A Lesson in Grammar Humility

Some thoughts after working on this week’s French homework. Bear with me, this will eventually have a little something to do with writing. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m extremely picky when it comes to proper grammar. Yes, call me whatever type of name you want, it’s true, and it doesn’t really bother me. Also, understand that I live in East Tennessee. It’s… not always the friendliest place as far as proper grammar is concerned. I lose track of how many times a day I bite my tongue when I hear double negatives and the word “ain’t”. 

It hurt just to type that.

Now, I’m not someone who will go around pointing out things to complete strangers, because really, even I don’t want to be that person. Also, I have no problem with text speak, so long as I don’t see it in any kind of published, serious writing. I use it myself. Though not to the point of looking illiterate. Seriously? 2 for to? Dropping one letter..?

Uh, anyway.

The point of all of this is, I pride myself on having excellent grammar. My grandmother was an English major, whose parents were from New York, and she taught all of her children, and in turn, grandchildren, how to speak “properly”. 

I often wonder what she’d think if she could see how text speak has taken off in the last few years. She’d probably cry. 

But I’ve always been good at grammar. English has always been my best subject, even topping my major. My English score on my ACT was a 29. My reading was a 30. I never had any trouble with things that seemed to confuse my classmates, like active and passive voice. 

But hey, once you’ve done that in Latin, English seems like a breeze in comparison. 

But it was only a breeze because I had struggled and fought my way through it in Latin. And that brings me (Finally, I know. Hey, I said I had good grammar, I never said I was succinct.) to the point of of this post:

There is no better way to teach a grammar snob some humility than to put them into a foreign language course. 

Seriously. It was indirect objects/pronouns and partitive articles in French this week. When she assigned it, my first thought was an enthusiastic ‘no problem!’

Then, I actually sat down and looked at the worksheet and online lab. Oh. Dear. Lord. All of the sudden, I’m looking up

This book is now squarely  at the top of my hit list.

This book is now squarely at the top of my hit list.

things in French that I don’t even remember learning in English. And after a moment of thought, I realized I didn’t ever really learn them, per se,  It just wasn’t difficult for me, and I just picked up on them. Everyone with even a high school education should know pronouns.

Yes, I know they all don’t. 

But it really is pretty basic. That’s why I felt so absolutely ridiculous, and frustrated, having to look up things that, to me, should be so basic. I whined on my facebook that I felt like a 3-year-old, having to learn all of this. And to make things all the more frustrating, this isn’t my first foreign language class. I’ve already had a year of French in high school and college, and I’ve had two years of Latin

Latin v. French: I’ll let you decide. 

It was a serious wake up call, though. My grammar is great, so long as it’s in English. Put me into a foreign language class? I’ll do okay, but it’s certainly a bit humbling for someone who takes such pride in her abilities. 

People are never perfect, even at the things they’re really talented at. Writers can often be an interesting mix of haughty and humility when it comes to their craft.  If you think you’re good at something, great. Just remember, there are still things out there that can challenge you.

It’s frustrating, it’s disconcerting, and it’s humbling. 

But it’s also gratifying. Because there really is no feeling like that “Aha! Now I totally get how it works!” moment. 

À la vôtre!


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