Even though I studied writing – its theory, its greats – and even though I have been writing for websites and magazines for four years and creatively since before I was the last one in class to get my pen licence, and even though I am a native speaker, it has taken me up until now, to truly, really, comprehensively, beamingly love my language.
This is because now I teach it and all its glorious idiosyncrasies as a second language, and my editing eye has been turned to proofing translations. Does it work? Do we use that turn of phrase? How far down the list of ‘appropriate’ is that adjective to use with that noun? These two twists on what I have always done, have cupped my face in their hands, turned my head a little to the left and told me to look even harder at what I see.
Consequently, English and I have fallen in love all over again. A soulful affair that began with holding books upside down in my cot, has been reignited with lighter fluid and a box of matches. Holding hands, we face our bewildered students and gleefully explain why you can do that but you can’t do something almost identical because it just won’t make sense. Gripping our coffees, we wave our arms about as we explain the sheer brilliance of our continuous tenses and how simultaneously stretchy and precise they render English. We scribble millions of adjective and adverbs of manner on the whiteboard and laugh ruefully as we pick out the adjectives that can be turned into adverbs of manner and the ones that can’t. We know it’s hard, we know sometimes it doesn’t make sense.
English and I have become like best friends who share all their secrets, even though I know that English has more secrets than I do. It is, afterall, older and more evolved, so I can’t resent it for that. But we’re like two peas in a pod, perfectly capable of understanding each other and quietly thrilled not everyone can have in on our little thing. We greet each day with a smile and a cup of tea and ask each other – ‘what shall we do today? Shall we attempt ‘will and shall’ or ‘have got and got’ or ‘much, many, a lot, a little, a few, little and few?’ Perhaps we should try and wade even deeper into Past Perfect Continuous? It’s your pick. I’ve got your back.’
I never knew I could feel this strongly about something. English is funny and smart and complicated and wordly. We can spend all day with each other and never get bored. English still gives me butterflies when it walks into the room. It took moving to the other side of the world to find this connection. But it was worth it. If I had to, I’d do it all over again.