5- ADVANCED VOCABULARY IN CONTEXT: THE HIDDEN MEANINGS OF WORDS THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS
A MESSAGE FROM ORIEL VILLAGARCIA TO THOSE WHO ATTENDED HIS WORKSHOP AT THE SHARE CONVENTION 2012-08-05
At the end of my presentation on The hidden meanings of words that everybody knows, a number of people came up to me and asked a few questions. It is not unlikely that many other people in the audience had the same questions so in what follows I will do my best to offer some answers.
1. To begin with somebody was not quite sure about what I meant in the slide which said you have been punk’d. This is a slang expression which means you have been tricked (into believing that what I was saying before was right). I was just kidding. You will remember that previous slides said “This is a unique presentation that will change your life, etc., etc.” I was actually making fun of those personal growth workshops that claim that they will change your life, or those FWs which among other things say that something will happen to you in the next few minutes after you pass on to your contacts the FW you have just received. Obviously, something will happen, as things are always happening to us anyway, so the claim is nothing less than ridiculous.
2. Somebody asked me whether we should teach our students the hidden meanings of those well known words which I presented. Many of you have lived all of your lives without knowing that one of the “hidden” meanings of clock is to hit someone on the head, for example. And knowing this hidden meaning does not automatically make you a better teacher—just like that. So, some of you may ask why spend your time learning those hidden meanings when you could be learning how to implement CLIL, or studying the latest findings in language acquisition. There may not be satisfactory answers to your question, but in an event such as the SHARE CONVENTION there should be room for a wide variety of options, and the one I offered was one among around forty others from which you could choose.
I do think, nevertheless, that we should make an effort to go on studying the language we are teaching, and these so called hidden meanings are part of the field in question. Obviously there are others, such as literary language, false cognates, new coinages and words which are falling into disuse, varieties of language including street language, ebonics, teen slang, the language of chat rooms, etc. Having said that, the lexical items that I chose as hidden are part and parcel of the repertoire of most native speakers of English, particularly American English, which is the largest variety throughout the world, and you can hear a good number of them in sitcoms and soap operas or in real life situations wherever there is social proximity among the speakers. This language is mostly excluded from even advanced textbooks because it is assumed that the foreign language learner will have no need for them. This is an arguable point. Take the case of the language of business that executives need. It is not unlikely that some business deals are clinched in the context of a highly informal linguistic environment where people are making rapport through puns and jokes. In my presentation I focused on the hidden meaning of the word eat as a result of a true to life experience which I witnessed while I was a student in the U.S.A., and the puns on the word head were offered to me in an exchange with a native speaker of American English.
3. For those who are interested in slang, I would like to recommend Barbara Kipfer’s Dictionary of American Slang, 4th edition, 2007, as one of the most useful reference books for us non-native speakers of English. Although it focuses on American English it also includes words from British English (snog, scoff, cheeky, cheesed off, clanger, etc.).
4. Somebody wrote to me concerning my latest message to SHARE which Omar included it in his ezine as the editorial. The writer expressed the idea that we seemed to be putting too much importance on the degrees prospective lecturers might have. I may agree that having a Ph.D. in itself is no guarantee that you are a fantastic teacher or lecturer. Degrees as such do not turn you into a fair, understanding, sympathetic, loving human being, and yet all of these qualities do not make you a qualified, competent, knowledgeable teacher of English or any other subject, for that matter. Degrees are standards that present day society requires to keep the quacks away. Teaching foreign may not be as scientific as we might want it to be, but we want to ensure that our students are taught by somebody who has a good understanding of the language and what it means to teach it given present day limitations. What is worse is that some would be-experts may claim to be what they are not. A word to the wise…
5. Lastly, I was asked about the parting words with which I finished my presentation. Those who attended it will remember that I asked for the lights to be put out so that you could read the message on the screen. Somebody told me that this prevented them from copying them down.
So, here to end this message, thanking you—and the organizers of the SHARE CONVENTION-- once more for your understanding, enthusiasm and support, is the text of what I included:
May the light of God surround you
May the love of God enfold you
May the power of God protect you
May the presence of God watch over you
Where you may be, may God be with you
May you be blessed.
(adapted from Miracle Prayer by Susan Shumsky)
© 2012 by Oriel Villagarcía