I like to think that there are two sorts of language-learners: the conservative and the anarchic. The former regard language as a pre-ordained system whose rules they must respect and internalise; the latter don’t give a stuff.

My student Naoaki (who, I should state at the outset, is an excellent learner with a high-level of attainment) is clearly in the latter camp, although he might not realise it: given a task to produce some slides for a presentation on Hideyo Noguchi (1878-1926), the eminent Japanese bacteriologist, he spent by his own admission fully half-an-hour producing this from a banknote bearing Noguchi’s face:

Hideyo Noguchi reimagined as four-legged banknote animal

Hideyo Noguchi reimagined as four-legged banknote animal – recto…



It is a noble effort. Michel de Certeau, the French structuralist philosopher (and Jesuit priest) wrote memorably about the silent, unconscious resistance people deploy in their everyday lives, in the way they use (and misuse) space and objects: the way that we cut corners on lawns, for instance, or mount the pavement on our bicycles, finding, like water, the right path; or the way that we dawdle and amuse ourselves on company time, and cock-a-snook generally at the pre-ordained structures that authority (what Foucault would call, ‘the malevolence’) allots us.

And Naoaki has been impelled to do just that, transforming the respectful portrait of a national elder on a banknote (issued, let us remember, by the Japanese Government) into a sort of man-pig with little trotters – and doing so, let us further remember, as a self-directed non-linguistic component of a language course.

It is a thing of genius. Worth, I am informed, approximately five-and-a-half pounds.


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