My students were recently studying irregular nouns, like child/children which have irregular plurals, versus nouns like book/books, which are regular plurals in that all the plural form requires is an s. Needless to say, they much prefer the regular nouns, as the irregular require memorization, as task to which most students have a deep aversion. As we went through the list, we came upon man/men and woman/women.
I have one student, perhaps in his thirties, from Korea, who derives great pleasure in asking questions. He is what I call a “playful “learner. This is a style of learner I see from time to time in my classroom but have yet to see a scholarly article addressing the best way to reach these students, as I do with other learning styles. So I answer the questions from playful learners as best I can, but watch my other students who can resent the playful learner who is hoarding valuable class time with needless questions.
After reviewing the list of irregular nouns, we began exercise drilling them in adding /s/ to form plural nouns as needed. We were well into this exercise, when we came across a sentence with this subject:
A young woman from Russia raised her hand and asked about the word “BEINGS”. She wanted to know what form of BE this was, as that most irregular verb gives her an terrible time. Since the class would not study gerunds until the following term, I thought the book unfair to present this form In this exercise. My students had enough to sort out in English grammar without me telling them about gerunds just yet. So I suggested for now she just forget about BEINGS, and I showed her on the board that you could just delete BEINGS, and put the S on HUMANS.
I asked her if that was better for now, and she nodded, saying that is better.
But then my playful student raised his hand. He had a smirk on his face, too.
I said “What’s up, Heebeum?”
“Teacher, I think you spelled that wrong”
“Yeah? What’s wrong with it, Heebeum”
“The s is wrong.”
“Heebeum, I don’t think so. But tell me, how do you think it should be?”
H – U – M- E- N.
i restated that the plural of human was humans. I had not messed up. But the whole class could see right there on the board that English had truly messed this one up. Thanks to my playful student, the relationship between MAN, MEN, WOMAN, WOMEN, AND HUMAN, HUMEN was completely clear and I was supposed to be able explain this deviation. However, I could not come up with any explanation as my mind was excitedly spinning with words like HUMENITIES, HUMENATARION, HUMENOID, OR WOULD THAT ONE BE HUMANOID/HUMANOIDS, BUT THEN WOULD HUMENITIES BE HUMANITIES and then I said to myself, oh shit, Susan, stop it….just stop it!
I said to my students, Yeah, well, it ‘s irregular….the plural of human is humans……so it is a regular irregular…and they seemed to buy that.
I once read a memorable essay by a remarkable man who concluded that in this world of ours, we are all like dogs in a library in that all we can do is sniff around trying to figure things out. If we could only read, the answers are all there right in front of us. How many clues to all my questions are right in front of me, but I miss them because I am looking through these old eyes? If I could have the unsullied eyes of my playful student and see things exactly as they are, accepting nothing, questioning everything, what could I learn?