Archive | April, 2013

Students and native speakers and promiscuity

2 Apr

I remember a Proficiency student a few years ago who had reached a kind of plateau at Advanced and had never really got beyond there; strangely, he still talked about ‘he go’  ‘she do’ or ‘it jump at you’. If you had isolated that one fossilised error that he still made in spite of every attempt to wrest out the vital -s ending,  you might be forgiven for thinking that he hadn’t really advanced beyond basic – say Elementary. Of course, in every other respect he had, and he probably had more grasp of English vocabulary than a few native speakers I know.I will never forget how a Wall Street Trader I met once was bragging about all the women he had succeeded in picking up in his halcyon trading days, and I asked whether it was he or the women he picked up who were promiscuous, and he had no idea what I meant.

Barbed wit is lost on people who don’t get it. I’m not saying that this guy was stupid – he was clearly as sharp as shark’s tooth, but for him language consisted of basics, because it was only basics – and the language of money trading – that he used. ‘Sleeping around indiscriminately’ are three words, one of which he wouldn’t have used, the long one, which  actually has more syllables than the one-word promiscuous. However, it’s important to understand that the indiscrimination of the sleeping around is crucial to the meaning of promiscuous.

I bet my student, though he was a happily married man and had never been a wild boy,  would have known  what the ‘p’ word meant. And yet he was never able to get his head round the third person singular ending.