A Passion for Words

Though my interest is often piqued by all kinds of subjects, my biggest passion is for words. I’ve always enjoyed writing in many genres, although I have come to hate the literarily analytical essay, in the same way as if I had forced myself for years to eat chocolate at times when I had no inspiration to do so, and was prevented from eating chocolate when I craved it, I would certainly have come to despise chocolate.

Here is where I come to the heart of what “unschooling” means to me: learning that becomes effortless because it is borne on a wave of curiosity and desire.

I used to play for hours as a child with words: writing stories and poems, creating codes, reading, practicing fancy handwriting, etc. I always loved the magic that words contained within them. Say “please” and Mom will let you have another cookie. Say “shit” and she put soap in your mouth. Say “I love you” and she melts. What power!

Then I got hooked on foreign languages… first French. My mom taught me some words. My dad found me a used book of classic short stories, and I remember trying to translate word for word, being such a greenhorn that I even looked up conjugated verbs and couldn’t understand why they weren’t in the dictionary.

Then I got the chance to study French in high school. Once I mastered the vocabulary of the assigned chapter I would skip ahead in the book and the new words were like a newly opened box of chocolates: tempting, mouth-watering, and when you looked at the letters you didn’t know what was going to be inside… what would the new word mean? How would you say it? The suspense was delicious.

After completely a B.A. in French and Spanish I got the opportunity to teach French at the University of Oregon. In a future essay I will talk about some of the less fun parts and how I think they could have been better, but mostly it was great.

The best parts were the interactions with the students who loved studying languages. One student came to several of my office hours, apologizing profusely for bringing so many questions for me. Little did she know those were some of the best moments I had teaching, getting into some technicality of grammar, finding examples, exceptions, just generally wallowing around in the language like a pig in cool mud on a hot day. Delicious.

And the students who were studying Spanish in addition to French, as I was, how we would compare words and conjugation, realizing similarities, tricks to help us remember nitpicky details, and just generally revelling in our trilingualness.

There were good times in the classroom when I could help students learn ways to talk about stuff they really cared about, their families, movies, their future plans, and communicate about it to each other in a new language, which I knew now opened up the door for them to share themselves with so many more people across the world. (Just doing my bit for the global community.)

I also enjoyed the times when I could present some sticky bit of grammar in such a way that the light went on in students’ eyes and they finally understood how that part of the French machine worked. That I could help them get that much closer to a solid grip on the secret code of the Francophone world made it worth getting up in the morning.

And lately, when I want something relaxing to do, something effortless, a task that I will instantly feel enthusiastic about and that will leave me satisfied when I must turn my attention elsewhere… you’re never going to guess. Curriculum development. Isn’t that the most perverted thing you’ve ever heard? Making up lists of words that could be used in games, songs, activities. Finding cultural material on the internet: movies, songs, jokes, music and music videos, biographies, slang. Creating worksheets. (That one is particularly demented when you say it out loud.) Creating crosswords, word searches, and other puzzles that play with words.

Because that’s what it comes down to. Playing with words. Savoring the taste of them on the tongue, enjoying the sound of them, making them do tricks once you figure out the code to turn on their power.

That is my passion.

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