And they will come

Tuesday 30 October 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Mischief Night (traditional).

They come here in droves. They come from Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Azores, Puerto Rico, Russia, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Every Wednesday night, we welcome more than a hundred people, representing some 20 countries. There are so many people this year we ran out of space. 

Why do they come here? They come to learn English. They’re students in the English as a Second Language Program, an outreach of the diocesan Department of Social Services. The students range in age from 19 to 68 years. Their formal education spans fourth-grade to doctorate level. There are four beginners’ classes, three intermediate level classes, and one advanced class. This year, for the first time, two of the beginner classes are being held at the local Methodist Church to help alleviate our need for more meeting rooms. There are no tuition fees. There are eight teachers, a bilingual assistant, and six substitutes. All are volunteers.

The English as a Second Language classes here are nothing new. Next year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the program’s founding. 

Long ago, I learned a valuable lesson from my fifth-grade English teacher, Mr. Ingram. He said: “Boys and girls, first you must learn all the rules of the English language. Only then are you allowed to break them.” I’ve had fun with words ever since (much to the consternation of my proofreaders and editors). I wonder if the English as a Second Language Program should have a postgraduate class on how to break the rules. Maybe I could teach it.

The rules of English usage are not easy to learn. Ask any fifth-grader. But beware: the rules can change during one’s lifetime. Whatever the rules at the moment, there are always exceptions. There are words that sound the same but may have different meanings and/or different spellings. There are words whose definitions are often confused. To make matters worse, English can vary from country to country and even region to region. Then we have slang, puns, and idiomatic expressions. As for text messaging, we won’t go there. And, finally, we have those creative spirits who purposely break the rules (such as American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright, e. e. cummings — who preferred to misspell his own name.) No, English is not an easy language to learn.

Teaching English as a Second Language must be even more challenging. The primary language may very well use a different sentence structure and grammar than English. I will now proceed to prove my point, dear readers.

Were cattle rustlers hung in the Old West? No, but many were hanged. 

Are you hardly sorry for all your sins? You are? Well, that won’t do. You need to be heartily sorry. 

Did King Edward VIII abrogate or arrogate? Neither. He abdicated. 

Did the candidate canvas the entire neighborhood? Probably not. That would take too many bolts of cloth. Maybe the candidate canvassed the neighborhood, though. 

Did you have an acute or a chronic illness? If it lasted a long time, it was chronic. If it came on suddenly, it was acute. If it came on suddenly and lasted a long time, I’ll pray for your intention.

Did the murderer finally get his just deserts? Yes, and, at his last meal, he just had Jell-O for dessert. 

If you have it, flout it. Really? “Flout” means to ignore. “Flaunt” means to show off. Do you want me to ignore your attributes or admire them? 

The Anchor is published every other Friday. Is that bimonthly? The answer is both “yes” and “no.” “Bimonthly” can mean every other month (six times a year) or it can mean twice a month (24 times a year). Just say The Anchor is published semimonthly. 

Did the man lay The Anchor on the table and then lie down for a nap? No, no. If anything, he laid The Anchor on the table and then lay down for a nap. (By the way, I’m pretty sure the man must have been drowsy before he even picked up our fine newspaper.)

Did The Anchor copy write this column? Not that I know of, but it did copyright it. 

Do you attend St. Patrick’s Church? No. St. Patrick died in 461 A.D. He no longer owns anything, certainly not churches. I attend St. Patrick Church. 

Do you feel alright? I feel it’s not all right to use “alright.”

Whose line is it anyway? I don’t know. So, who’s going to answer that question?

Do you have any stationery? Sure. I have such a heavy crate of stationery on my desk that it must remain stationary. Help yourself.

Our flack, no flake, takes no flak. Otherwise put: Our astute director of Communications (John E. Kearns Jr.) deflects adverse criticism. 

I considered volunteering in our English as a Second Language Program, but later thought better of it. (Or is that “latter”? Did I actually feel better or did I feel worse?) Now I’m confused.

As we say in Yiddish, “Oy vey!”

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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