I recently cooperated on the final report for the Erasamus+ project our school had participated in. The writing was a challenging and tiring process, but the collaboration was pleasurable and satisfying.
I remember that at some point, I wanted to use the word inevitable in the sense that the use of English was inevitable because it was the only means of communication common to all the participants. What I meant was that having no other option than to communicate in English was a blessing not a curse for the participants. However, a colleague of mine, a highly proficient user of English, pointed out that inevitable has a somewhat negative connotation. I agreed and we eventually reformulated the clumsy bit.
Although it happened several months ago, I still remember this ‘linguistic’ situation as if it happened yesterday. I think it’s because apart from my attention being drawn to a specific language item, I had to make a mental effort to acknowledge that something that I had deemed perfectly appropriate was actually not quite right. And eventually, I had to produce an alternative.
But not just that; since then, whenever I come across the word inevitable, certain neural connections in my brain get switched on. For example, when I read this:
The rapidly changing communicative landscape presents challenges to ELT professionals and students. In the European Union (EU), as elsewhere, increased mobility, migration, and integration, combined with developments in online communication, have led to substantial changes in English language use and practices. Young-adult learners are inevitably most receptive to and arguably most affected by such changes, with potential implications for English language teaching. by Graham Hall and Guy Cook
As I was a little confused about the use of the highlighted adverb, I checked it out.
Inevitable = impossible to avoid or prevent
Inevitably = in such a manner as could not be otherwise; in a way that cannot be avoided; certain to happen; as is to be expected
It seems my colleague was right; at first sight, both expressions imply a lack of control over a situation and they can be found around words with clearly negative connotations, such as risk, blame, violence, suffer, or set back.
Once again, I looked at the sentence “young-adult learners are inevitably most receptive to and arguably most affected by such changes, with potential implications for English language teaching,” I thought that the fact that young-adult learners are most receptive to and most affected by changes such as mobility, migration, and integration, combined with developments in online communication doesn’t necessarily have to be judged as negative. But then it occurred to me that inevitably may actually refer to the word challenges, which appears much earlier in the paragraph. And challenges can surely be daunting.
Anyway, my somewhat clumsy attempt at a linguistic analysis certainly doesn’t lead to any major gains in the acquisition of the target language. It does, though, confirms my earlier observation that when learning new words, I need to encounter them in several real-life situations (be it authentic reading or listening) to be able to fully grasp and become sensitive to their complexities and connections to their linguistic surroundings. This understanding (inevitably??) leads to my ability to use them
Also, my little discovery leads to some other important conclusions I’ve made, such as the need to constantly question
1) the belief that one can (and should) learn vocabulary from an L2>L1 alphabetical list of words – sometimes even prior to encountering them in context (alphabetical lists can be useful but primarily as a reference tool or for revision).
2) the assumption that web-based tools like Quizlet and flash cards generally are simply amazing (they certainly are but one has to use them cautiously and only as an addition to other ways of working with vocabulary).
3) the view that bilingual and monolingual dictionaries are the most essential tools for a learner (they obviously are helpful but it’s necessary to introduce students to other learning tools as well).