46, 47, 54 | Creative Prompts for Language Arts

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

Knowledge is the acquisition of facts and wisdom is knowing what to do with them.

Or something like that…

Point being, it’s great to educate ourselves about something but until we put it into practice, we’re missing the best part! So here are some prompts for a bit of creative play about our foreign language, slang, and jargon topics:


Explaining how our cups, pints, tablespoons, and teaspoons all interact to a room much more familiar with metric!

1. If you’re anything like me, you find helping other people incredibly rewarding. Volunteer at your local library or literacy center. They might be in need of storytime readers for the kids section or ESOL volunteer tutors like my friend Lyssa does! Even if your schedule is too busy to commit long-term, you can offer to be a guest like I was two weeks ago for a cooking segment. Put your particular skills to work in a fun way!

Melissa & Jennifer

Lyssa and I

2. Learn a new language. Again, I’m a fan of DuoLingo (though I’ve let my Italian lessons slip–gotta get back to that!) but there are plenty of other ways to go about it. To make it more interesting, create a skit in your head and use Google Translate or Babel Fish to translate it back and forth a couple of times to see how garbled it can get. Just for fun, of course.

3. Go on a word search! Not the puzzle in the activity books type, but on a hunt for word origins. One of my favorite things from Latin class back in high school was learning derivatives. Sometimes they’re obvious, but look up some innocuous words in the dictionary and see where they come from, tracking a few levels back when necessary, and it gives you a whole new perspective on what that word really means. You can do the same with phrases, too! There are books like Common Phrases and Where They Come From that will make it easy on you without resorting to too many dusty tomes. (Looks like that particular book might be out of print, but that’s what used book stores are for, right?)

4. Brave a new frontier. This next one’s not for the faint of heart (or the innocent, for that matter!) but if you’re feeling brave, go hang out on Urban Dictionary for a few hours and see what’s going on with slang today. It’s both interesting and frightening to see how words take on new meanings in common usage.


5. Watch Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russel. Fabulous movie in general, but I specifically remember at the beginning when Patrick comes to live with Mame and he starts asking “what does ____ mean?” Mame hands him a pad of paper and a pencil and tells him to write down all the things he’s unfamiliar with so they can go over them later. Have you ever made a list like that? One of my favorite things about reading books on a Kindle (aside from the lack of strain on my thumbs) is the ability to highlight a word and instantly look it up thanks to the preloaded dictionary on the device.

47, 54 | I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

via imgur

via imgur

Aside from being one of my favorite lines from The Princess Bride, it’s also a perfect lead-in to our next language art:

47 Speaking Regional Languages

and we’re going to combine it with an Art further down the list (the randomness of the list is totally at odds with my linear left-brain!)

54 Knowledge of the dictionary
Giving the Sanskrit equivalent of local dialects and popular jargon

Sure, we don’t have a lot of use for Sanskrit around these parts, but idioms, jargon, and slang are very useful to know. In fact, when it comes to non-English speakers learning our language, it’s not the vocabulary or even the somewhat subjective grammar that poses the biggest challenge, it’s the way we use those words in curious ways, sometimes opposite from their formal definition, that makes all the difference. Something a friend of mine, volunteering with a local ESOL group, has discovered first hand (more on that in another post).

To continue on the geeky train of thought that began this post, a great example is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode: “Darmok.” In it, the captain is on a diplomatic mission that goes more than a little awry (par for the course) when there’s a definite language barrier. It’s not that their Universal Translator (oh, how nice would that be?!) was broken, it was just that the foreign nation spoke in metaphors referencing their history and myths. And since a group sitting around a conference table doing the puppy head-tilt wouldn’t make for good television, there was the threat of death from an outside force if the two leaders couldn’t learn to communicate.

So, in addition to the basic phrases we came up with last week for our BYOP (build-your-own phrasebook), it never hurts to look up some common phrases in the country you’re going to be visiting.

To use my someday-dream of going to Italy, I see (via PimsleurApproach.com) that “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is as common there as it is here, but something like ‘once a pope is dead, there will be another one’  probably owes a lot to the fact that Vatican City is within its country’s borders, and ‘he who sleeps, doesn’t catch fish’ alludes to the miles and miles of coastline, and is similar to our ‘early bird catches the worm.’

Idioms related to pop culture might be the hardest to catch–our football is their soccer, pop stars and celebrities vary from country to country, that sort of thing. But doing a little cultural delve is certainly worth it, right up there with touring plans and hotel reservations!