If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Monday, 11 May 2015

Notes to my students: # 12 Writing about writing

Yesterday was the last day of yet another term at our English Language Centre. For seven weeks, I worked with a group of 20 students, from under-eighteens to over-fifties, but most of them in their early twenties. If you are around twenty, you are in that wonderful phase of life when you haven’t lost the innocence of childhood, yet you’re ready to explore the myriad possibilities that life offers. It is always a great experience to work with them, and in this particular group too, there were some chirpy exciting people I loved to work with.

They were all brought together – not by fate, but by their common desire to learn English. As the term drifted to its inevitable end, there was a tinge of sadness, and everyone would have asked in their head, ‘What next?’

As we all know, a second language – like cooking, driving, computers, or any other skill – is not taught, it has to be learned. And there are these four steps that people normally follow.

(A) Listen to and read good speakers / writers of that language, 
(B) Note new language,
(C) “Think” about the new language you’ve come across, and
(D) Use the new language when you speak or write.

Unfortunately, most Indians learning English do not get the opportunity to interact with good speakers. On the contrary, they get to listen to and read a lot of inaccurate language everywhere. So it may be a good idea to add one more step to the list above: have a grasp of the basic grammar. This will help you to check and analyse the English you hear or read. And it is essential that you speak and write English.

Yesterday, one of my students told me she had no problem speaking English; but when she got round to writing something, she didn’t know how to begin and what to write. Let me try to answer her.

First, what to write? My answer would be: anything. You can write about people, places, things, and of course, your thoughts and feelings. Think of a person, anyone, maybe, your mother. What kind of a person is she? What has been her life experience? What has she tried to achieve? How far has she been successful? What qualities in her do you admire? Would you like her to be different?

Think of the first school you were in. Think of the first day in your office. What thoughts went through your mind when you started working? What dreams did you have? What fears? And how has reality panned out? Are you happy about what life has had to offer you?

Or you can just look out of the window. If you sit back and think, you will see there are stories all around us. Look at that man in a funny yellow shirt carrying an umbrella, observe him minutely. What is he? What kind of house does he live in? Can you imagine the story of his life?

So you can write on anything, but HOW will you write? My answer to this is quite simple. Just begin. Pen and paper have their own dynamics. And so do key-board, computer screen, and your fingers. When I began typing this in, I knew what I wanted to write, but I had no idea how I would go about it. As it happened, first I wrote about an entirely different topic. I completed it and then came back to this. I don’t know what I have written; I don’t know whether it’s good or intolerable. But I know that as I was writing this, I was having a virtual dialogue with a chirpy young girl with bright eyes and curly hair.

In a few minutes, I will print this out and read it closely, maybe twice or even three times. If I think it’s rubbish, I would crumple the sheet of paper and throw it into the bin under my table.

If I think it’s tolerable, I would pester my wife to read it. I would also polish it and then upload it on my blog. If it’s readable, I would derive a kind of pleasure that nothing else in the world gives me.

So, Dear Student, WRITE. Writing is its own reward.

Monday, 11 May 2015