In the last couple of weeks I have had two students who said, “I want to speak like you.” <mental shoulder slump and heart drop> Most students want to speak like native speakers, but this time I tackled it head on. “What do you mean?” I said cruelly. “Do you mean you want to speak like an English speaking South African? or a woman? or a native English speaker? What really do you mean when you say you want to speak like me?”
“No no!” says the charming Spanish chap, “I want speak exactly like YOU!” Hoist on my own petard, or something like that. Still had not a clue what he meant. So went away and dipped in and out of the question randomly for a few days until Michael arrived. Michael – in days gone by he might have been the “fluent fool” we all know and dread/love. Except he wasn’t. He made some fairly typical and flagrant errors – lexical and grammatical – but he was more articulate than many native speakers. He spoke about the cultural differences in team management between the US and Germany so clearly and so convincingly, I could have put together a chapter in a cultural text book using his input. He tossed in very native speaker-esque stuff like, “I swear he did it deliberately,” “To be honest…”, “If you ask me….” and surprisingly, “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” All context and register correct and admirable. And as I listened, something else became apparent – a uniqueness of expression that only Michael used, that he had selected – consciously or unconsciously – as his unique idiom: “Michael-speak” in other words. There are writerly texts and readerly texts and suddenly now “Michael -y texts”. It’s so stupidly obvious! Read Dickens and you KNOW it’s Dickens, listen to Leonard Cohen and you KNOW it’s him.
That’s what my two students wanted – “Candy-speak”. My own unique turn of phrase, my choice of words, my way of expressing myself is, as is everyone else’s, uniquely mine. How I came by it, I know not, what makes it what it is, is equally unknowable. But there it is. Mine is not to reason why they decided that Candy-speak was a thing devoutly to be wished, but how would I go about teaching it? That’s another question for another day……..