Lindsay Lewis

English/ ESL consultant: Word worker, writer, teacher, mentor and poet. Author of This Won’t Hurt a Bit! on writing clear content.

Tongue tied? Blame the arbitrary nature of language.

Posted by on Aug 16, 2015


Many of my students make funny blunders ( as do I when acquiring other languages.) One of my students had to read a passage on bats. When I asked him to summarize the key points, he stated “Bats come out at night and they like incest.”

Hmmm….I had to laugh.

I then had to explain that bats may not be having sex with family members as it would cause inbreeding. I offered the word insects as an option, much to his relief. The same student mixed up puberty with poverty. In fact, I can see how he mixes up words because he takes a shot at the general pattern- in this case both words start with p and end in -erty. Close enough for him as he struggles to retain vocabulary.

Language arises from its roots- and then evolves when people communicate with neighbouring countries who speak a different tongue. However, there is no rhyme or reason to the origins of the words. Why do we call a tree a tree instead of a plimpf? Aside from sounds evoking certain feelings, I cannot theorize. In any case, you are not alone if you are struggling to remember words.

Remember- only study words in context, and try to learn them by related roots. Never memorize a random list of vocabulary. Your brain is not designed to remember unrelated items in this manner.

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