I am not a native speaker of English, but I am sure I have learned this language since more than seven years ago. Even I have learned this language since I was ten years old. Does it mean that I have already possessed this language as mine? The answer is, sadly, “no”. Then, why should I learn it? Why should I have to learn how to write well, especially in English? What does it mean with the ability as the bilingual speaker? Why are there such complex and easy language in writing? These questions came to my mind when I wanted to write about this post. Well, my major in graduate studies is Teaching of Writing (Rhetoric and Composition). Therefore, I am pretty sure that I know and comprehend the distinction between complex and easy language in writing.
Now, I ask myself and I answer the questions by myself. (Sounds weird, huh?) At least, that is the way to do critical thinking, as the Professors said. You ask questions (being the philosophers) and you answer the questions by yourself (being the rhetorician)
Learning English since childhood means having the abilities to own this language fully to its extent. My question is, “Really? Does it really mean so?” Why should I learn it?
First of all, I learn English because it was simply a ‘required’ subject at school. I remember my English teacher said, “You have to pass this subject; otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the next stage of education”. I was so horrified at that time. So, it was a ‘must’ to study English. English did not come to me through that ‘lovely ways’ like many other students. English came to me through the channel of ‘academic’. Since that time, I enjoyed learning this language. Possessing this language, though only in non-native level, helps me understand how things are going on in the world. Even when it is added with the existence of internet, the beauty of this language seems to be more powerful than I thought it would be. The more I learn it, the more I could see how this language is shaped through different times.
Second of all, I learn English because the songs, movies, and even cartoons that were shown through my old television program, back in the 90s, were mostly in English. I just couldn’t believe that I was a product of a thing people call as ‘English culture’ or ‘American culture’. This channel is different from the above one, which is academic. Through this channel, I came to English through the understanding of how Minangkabau culture as well as Indonesia cultures, as a whole, influence the ways I think about English. Days and days passed until I could see that this language is more than just an ‘international language’, but it is a language of how people get connected through different continents in the world. What a great language, isn’t it? Well, it does not mean that I do not like Bahasa Indonesia, but this language is my second language. My first language was Sundanese language, then, when I was ten years old, I had to ‘socially’ learn how to speak in Minangkabau language. At the same time, I also have to learn Bahasa Indonesia at school, starting from elementary until university degree! See, Bahasa Indonesia is not my first language but the second one. Then, here comes English, which clearly shows to me that English is my third language. Sometimes, when I speak in Japanese, this language becomes my fourth language. How weird it is, right? Weird or not, I am proud for what I have from my background. English does not come to me easily. It comes through many obstacles and different zones of language activities. You should be surprised to meet with someone who would be willing to talk to you in English if you are native speakers of English.
From that background, the statement of “Being able to write well help life become easier, being unable to write well help life become more miserable”, leads into a simple yet challenging question. The question is, “Come on; is it true?”
The answer is, “yes, it is true, but it depends”. People can write anything in anywhere, even in the restroom or toilets. Young naughty children like to write in this area because they found that this area is a place for self-expression, even though what they wrote might be a little bit ‘vulgar’ or ‘offensive’ by some people. Somehow, this is the clue to see that everyone can write, right? However, I challenge this notion with a question. What does it mean to write? Writing something for the pleasure of the self, writing something for the pleasure of the readers, or writing something for the pleasure of earning money? Which side that a writer might decide, there simply is the writer’s mind. For me, I write for the pleasure of my mind, especially in this blog. I can write because I can think. If I write and publish it to the newspaper, my writings tend to be ‘politicized’. The writings that I produce will not be that pure any longer because the content has been modified for the readers’ satisfaction. I even notice that publishable writings tend to be political as well. Sometimes, I also question the notion of how some great writings could be rejected by a “great” publisher? After several years understanding this phenomenon, I came into conclusion that it could happen because the writings are not “marketable” or simply “not making money” for the publishers. See? In here, I could see that writings could also mean political. In a sense, it also means difficulties for the writer, especially the basic writers, in terms of ‘following’ the readers’ mind. Then, my question is, “is it the same published writers with unpublished writers? How are they different? What are the things that make them be seen to be different?” I think, through my solitude intellectualism, they both are the same. It is only the perspective and evaluation that make them look different.
Back into my case as a non-native speaker of English, the term of “bilingual speaker” is interesting for me. I have read in an article published in New York Times in which the article explained that bilingual speaker is simply ‘smart’. At this point, then, I am smart, aren’t I? Can I say that? I can speak Indonesian language and English at the same time (of course, in a chronological mode). Even the greatest thing is that I could translate these two different languages at the same time without ‘completely’ drowning myself into learning the theory and practice of translation. Well, I did, of course, learn such subject. However, the process of encoding and decoding language from source language into target language means possessing the abilities to understand both languages equally. In writing, this aspect is playing crucial in ways the writers tries to convey their ideas. If the writers are native speakers of English, their ideas will likely be acceptable by readers who are considered to be in the same group as them and will be understandable by readers who are considered as the non-native speakers of English. Meanwhile, the second language speakers, or non-native speakers of English, could also write the same ‘stuffs’, but the way they express the ‘stuffs’ through selected vocabularies, mechanics, grammar, and style will likely differ from the native speakers of English. They could speak and write in the same language, but the dynamics of how this language is used makes them slightly different.
Therefore, there comes a question. “Complex” versus “easy” language in writing; now, what are these things? Do they even exist?
