“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”-Nathaniel Hawthorne
Words can be highly influential and have lasting consequences. They can move people to do things they never thought of on their own. Words can change the course of history. As an example, think about a persuasive political leader – that shouldn’t be too hard since there are 4 major political leaders blasting the headlines every day right now. Think of the words they use AND the way they use them.
People who control words, in a way, control the world because they control how people think. Take mob mentality for example. All those out of control people didn’t get worked up into their frenzy by listening to someone tentatively and cautiously hem and haw and um, like, and you know their way around something they obviously do not know very much about. No, the speaker has a way with language and has chosen his words carefully and confidently (whether accurately or not -or whether he knows what he is talking about or not – is another debate). Words and communication are deeply connected with emotions and emotions lead to action – for better or for worse.
In addition, those who have mastered language also are in the position to alter language. Certain key words or key phrases take on new meaning depending on how the speaker wants you to feel and think and act. Again, think about any persuasive political leader – listen to one of their speeches or interviews, preferably when discussing controversial topics. They use certain words and phrases in certain ways. They use language to their personal advantage.
Now I know by using politicians as my example we are all thinking about the harmful affects of language abuse – lies, manipulation, and coercion. But there is just as much power for good in words as well. Powerful, straightforward, and enabling and ennobling truth will build up and fortify where other forces have torn down and tried to destroy.
But no one will hear it or believe it unless the speaker can masterfully command language and clearly communicate to the audience. To continue building up and fortifying where others continue to break down, we need good, upright and honest people who have mastered those language skills and communicate hope, truth, and motivation.
I would like to forcefully add TRUTH and HONESTY to the list of our potential future leaders. Learning how to be persuasive, on which federal standards focus a lot, should NOT be the end goal of language mastery. Using language to incite strong emotions in other people so that they will believe what you want them to believe and do what you want them to do, whether for their benefit or not, should NOT be why we master language and communication. Language should not be a tool to manipulate, but a tool to serve, edify, and clarify.
The very basic building blocks of this mastery and tool for good is grammar. Those boring predicate adjectives, compound subjects, and prepositional phrases. Yes, a noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea. A sentence is a group of words which expresses a complete thought. Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a punctuation mark. Ain’t ain’t a word.
Happily and gratefully, it hasn’t been difficult for me to find a good grammar curriculum. I use First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. (I’ve also only heard great things about Shirley Grammar, but it is out of my price range.) Grammar takes us 5 to 20 minutes a day – usually on the shorter end of that range. For the most part it isn’t difficult at all. And for those topics that are more complicated, there is a lot of repetition to reinforce and solidify slippery concepts. I didn’t understand some of that nominative predicate stuff at first. But don’t worry, I’ve got it down now. And so does my 3rd grader.
If you are using First Language Lessons and your child is relatively bright, I wouldn’t bother with level 1, but just skip to level 2 in second grade. Using the level 1 book with my 1st grader has kind of been a waste of time – not totally, just kind of.
We do grammar three times a week. Our grammar instruction includes oral usage lessons, poem memorization, copy work, dictation, and sentence diagramming. How exciting! But truthfully, it is fun to be able to deconstruct a sentence, know all of its parts, and how they all work together. I should also mention that our grammar curriculum comes with a student workbook and teacher manual. Everything I need to say and do is written out for me in my book. If I wanted, I could seriously just read verbatim from my text (and I actually do most of the time, with interesting inflection as a bonus when needed). There is enough information and repetition there that we have both understood all of the concepts and have a good grasp of the subject, whereas before I couldn’t have told you how to diagram a conjunction (see photo below) or that diagraming a conjunction was even possible.
I leave you with a few last words of wisdom on the topic, hopefully to motivate you and your learner to take their language lessons seriously as they are the first step into helping the world become a better place for everyone.
“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin