The Golden Critique

In my creative writing classes, we spend a lot of time critiquing each others work. Often, the work you are critiquing belongs to classmates that you don’t know well, or that you don’t know at all, so sometimes it can be very intimidating to present your suggestions. What I have learned throughout my semester, though, is that a good critique has to have two parts good and one part bad. I like to sandwich the bad part between the good parts, so that way the person I’m presenting it to will know that they’ve done a good job, and I’m just offering advice to improve it.

The way I see it, creating a strong, thorough critique means you have to bring out your inner editor, as well as your inner teacher. But, you can’t forget to incorporate the supportive, friendly side of you either, otherwise the critique can be considered nagging. Your inner editor is the part of you that is pure creativity (in this case, the part of you that is in charge of your creative writing skills). It picks up on plot holes, weak dialogue, great one liners, funny description, etc. Combine that with the academic side of you that will pick up on grammar mistakes, spelling errors, the usual things when editing a paper or story. The teamwork between these two elements ensures that you have a critique designed to kick some serious creative writing butt!

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The supportive, friendly side of the critique comes into play when presenting the bad part of the review. Even if it is something as “small” as a weak line of dialogue, or something huge like a massive plot hole that is as obvious as the moon in the night sky, it’s important to present it in the right way. You can’t just say “THIS SUCKS, FIX IT.” and not expect to get punched in the face because you’re being a jerk. You have to be more along the lines of “This was a little weak because ______ and here’s an option to fix it________.”

Another important element to keep in mind is, in presenting the recommendations be sure to keep the list short. Don’t point out seven different flaws, try to focus on one or two. If you know that you’re going to be able to read a second version of the piece, you could even keep your flaws to one element. The writer may discover the other issues on their own when editing the piece later on, there’s no need to make them feel worse by pointing out all the mistakes for them. It can be bad for the self-esteem, and especially bad for the motivation to keep writing.

When I have to critique pieces, I tend to keep that old kindergarten rule in mind:

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You have to be friendly, but constructive. Who wants a critique that is all bad and no good? It makes the writer feel terrible, and also angry, because a lot of work went into creating the piece. Alternatively, who wants a critique that is all good and no bad? Sure, it’s great for press, but you won’t learn anything, and nothing is perfect the first try. That’s why it’s called the first draft!

Keeping all of these “rules” in mind, it’ll make critiquing a stranger’s piece easier, and it will also help critique a friend’s work. And in return, creating a strong critique and knowing how they are made will make it easier to take the advice when it becomes time for your own work to become reviewed.


Native vs Classroom

Learning a second language is challenging for everyone, though some more than others. Something that I have always wondered in learning a second language is the difference between being taught by someone whose mother tongue is the language, and someone who learned the language in a classroom like the students. In learning Spanish, I have been taught by people in both categories, and they both have pros and cons.

Being taught by a native speaker can be very hard in an immersion setting for students at any level. This is because the native speaker has an accent that, depending on how thick it is, can make understanding more difficult. Another factor is the fact that native speakers tend to be, understandably, faster speakers than the teachers who learned the language in classroom. This is due to their comfort in the language, and even though they would think they were speaking slowly and clearly, in reality, it is much faster.

A native speaker can also have difficulty in explaining some of the basic concepts in the language, such as verb conjugation for example. The teacher would simply know the conjugations and be able to rattle them off without difficulty in remembering them. This can be frustrating for students who are still tying to grasp those same conjugations because they aren’t naturally knowing the rules and tricks.

The benefit of having a native speaker as a teacher is that students are exposed to “real life experience” in using the language. Outside of the classroom, speakers will have accents and speak fast, and this gives the student a chance to practice hearing and understanding the language that way. As well, these teachers would be able to show the students a more colloquial version of the language to go along with the classroom version, such as slang or abbreviations.

Having a teacher who learned the language the same way the students do has a lot of benefits as well. They would teach the students based on their own experience in learning the language. They would know to speak slowly and clearly, aware of the time it would take to process the language at first. They would remember which words they struggled with, and perhaps know to emphasize them, or explain their significance more in-depth. In the the example of verb conjugation, the teacher would be able to provide acronyms or rhymes that the student could memorize in able to be able to learn the endings of the verbs.

What it “boils down to” is that a native speakers gives the student a real life version of how the language would be used, whereas a teacher who learned the language is able to give the students more guidance on confusing rules or concepts. Personally, I believe the best option is a combination of the two. Students need the reassuring, clear guidance of a teacher who learned the language like they did, but they also need the exposure to accents and speed that the native speaker gives them in the classroom.

