3. Naming & Describing


All languages follow systematic grammar rules making it possible for us express our thoughts in powerful ways. In fact, these rules have become internalized so that we can simply talk or free write without having to think about what we’re doing. Of course, as you develop your abilities in a new or foreign language, such fluency of expression is not immediate, but can be gradually worked out through natural input from the new language and the editing, drafting process any good writer follows. Metalinguistic knowledge and practice can help you to talk about and become consciously aware of grammar and stylistic tools for effective writing which you can keep stored in your own “language toolbox.”

The “Naming & Describing” Tool. Let’s look at a valuable writing tool called “naming and describing.” In English, adjectives normally come before the nouns they modify, while in Spanish it doesn’t work that way. Beatriz said she went to Chihuahua to study “guitar classical” rather than “classical guitar.” Consequently, while learning Spanish, I had to remember to place the adjective AFTER the noun, so guitarraclásica was the correct order. Similarly, when I studied Turkish, I learned that the verb also follows the noun: gitar okuduk [guitar I studied]. For many languages, it’s as if people like to first of all name their topic (guitar) and then afterwards describe it (classical) or talk about what’s going to happen or has already happened to it (studied).

For longer, more complex descriptions, English works like Spanish and Turkish by naming a topic and then using a great variety of post-modifier phrases that work in stylistically clear and smooth ways to provide longer, more detailed descriptions than is possible with just a one-word, pre-modifier. Let’s look below at some examples from Beatriz’s My List. Notice the topics she names (in green letters) and how she describes each one using post-modifier phrases (in blue letters) beginning with the introductory transitional words I’ve underlined for you. This stylistic writing technique is often referred to as “naming and describing”:

3- My home town is Cuauhtémocnamed after our bravest Mexica leaderwho refused to surrender even when the invading Spaniards tortured him by burning his feet.
4-I went to Chihuahuathe capital of my state, to study classical guitar.
5-I lived in an internado, a place where you can get room and board while attending school.
7-I have the nickname Chinabecause I look like my Chinese mom whose surname is Chao.
8-I like my dad’s surname, Rayobecause it means “thunderbolt.”
10-I love to drink what we call agua,” meaning “water,” flavored with mango, watermelon, or other juices.

pencilTRY IT OUT: Look over your own descriptive list or your muse paragraph. Can you find similar “naming and describing sentences” of your own?  Copy down several in a separate list in your notebook, naming the topic you’re writing about, connecting with a handy transition word, then expressing yourself with some nice descriptive touches and details. If you can’t quite find any quite like the ones Beatriz used, then rewrite one or more of your sentences trying out this post-modifier style (adding detailed descriptions after the topic). Here are a few example sentence starters, with the transition bolded:


1- I have an interesting friend/roommate/co-worker who

2- _________ is a sport/activity, skill that

3- I spend a lot of time at __________________, thinking about…

4- The key for