Last night Laura and I had a good laugh with our adult ESL learners over the importance of pronunciation. The English spelling of many words can be confusing, especially to people whose first language is incredibly phonetic. There is a certain beauty in the way English words are formed, from other words or other linguistic origins. It seems very few English words are truly... English. But this melting pot of sounds and letters can be confusing and socially frustrating at times. The best week can do is laugh off blunders and practice, practice, PRACTICE! It is more than an importance of sound... it is an importance of being understood.
Which was a lesson I taught this morning to my Chinese student who was struggling through the poetic deep southern slang of Langston Hughes. He wants to write an essay response in Chinese slang to prove a point to his teacher - that he is frustrated at feeling outside of the realm of Hughes' understanding. I told him that the words and style an author uses matter to the audience they are trying to speak to. Hughes wrote about African American culture, as an African American, to African Americans and those who were familiar with them. As a Chinese person, my student can speak about and to his own culture in a way that makes sense to those who share it, but may confound those who have never experienced it. If he wants his audience to be his own people, he can feel free to express things in his own terms. But if his audience is white Americans, he needs to make his culture accessible to them. That is the great blessing and challenge of being a writer - you can and must share your heart and mind with a broader audience. And you must be as clear as possible - the goal is to not be misunderstood. Words and other influences have the power to compromise that goal.
Which leads into another lesson I am teaching today to my U.S. History students. They will read about the presidency of Warren G. Harding, which was short-lived (literally) because of the company he kept. While Harding was personally an honest man, he chose some cabinet members who were not honest, but were corrupt and greedy. They caused scandals and made a mess of things, and this distressed and alarmed the President so much that he died suddenly. It's a lesson I believe students of all ages can learn from and relate to: the importance of choosing friends and leaders wisely. A leader can only be as great as the people he surrounds himself with. Your attitude and actions reflect the things you fill yourself with.
Which leads to the last lesson of the day: the importance of a nice hot cup of tea and a time of prayer. I am going to spend the rest of my planning period praying about the things about which I need guidance and help and a good attitude.