As a typical student who cannot concentrate on what is going on in class for more than 20 minutes, I found myself mocking a professor in one of last week's classes because he had made a grammatical mistake (or at least I thought he did). Then my automatic self-evaluation system kicked in, which you can easily install, because it works like this: I try to pronounce "curriculum vitae" and if it works out, then I'm at a point where I should be. But if it doesn't work out as I planned, I conclude that my Indian counterparts are more likely to get the position that I'm planning to apply at a company in the Netherlands. That very day, I've failed to impress myself for 16738th time in history and that's why I'm going to talk about speaking English in this week's column.
Speaking from experience, if you are going to talk about a phenomenon that the reader might find in an encyclopedia, something like the English language, a brief introduction to that phenomenon would look professional. (Isn't it what the education is all about?) But whenever I try that, this is what it tends to look like: According to a movie, 10,000 BC, historical roots of speaking English can be traced back to, well obviously, 10,000 BC. However, Ronald Emmerich, director of the movie, doesn't seem to be the most realistic guy on Earth, as can be easily seen by glancing at his curriculum vitae. (Hint: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.) For information that still tends to be open to question, I better not go into any detail about the history of the English language and wait for Ronald Emmerich and encyclopedia-writer guys to work things out. Instead, I will continue with the problem itself.
I don't feel wrong when I call speaking English a "pervasive problem." If asked how he feels, my 10-year-old brother, who claims his English is nearly perfect, goes through a fluctuating vocal cycle. (I hope that doesn't mean anything special in artistic jargon.) It doesn't require any special skills to hear him saying, "I am," but then as his voice level gradually decreases, the only thing you get to hear is him murmuring, or in other words, groaning in pain. On the other hand, I, as a brother 11 years his senior, am no different than him in speaking English. Frankly, my generation, the country's hope for the future, is even worse at it. In the classes where we are expected to give recitals in English, you would have realized the supposed "interactivity" that every instructor promises at the very beginning fails by the time he begins his lecture. The only thing us students might wonder turns out to be "what is written on the board next to x?" That is because when I'm talking to a professor or doing a presentation, my classmates look like giant TOEFL achievement certificates to me.
On the other hand stands tourists and exchange students. Us Turkish guys, who have always complained about English classes and questioned its importance to daily life, lose our marbles as we see a mouth-watering, ready-to-talk foreigner. In such a case, thanks to delirium, I put on the fakest accent on earth as Jennifer Coolidge did on Friends (in other words, I try to sound like Chris Martin), and go teach a good lesson to that foreigner about speaking English. (When I tried that method on our editor, she found my accent "so thick.") This might sound familiar to you, because this is what you have experienced while imitating Barney Stinson by calling stuff "awesome," which you would think sounds cool.
So what is it the solution? Some people suggest that I should spend a summer abroad "working and traveling." Others think I should insist on speaking English in class and some, by which I only mean my parents, think I am already speaking English flawlessly. I might not suggest a direct solution (neither does anyone else I know), but as someone who has spent his 7 years on Present Perfect Tense, I'm not so sure if W&T will help me improve it. I really miss Eng101-102 classes though. Those were the days when my instructor, God bless him, had to stand me speaking for at least 15 minutes. Those were the days I was graded on my speaking skills. Those were the days that debates existed. "Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end."
PS: According to my best friend (Google), "curriculum vitae" is a Latin phrase that I've chosen to test my English. Was learning English the best decision I've made?
PS: Some of you might have noticed that Barış Uygur also mentioned "Speaking English" in his column last week. However, by the time I wrote my column, Uykusuz wasn't released yet, so this subject has nothing to do with it.
Originally published: October 20, 2009.