Search

Practicing English with Nadia Boulanger


Nadia Boulanger with Aaron Copland and Walter Piston, 1945 (Image is in the Public Domain)


In his weekly newsletter, author James Clear (https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1/july-21-2022) quotes Nadia Boulanger, one of the most influential musicians and composition teachers of all time, on paying attention:


"Anyone who acts without paying attention to what he is doing is wasting his life. I'd go so far as to say life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece."

Source: Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger


Nadia Boulanger’s students called her “Mademoiselle.” We’ll refer to her that way here.


Let’s use her words to practice:

  • Pronunciation: intonation (tone of voice) and focus (important) words

  • An idiomatic phrase: “I’d go so far as to say…”

Notice Mademoiselle’s first statement: “Anyone who acts without paying attention to what he is doing is wasting his life.” (Do you agree?) To practice pronunciation, consider what tone of voice you would use to read this quote aloud. Which words would you emphasize to deliver the message with her intent? Now, read the second statement and do the same exercise: “… life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.” Practice pronouncing these two statements a few times in different ways. What happened to your voice as you read them aloud in succession?


My guess is that you noticed a certain relationship between the two statements: the second statement is more extreme than the first. Perhaps your voice became bolder on the second statement to add emphasis.


Now, notice the idiomatic phrase between these two statements: “I’d go so far as to say…” Mademoiselle uses this phrase to give a signal: she is going to intentionally say something even more extreme (“go so far”) in her second statement than in the first. Now practice speaking the entire quote. Record yourself on your phone and listen back. Do your tone of voice and choice of important words clearly express Mademoiselle’s meaning?


You can use “I’d go so far as to say” in the positive form when you want to express a stronger, more extreme opinion or thought, as Mademoiselle does above.


1. Write or speak a strong opinion. Add a more extreme version of that opinion. Insert “I’d go so far as to say” between your two opinions and practice speaking your ideas. Emphasize the most important words and use a tone of voice that matches your message.


Here’s my (silly) example. I would use a sarcastic or joking tone of voice, since I do not actually mean what I write:


Opening crinkly candy wrappers during a quiet moment in a concert is so rude! I’d go so far as to say a person who does that should be ejected from the theater.


2. You can also use this phrase in the negative form: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say,” to make it clear that you do not hold an extreme perspective:


This marimba part has many errors, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is worthless.

Sheralyn is a bit self-centered, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is a narcissist.


Try using “I’d go so far as to say” and “I wouldn’t go so far as to say” next time you are expressing an opinion. Listen for it, especially when others express strong viewpoints. See how it works for you!

14 views0 comments