Der Fall Englisch (The Case of English)

the english language is a curse.

at least in my line of work. but this isn’t about the need to be multilinugal for scholarship’s sake. this is grounded a little more in reality (and practicality). when i became a graduate assistant, my first class was graduate history review. it was exactly like it sounds: if you did not score well enough on your master’s history entrance exam, you were placed in this class before you were allowed to take any musicology seminars. my class was moderately sized, about 35 people, and the majority of them were non-english speakers. well teaching worked pretty well and so did answering their questions. then one day, one of my students wanted to do a one on one midterm review session. “great!”, i thought. the opportunity to really help someone. but as soon as we sat down, i realized this would be a challenge. yes, the student did not have the greatest grasp on english but that wasn’t the main problem. the problem was with me. i had to explain pythagoras, music of the spheres, and the Latin Mass. i realized this was all way out of my purview. how do i break it down? how do i make it accessible? at that point i had no idea and i felt like a failure. i felt like i had let someone down who came to me for help.

fast forward a year. a few days ago, one of my students sent me her discussion posting to look over and give comments. she’s been doing this for a while now with marked success. i’ve tried to make my comments reflect her content and not her writing ability because i’ve never felt like that’s been my place. as long as she understands the concepts, right? well not only was this recent discussion posting been riddled with grammatical mistakes but content mistakes as well. i got a little frustrated, moved past it and responded to her email. was i helping her? or was i, again, at a loss in how to do so?

in my community involvement class, this discussion arose; what happens when a large part of your community doesn’t communicate in quite the same way? as much as we’d like to believe, music is not a universal language, especially where history is concerned. how do we, as teachers, communicate the more complex (and less musical) ideas?

this is not a referendum on english in america, in conservatories or anywhere else. my main concern is reaching everyone as best as possible. that may not be possible. sometimes, you have students who are just not all there (no matter what language they speak), sometimes, you have students who try their best and still fail. maybe this falls into one of those subcategories that has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

or maybe this bothers me too much, who knows.

all i know is, i’ve yet to find an answer that satisfies, well, anything. and maybe that’s another part of my journey that i will come to understand more in time.

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