domingo, 19 de diciembre de 2010

Short stories

As many of you may know, I combine my teaching life with the writing of short stories. So far, I had only written in Spanish, my native language, of course, but some time ago I, kind of experimenting, translated some of my shortest stories. These are written using a formula known as drabble, that is, a short story of exactly one hundred words, without counting the title. The formula was born in England, when science fiction writers, faithful to the theory that says that the shorter the story, the better, established one hundred words as the ideal length for a short narrative text. In translating them, a had to keep the number of words so that the story would work in both languages equally. It was not easy, but I think I made it.
Those of you familiar with how a short story is organised might feel that one hundred is way too short for a story to be told, but it is possible if you recur to the reader´s previous knowledge and avoid telling parts of your story because the reader knows what it is about. The resource is also useful in making a story that is basically written words to become more interactive, asking the reader, in a subtle way, to fill in the blanks of a storyline with what he/she knows, or thinks he/she knows, or simply wants to invent for himself. That is how a story makes sense.
I submitted my short stories to a bilingual literary magazine in Mexico and after so many months that I had forgotten about them, until on Friday I got an email annoucing the publication of both my drabbles -in Spanish and Enlish- in their online magazine called Uruz Arts Magazine. But that was not all. The magazine has also an internet radio station and they have selected both my drabbles to be read out in a literary programme, the date is still to be announced but be sure I´ll let you know.
My hope is that these stories can be used in class because of their length and the fact that they are open to many forms of interpretation, since not all the facts are told explicitly. At the moment, I have not finished translating the more than 50 drabbles I have written, so for the time being I can only offer, to begin with and while I convince a naive publisher to put them on ink and paper, the two Uruz Arts Magazine has published (you´ll have to scroll down the page to find them). I hope you like them and, if you want, use them in class.
As always, comments are welcome.

Cesar Klauer

PD: Why is the illustration for this post a penguin? Well, you´ll have to read the stories.

domingo, 12 de diciembre de 2010

Something to say about: Collocations

I was getting married. We had already gone through the religious wedding and were just finishing the civil ceremony in front of a crowd of family and friends. Then came the most important moment. The officer who was conducting the ceremony waited a second or two, looked around with a smile on his face and broke the silence loud and clear: “I pronounce you wife and husband!” (He actually said “mujer y marido.”). The guests burst out laughing wildly, literally. I had to seek my witness´s shoulder not to fall on the floor. My new wife could not believe her ears and was staring at another witness in search for an explanation. The officer seemed to understand what he had done and just smiled while he hurriedly pushed the official registry for us to sign.
Why did everybody laugh like that? I am sure he wanted to be a gentleman, not make a joke, and mentioned the lady first, but his good intentions banged with the tyranny of language: the right collocation is “husband and wife” not “wife and husband” (feminists may not like it but that´s the way it is, tough luck).
What are collocations? A collocation is a combination of two or more words that go together in a certain order. For example, do business (not make business), make a phone call (not do a phone call), salt and pepper (not pepper and salt), and of course husband and wife, among many many others.
They are extremely important in any language simply because they are the language itself, the flesh and bones (or is it bones and flesh?) you might call them. You will sound natural and fluent if you use the right collocations. That´s why, recently, textbooks have been including sections in the lessons where these vital word combinations are taught actively. Also, now you can even find collocations dictionaries published by the most important editorials. For us teachers, having a sound knowledge of collocations is central. The following link will give you a better idea with examples and all.

domingo, 5 de diciembre de 2010

Something to say about: Idioms

Apart from sayings and proverbs, the English language is full of interesting expressions we call idioms, or idiomatic expressions. As we know, these idioms can be quite hard to get, since many of them can´t be interpreted literally. Take for instance: He was pulling my leg. Do you mean that somebody had actually grabbed your leg and started pulling it, as if to rip it off your body? Of course not. And How about:  I have to hit the road. Hit the road?, with a hammer?
The thing is, English is such a colourful and varied language that, if we don´t pull up our socks and learn some of these idiomatic expressions, we can find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.
If you want a piece of the action, visit the following link (not the only one, of course) and browse the lists of idiomatic expressions, I´m sure it´ll make your day.
Now, the ball is in your court.

Cesar Klauer