Keeping the Language Young


In writing terms there's a down side to having taken on a teaching job, as I've just done. With all that preparation, teaching and marking, it means there's no time left to write (you might have noticed that the regularity of this column is not what it was!)

There are huge plus sides though. I noted with the novels of Patrick White that while he updated physical surroundings to match the changing times, his language and behaviour patterns were stuck somewhere in the 1920s. I read a criticism of Ruth Rendell recently too, that her work comes adrift when it comes to representing today's youth. They don't do what she has them do or speak how she has them speak. Her way of amending that is to take public transport and walk the city, doing her best to eavesdrop on the young. Creepy, but not too effective.

I'm three weeks into the job. Already I've noticed myself changing my language of delivery so the young students have some clue at least as to where I'm leading them (I'm teaching English). Teenage hormones are pumping, the air is full of text messages, hand-written notes caught as they pass around the classrooms under desks I throw away unread. They've got their culture, I've got mine. But I do want them to become my reading audience as they grow up - and I am also increasingly attracted to writing for this age group, with their unfettered minds. These working days in an English classroom, this regular swirl of life and lives, has to energize my language. In seven years of full-time writing on mountaintops I've refined my own version of English. Now I've brought my language in for a service and a radical tuning.

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