If I remember back the way I learned English and the way I came to this language, I understood that a text would be simply “complex” because of my deficiency in English, especially because I did not know the words the writer uses in the text. This situation happens in reading practice. As always, if I did not understand a particular text, it would be simply because of the deficiency of my English. Blaming me for being in that condition was the very common thing I did, although I knew that such thing was not solving the problem. Here, after studying all these writing concepts and terminologies, I finally realized that it was not because of deficiency of English. The blame should go into the writer, not the readers. The fault then should be put under the writer’s side. How does it so? How could it be?
I would try to differentiate these two types of languages through these two examples.
Example of easy language:
“Woodward suffered the worst of the destruction from the storms, which also struck in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Woodward City Manager Alan Riffel said 89 homes and 13 businesses were destroyed, and bloodied survivors in the 12,000-resident town emerged to find flipped cars and smashed trailers.
Retired firefighter Marty Logan said he spotted the tornado when it knocked down power lines, causing flashes of light, and saw a radio tower’s blinking lights go black. He later saw a man emerge from a twisted, wrecked sport utility vehicle that had been tossed along the side of the road” – taken from Washington Post through this link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/reported-tornadoes-large-hail-hit-midwest-amid-warnings-of-life-threatening-weather/2012/04/14/gIQAw756HT_story.html?hpid=z4
Example of complex language:
“Molecular approaches to understanding the functional circuitry of the nervous system promise new insights into the relationship between genes, brain and behaviour. The cellular diversity of the brain necessitates a cellular resolution approach towards understanding the functional genomics of the nervous system. We describe here an anatomically comprehensive digital atlas containing the expression patterns of ~20,000 genes in the adult mouse brain. Data were generated using automated high-throughput procedures for in situ hybridization and data acquisition, and are publicly accessible online. Newly developed image-based informatics tools allow global genome-scale structural analysis and cross-correlation, as well as identification of regionally enriched genes. Unbiased fine-resolution analysis has identified highly specific cellular markers as well as extensive evidence of cellular heterogeneity not evident in classical neuroanatomical atlases. This highly standardized atlas provides an open, primary data resource for a wide variety of further studies concerning brain organization and function.” – taken from the following link: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v445/n7124/full/nature05453.html
From the two examples above, I would say that the first example uses common words for common meaning. The use of these words help readers easily understand what the writer of the text tries to communicate. It means that the readers are people who like to read news. The words that are used in that article were meant to be understandable. Compared to the second example, there are words, which sound to be common, but the words indeed are seen to be directed into specific meanings. This short text seems to be written for specific readers. Any reader could still understand what the text means; however, specific meaning from specific words needs to be considered well to get the overall message implied by the writer. The relationship between the writer and the readers would be simply seen through how the text could work between these two.
Differentiating the “complex” and “easy” language could not be seen through the writer’s standpoint. It should be noted as well that each writer has his or her styles in using words. Unfortunately, though, using irrelevant words for different context would lead into dysfunctional system of how such words could work. For instance, writing literary works versus writing scholarly works will need completely different abilities of using language, especially in the level of diction, grammar, vocabulary, and mechanics. When the writer simply writes for the readers, the writer should negotiate with how many specific words that the writer could use in his or her writing. An old saying “write in your own terms” will no longer work for readers who are subjective and are lazy to articulate their mind in evaluating the text they read. Conversely, if the readers are thinkers, whatever types of text given to them, they will evaluate the texts through their capacity. If it means to be that ‘much’, it should be reduced into a normal one to make the writing ‘readable’. I usually find myself to be attracted with writings that are written by native speakers of English than those which are written by non-native speakers of English. Why? The reason is that the words used by such writers are having meanings that I would have not associated with in my mind. The process of thinking happens through reading texts with simple words. This is why I usually get frustrated to read some writings done by non-native speakers of English that use words which were not that “common”. The words are understandable, but the way the words are arranged in the text, that makes the writing becomes complex. Complex language tends to destruct the meaning that is being transferred to the readers. Therefore, easy language always becomes the winner. Easy language breaks the notion of “how intellectual the writers are”. Complex language tends to show the intellectualism of the writers; however, it does not show how the creative and intellect things are related when the writers are producing readable text. It is simply requiring the readers to easily understand what the writers mean in their writing. If the readers fail in understanding what the writer intends or conveys in their writings; eventually, the writing could turn into ‘unreadable’. (This is a nightmare when I find my writings to be ‘unreadable’). Analogically, the writer could mean the producer while the readers could mean the buyers. If the product is good, the readers might evaluate the product in such a way because they like it. If the buyers find the product to be bad, it means that the readers and the writer do not have the same taste in the text. The solution is, of course, using easy language.
From this point of view, which side that we would like to prefer will likely depend on how well we would address our meaning to the readers. Some complex language works better for readers who like to making things complex. However, easy language is most preferred by people in general, because it is simply “understandable in no time” and “comprehensible in a short-cut mode”. Which type of writing you choose goes to you. The exception is only in academic writing. In this type of writing, the language can mean to be “easy”, but the meaning is explicitly written. There are no vague ideas in this type of writing. The only thing we need to consider is the meaning that we would like to inform to the readers. Once we establish this thing, then, let the readers decide the meaning of what we write. Everything they do to our writing is things that make our writing deserves proper attention. Writing is enjoyable, isn’t it?
“The only reason why I like blogging is because a blog provides a freer-space for me to express my thought without thinking ‘too much’ for the interest of political parties and some related people as the readers. It is simply a space for sounding my voice as a uniquely different writer compared to other writers. However, readers have rights to agree or disagree with what I argue” – Syayid (The Silent Corner, 2012)