to work together in order to produce or achieve something
con- (with) + laborare (to work) – collaborare, to work together]
If there’s one thing this week has reinforced it’s the value of working together, collaboration, teamwork – in life and in learning.
The Langley Drover in the picture , or at least the sort of person he’s based on, used to drive (i.e herd) sheep and cattle from one place to another. The tradition exists in many countries and cultures, and can only happen with help – in his case with the drover’s faithful dog by his side, sometimes with a team of people to get the job done. The value of taking another on your journey could be that they add knowledge or skills to complement your own (agility in this case), different characteristics (stamina and good eyesight), a different perspective (seeing things from nearer the ground) or just attitude (fidelity, diligence, optimism).
This week started off with me helping a writer with some really creative ideas to fine tune the English he writes his short stories in. English as a second language, like any language you’re not native to, can be a challenge, and it’s really satisfying to help Sebastian polish how he uses it and learn along the way. He’s created interesting characters and woven them into fantastic adventures, all in a language he’s still in the process of learning. He’s already incredibly proficient but he has a genuine desire to learn, and I have the skills and perspective to help him make that difference.
My advice is gratefully received, and I hope respectfully offered, and I firmly believe this sort of relationship is ‘more than the sum of its parts’.
Similarly, I’ve recently enjoyed working on copy for a website and other marketing communications with a marketing manager in Spain. This too has been an effective collaboration, defined by need and delivered on-demand. The result has been that words on the page should more effectively do the job they’re intended to do. Communication isn’t just about words and symbols, it’s about the culture and beliefs intertwined with, and reflected in them.
This is where different forms of English come into play. British English is far from the ‘standard’, clearly demonstrated in the way people use the language across this ‘United’ Kingdom and between generations. North American English, too, varies in use across the USA, between cultural and ethnic groups, and influences other forms of English. International English in many ways represents a collaboration of people for whom English is spoken as a second (third, fourth, etc) language. It’s entirely possible that not a single person in a meeting, at a conference or in a single encounter is a native English speaker, yet they might use English as a common tongue.
Meetings with my European network friends this week come close to this sort of situation, where certainly the majority use English, albeit proficiently) as a common language to conduct business and to meet socially. Discussions around and since Brexit have strengthened our ties and concluded that we’ll continue to use English as our language of choice. The ‘Memorandum’ that formalises these ties, is composed in both French and English.
Some universities depend on English to teach their international courses and, practically, it’s the one language everyone in the group has learned. Our own efforts at collaboration would fail if we were to choose exclusively French, Spanish or German, by limiting our ability to be inclusive, engaging with each other and to understand our shared commitments. This of course may change in future, but for now this single language allows colleagues from Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Romania, Spain and the UK to work, and achieve more, together.
I finished the week discussing with a friend and colleague, teaching in another country, what it takes to be a more natural and efficient communicator in English. From the perspective of whoever you’re talking to, your own ability is often judged by hesitation and searching for ‘just the right word’ – in some cases for the word you think the listener expects from you. Language tests can assess your ability in terms of vocabulary, grammar and skill in using these, but the true test is surely how you use it in the real world. And in the real world we all have limited vocabulary in our own native language, learned over many years, so why should we push ourselves to learn vocabulary lists or obscure (possibly rarely used) grammatical constructions. At some point enough is enough.
As a language learner, and as a teacher, collaboration is a real necessity. In fact what’s the point of language if not to allow people to engage? And for me, that’s what language is about – communication not certification. Talk with friends who are also learning, and share insights – remembering that sharing is a two-way street. Speak with, and write to (in whatever form does the job for you), native speakers in the language you’re learning. Accept help when it’s offered in good faith, seek help when you need it. And above all use and enjoy the language, with other people.
Sharing, and working together, makes it all the more effective and worthwhile.