What do you think? Is one better than the other? Are there pros and cons that I haven’t pointed out that are important? Go ahead and chime in!

Welcome and Bienvenido on Chalkboard
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Experiencing the World

As someone who studies a second language, it’s clear to me how important it is to know other languages throughout life. This is especially true when travelling, of course, but it is also important in our hometowns. This is because, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are many people living around us that speak and understand different languages than us. Knowing another language is not just about being able to get through a conversation, that is only one part of it. The bigger and most important part in learning a language, is becoming acquainted with another culture. Other than classroom learning, the best way to learn about a different culture is to immerse yourself in it through travel, which is one of the reasons that travelling is so popular!

When travelling, knowing multiple languages is best, but knowing one and a half is better than nothing. In my experience with learning Spanish, I’ve had a couple opportunities to use the language outside of school, and it really helped me appreciate the importance of the skill. For example, I was in line at a coffee shop and there was commotion with the people ordering ahead of me. It turned out they were trying to place an order in the handful of words that they knew in English. I figured out they were speaking Spanish and I introduced myself to them, offering to translate for them. It was pretty complicated for me, as I wasn’t used to the thick accents, but I got through it. I felt great about what I did, but the most memorable part of that experience was that I was able to help out someone that was living in an environment that was totally foreign to them. They were grateful for my help, and that was the best part of the entire experience. It is something that I still think about, even years later.

That proved to me that knowing another language is so important, because when you don’t understand what is going on around you, or if you aren’t able to connect with what is happening, you feel alienated and very alone. Even knowing how to say “please”and “thank you” in multiple languages is enough to make a vacation work. That being said, knowing the basics of a language before you travel to a new location is a sign of respect for the people living there. Even if, when ordering a coffee, you make a big mistake and order something completely different from what you wanted, it isn’t a big deal because the waiter or waitress knows that you don’t know a lot of the language, but the fact that you are attempting to speak it anyway means you are trying to connect to them.

Being human is all about connecting with the people around you, and knowing multiple languages (and not being afraid to use them!) enables you to interact with a bigger pool of people. Essentially, operating in more than one language allows you to be part of a bigger, more fulfilling world.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com (Google) “Everyone smiles in the same language” (Spanish)

The Spirit of Creativity

Creativity is something that everyone has encountered, whether it is in an art gallery, a concert, or a play. It comes in all shapes and forms and is a way to express how someone feels when words are not able to do the trick.

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Growing up, anyone with a creative streak would know that being “normal” could be hard at times. We would look at ordinary objects and see something unique about them. For example, we would look at a jungle gym with its bright painted colours, and see the potential it could have to become a piece of art, a setting for a story, or the inspiration for a song. Essentially, being creative means harnessing the imagination and using it to help make extraordinary pieces of self-expression that other people will be able to relate to. In all its forms, art is how creative people communicate with the world.

Creativity can be alienating, which is part of why growing up is so hard. In childhood, imagination is something that all children have and allow to run freely. It is only when we get older that this trait is pushed down in order to fit in with friends and classmates. Creative people are unable to suppress this seemingly undesired trait because it is a part of who we are, and cannot be changed.

Being a creative person can also be hard on self-esteem. It’s mostly because of what you’ve already read, feeling out of place amongst colleagues and friends, but it can also be more general than that. In its simplest form, creativity symbolizes strength. Creative people often feel alone due to their different perspectives on just about everything: we are called weird, crazy, or annoying. We stand up to the world everyday and tell it that being creative is a good thing…that it is different, but not wrong.

An example in from my life where I would have to remind myself that being creative is a good thing would be poetry. For as long as I can remember, I would read a poem as homework, and no matter how hard I tried, I would never understand the message the way my classmates did. Sure, poetry is meant to be open to interpretation, but whatever I understood would be far away from how my other classmates interpreted the poem. I would read the same stanza as them and understand words or placement of punctuation differently. It would frustrate me to no end, and, even now, it still does.

Every single person has a creative streak in them, no matter how big or small it is, and this means that we all have the capacity to understand individuality and original thought. So, creativity is something that should be embraced, and people with a particularly strong streak should be shown that it is something to be proud of and embraced, not hidden away or repressed. What do you think? Am I the only one that believes this?