Hannah Berman - That's The Way It Is


My lifelong friend Nancy is a former English teacher. We speak often, and during a recent call, she told me that she was unhappy with her retirement. She felt the need to get back into the workforce, but, realistically, she realized that at her age, 78, chances were that nobody would hire her. I came up with the idea that she could possibly do private, in-home tutoring. She had not considered that and was excited about the prospect of feeling useful again, so she put out the word that she was available. She said that she would love to teach English as a second language to youngsters from other countries. This is often referred to as ESL.

“Putting out the word” is the expression we use for inexpensive advertising. But it worked. Nancy received several calls and, after negotiating a salary, she is currently helping four children to learn and master English.

Language is vitally important because it allows us to communicate, share information, and sometimes convince others to change their minds and rethink a position.

A living language is always changing, and keeping up with changes often means learning the meaning of new terms. While the study of anatomy is not my strong suit, I know one thing for certain: My elderly ears must be directly connected to each other. I believe this to be true since so many new words go in one ear and immediately out the other. As a result, half the time I have no idea what is being said or what is meant by what I hear. Instead of trying to get a grip on the problem, I occasionally tend to associate a new word with something I knew in the past.

As hard as I try to figure out what is meant by the term “woke politics,” I can’t seem to grasp it. To me, the word woke still means to be awakened, as in: “I woke up early this morning.” I’ve been told repeatedly that woke means to be aware. But I haven’t gotten used to the word in that context and I don’t like it.

I also don’t understand the term livestreaming. As a writer, I have occasionally written in what I knew to be a stream of consciousness. But, the definition of livestreaming eluded me, so I checked it out with my new BFF, which is Google, and discovered that it means to stream digital data that is delivered continuously. The definition was too much for me! Anything that has to do with the word digital poses a problem for me. And the word shows up far too often for my liking.

To illustrate, the entire world seems to be talking about podcasts. When I tried to discover what a podcast is, once again I was met with the word digital because Google describes a podcast as a digital file that is distributed over the internet that is to be watched or listened to on a computer. The definition may as well have been written in Greek for all I got out of it.

My all-time favorite new (for me) word is blog. Initially, it sounded to me so much like the word bog that I associated it with wet, spongy ground. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the letter “L” was in there so it wasn’t a bog, but a blog. And that, I have learned, is an online journal. This is to me a far more simple explanation and I understood it a lot sooner than I understood the explanation of the other aforementioned terms, most of which still do not resonate with me.

I always thought that a hard drive was a road trip on a rocky road. It turns out that it means something else entirely. And I assumed that a pod was the outer shell of a pea and that a cast was made of plaster, like the one placed around my arm when I broke it at age eleven. None of those definitions help me to grasp the meaning of the word podcast; I still do not understand the explanation and remain confused about it.

Having shared here just a few of the expressions, words, and terms whose meanings continue to elude me, I decided that I needed ESL classes. My conclusion was that I could be another student for Nancy. But when I mentioned it to her, I made the heartbreaking discovery that Nancy doesn’t know much more than I do! Some people catch on quickly at any age. My friend Nancy and I are not among them.

We talked it over, and together we decided that we both need a different course of study. We need EFL — English as a first language! This is nothing to be proud of but it’s just the way it is!

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.


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