Falling In Love With Language

It was the venerable W. H. Auden who said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” We could, therefore, find ourselves lost in a “chicken-or-egg” conundrum: does being in love with language make you a poet? Or does being a poet make you fall in love with language? But that would be an unproductive use of our time. Rather, I wish to answer another, more practical question posed to me in earnest by one of my English-teacher colleagues at a recent seminar: How do we make our students fall in love with language, too?

When faced with this very question early on in my career as a high school English teacher, the only thing I could come up with by way of a solution to this dilemma was to take a crack at creating the same types of situations and experiences for them that made me fall in love with language myself when I was a high school student. In other words, the English classroom environment I fostered had to serve as a sort of “petri dish” where playing with words and experimenting with language was not only accepted, but welcomed and even expected.

As a high school student, my friends and I first became intrigued with the language’s facility for innuendo, punning, and double entendre. Witty word-play became the norm, and many a “battle,” or friendly competition of tossing repartee around in the halls between classes and during after-school practices ensued. My fondest memories of all the little “in jokes” we shared persist even to this day. So, my answer to the question my colleague brings up is this: I think we must take every opportunity we can to engage students in word-play. I think any and every attempt at witticism should be rewarded, and that innuendo, punning, and double entendre should be made to feel at home in our classrooms. I think our own love of language should always be on display.

It is in the spirit of encouraging this kind of word-play that throughout the years, I have penned vocabulary lessons for my students. The results are tallied in What’s That Word? – A Fun Way to Build Vocabulary (Yak Press, 2012), which presents the collected lessons in a fully-illustrated workbook of fun and entertaining vocabulary activities that is chock-full of verbal jousting, and available from these sources:
Yak Press
• amazon.com


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