Have you ever really thought about where the words you use everyday come from?
I'm a writer, so obviously I love language. Wordplay is a part of my job and I actually get excited about learning different ways to use language to enhance my writing. I have always enjoyed hearing how a particular phrase came about and learning the origins of a word, but I have to admit, I do not actively seek out these tidbits of information. I take for granted all the words I do know and don't think twice about the true meaning behind them. Until recently...
The last few years, I have been privileged to know a wonderful and inspiring woman who is originally from Russia. If you met her, you would never know that she just received her citizenship a couple of years ago, or has been living in this country for only a few years altogether. Her English - wait, let me clarify that - her American English is flawless. She not only knows proper English, but she knows all the slang and common phrases that we naturally use everyday. It is very rare that I see her trip up on something someone says to her.
I asked her how she did it. I mean, I took Spanish in high school, and although I earned good grades, I was FAR from a fluent speaker. Learning a new language is hard work! And English has so many double meanings, I can imagine that it would be doubly tough to become a fluent American speaker.
She said she just immersed herself in it. And she studied. If she hears a word she doesn't know, she writes it down. She has a whole book of words and phrases that she can look back on and study whenever she needs to.
However, I've also observed that she doesn't just teach herself the words, she asks the origins too. Sometimes she'll ask me what something means and although I know the word, I have to really stop myself and think about how to explain it without using the actual word. I love when she asks me these things since it forces me to not only use my brain, but to also evaluate my own language and my personal communication skills. I get excited when she asks me about the origins of a phrase and I don't really know the answer, because then we look it up together and the information is usually so interesting!
We have a rich history to our language that has contributions from so many different cultures. Until I met her, I never really thought about that. It has forced me to look at language, and thus my writing, in a whole new way. I really think about the words I'm using much more than I ever used to. In fact, she has inspired me. Not only do I want to one day learn a different language for myself, but I want to learn about my own language even more.
The realistic side of me knows that I just do not have the time to do this to the degree I really want to, but my goal is to set aside a little time here and there to look up new words and learn the origin and history for my own information. Not only will it be good for my own personal growth and enrichment, but it will also enhance my writing in new ways and add a new layer of quality to my work. There's always room for improvement!
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