© 2015 Jules

Language Barriers

I speak English; fluent English in fact.  I am actually a native speaker of English.  I learned Spanish in High School which is a priceless tool to have as a California resident.  I even speak some Italian from my studies abroad in Florence during college.

Yet despite all this linguistic prowess, I occasionally face communication barriers with my teenaged students.  We all speak English, and yet still struggle to understand each other at times.  I’ll illustrate with a story.  Last night at my high school group meeting I was chatting with a student, let’s call him Ryan, about his Video Game Design class.  For the final project Ryan is doing all the animation for a video game of his own creation.  In an attempt to sound hip and in-the-know, I asked Ryan what computer program he was using to animate the characters.  He named a program I have never heard of before.  Ryan further added in an enthusiastic tone, “Yeah it’s a pretty bad program.”

Pause here: If you know anything about modern day, Northern-California linguistic conventions, you know that sentence could mean two different things.  1. The program is awesome. 2. The program is horrible.  Bad can be used interchangeably as an adjective to express approval or disapproval of a noun.  I won’t attempt to trace the origins of using the term “bad” to mean “good” (but I’m pretty sure Michael Jackson had something to do with it.)  All I knew was that Ryan thought the program was either adequate or inadequate for his video game design purposes.

All of the information I just conveyed in the above paragraph flashed through my mind in the space of a blink accompanied by a blank stare.  I was forced to clarify with Ryan, “Does that mean it’s a bad program or a good program?”  Without hesitation he assured me, “No it’s bad, really old and awful.”

I can pretty confidently assume I was not judged negatively by my high school crew for my lapse in understanding in the above conversation.  The lack of specificity in the surrounding syntax of “bad” necessitated further illumination.  In other words, I kept my cool points.

However, an hour later I lost a significant quantity of cool points in a conversation with the whole group.  It was announcement time in our meeting and I was discussing our upcoming weekend retreat to the Lake.  My announcement went something like this (names have been changed): “We will be staying in the same house as last year, Tina is bringing her wakeboarding boat, I am bringing the food, Tim is bringing the music and you all can bring the booyah!”

I was feeling fairly witty at the time for my off the cuff humor.  Yet the students were all giggling and exchanging glances.  (Giggles and exchanged glances is code for: Jules just did something uncool.)  “What?” I exclaimed.  “Is it the booyah?  Are you all not familiar with that phrase: bring the booyah?”  Cue more giggles and exchanged glances.

At this point a sainted student, that we will call Kelly, intervened on my behalf.   Kelly informed me, “Remember point two from your blog? Yeah, this is one of those times.”  You see, Kelly actually reads my blog and was referring to Point 2 of my last post : teenagers are awesome because they tell me things I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Translation: saying “bring the booyah” is about as cool as wearing socks with Toms. (Don’t do it unless you want to brand yourself a social pariah equivalent to the Unabomber.)

So even though we all speak English, sometimes, to my students, I sound more like Shakespeare and less like Katy Perry.  And though it might slow our conversations, or cause me a bit of embarrassment, “All’s well that ends well.”

My pretty bookshelves

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