does not make sense if so many people cannot even express simple ideas after learning the language for a long time. We assume that we have to learn grammar well in order to speak. So, the logic goes, we can't communicate if we are not good at grammar. True, tight control of grammar can facilitate communication, but, to me, it is not that essential. Edison and Hilda are real people and here we have a comparison. You would complain that you cannot remember all those grammatical rules in English, but I think we need to demystify our fear of the English grammar. If you use the language often, eventually, the English grammar will follow you around.


*Edison and Hilda are not their real names.

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