And that wraps up my first week lecturing at the University of Salzburg. It’s been thrilling putting my brain back in the driver’s seat and back in front of a class of students.
From British food and drink in Communication and Culture, to the intricacies of sentence rhythm, power words and word emphasis in Writing Genres, and finally paying a visit to commas and semi-colons, briefly, in Advanced Writing Skills – every minute has been a pleasure.
There is nothing like teaching to deepen learning. I don’t think it matters how many hours you make notes, highlight, or even discuss, there is nothing as potent in the learning process as delivering a lesson. Each time you deal with a topic, you learn something new.
Sometimes, however, I wonder what the role of the lecturer really is. I look at my bag stuffed with books, I look at the students to whom I’ve recommended the very same books, and I wonder where on earth I stand. Surely the students are as capable of reading those books as I am. Years of experience, maybe, mean that I bring a bit more to the ideas and theories in the books; maybe those years of experience mean I am able to understand the theories a little better. Do those years of experience also allow me to better explain how to fit the theories into everyday writing? I guess I like to think so.
Fascinating are the names given to techniques that I’ve been using in my writing for years. Bamboozling is that someone sat down and worked out how each of these techniques work and applied a set of rules. Rules which, it would seem, were made almost specifically for breaking, or at least bending.
In Advanced Writing we explored dear old comma. He has his rules, and I guess thought he was all set. But then you can get rid of him and let a semi-colon take over, because he’s not strong enough to connect two complete clauses. If you feel you’ve had enough of him, you can sub him for a dash – you’re allowed to, after all!
And then there are the correlative conjunctions and adverbials that help you change the emphasis of a sentence and highlight specific aspects. Adverbial and adjectivial ‘power words’ that are great, but shouldn’t be used too much for fear of them losing their power. Look at these two sentences – one using an adverbial – taken from Martha Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar
•The senator spoke about the problems of the homeless.
•The senator spoke eloquently about the problems of the homeless.
Identify the power words – the words you emphasise – in each sentence and think about how the sound of the sentence changes with the added word. How does your understanding of the sentence change when ‘eloquently’ is added? Who becomes the most important part of the sentence? With this one word the reader will expect to read more about the senator in the next sentence, and not about the homeless. How could use just one word to tip the interest in favour of the homeless?
Just when you think you’ve got power words, adverbials, adjectivials and correlative conjunctions sorted in your head, one of the correlative conjunctions decides to break away and form its own splinter-cell that has it’s own special set of rules. ‘Both – and’, unlike his brothers ‘not only -but also’, either-or’, ‘neither-nor’, can’t join two complete clauses together.
Correlative conjunctions also alter the rhythm of a sentence:
–Individuals and nations must learn to think about the environment.
–Both individuals and nations must learn to think about the environment
How has ‘both – and’ altered the focus of the sentence? Where is the focus in the first, then the second sentence? Try rewriting the sentence using ‘neither-nor’.
The inticacies of our language are almost infinite. But we give rules out willy-nilly, only to remove the rules in the next breath. It fascinating and frustrating all at once.
Bring on next week, I say, when I add a bit of business English at Salzburg FH to the mix.