Those of you for whom English is a second language, I have a tip for you. Actually, this is for everyone, since most people haven’t heard it:


Let me explain. You know how English has all those rules and regulations about grammar and punctuation? Well, they were all made to be broken, bent, scraped, remixed, reengineered, and built back up any way you see fit. It’s just like music.

In music, you toot on a horn, and it sounds like crap. And then you start learning the proper fingerings. You practice scales over and over – and over again. You study theory. You master every rule, every regulation. You embrace every school of thought, from the streets to the top of the ivory tower.

And then you throw it all away and make your own damn rules.

“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” – Charlie Parker, as quoted in Acting Is a Job: Real-life Lessons About the Acting Business (2006) by Jason Pugatch, p. 73

Wail. Don’t be afraid to try new tricks as you go about mastering the English language. English is not about being “correct,” no matter how many elitist know-it-alls will tell you otherwise. And they will tell you as much, I promise you that. Ignore them.

Learn your grammar. Learn your punctuation. Build your vocabulary. Read. Work your ass off at it. But when you start to see some of the blatant inconsistencies and conflicting rules that run rampant in English, embrace it all for the absurdity that it is, and take it as your cue to start experimenting with new styles.

Most important, speak English, don’t just write it. Language is, first and foremost, sound, not dead symbols on a page or a screen. The main problem many people have with English is that they learn it in its written form first, and only later begin to translate the symbols into sounds. That’s backwards.

Play with the sound of the language. Discover how it feels on your tongue, your cheeks, your teeth. Experience the sound of it. Let it become a part of your anatomy. Feel its rhythms, its rhymes, its inherent poetry. Inside those feelings there is movement. There is life itself. Keep the English language close to your heartbeat, and you will begin to feel more at-home in the language. Eventually you will discover your own voice.


Let the elitists squawk.

2 thoughts on “Wail.”

  1. “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” -Albus Dumbledore

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