Monday, March 19, 2012

Teacher Conferences: Lost in Translation

It always drives me batty when Americans complain about immigrants who can't speak English, as if they are lazy or stupid or entitled or something, just because they can't speak the language. I mean, c'mon, lots of these people are working long hours at hard jobs for low wages and don't have the time or the money to enroll in language classes, so they are forced to get by with what they know. Not ideal, but that's the life they live.

Sometimes it's the life I live, too, which maybe adds to my sympathy level for immigrants back in the States.

For example: yesterday.

Yesterday was Kyra's parent-teacher conference day, so I skipped out of work for an hour to see what her teachers had to say about her. She attends a local school, where classes are conducted half the day in English and half in Arabic, with 30 minutes of French thrown in for good measure.

I met with the English teacher first, and it was all good, of course. Reading, math, writing, etc, etc, etc.

Then I went to the Arabic classroom, where I was met by three teachers, one of whom didn't speak English. So the entire conversation was conducted (on their side) in Arabic and (on my side) in nods and raised eyebrows. Seriously, I had NO IDEA what they were saying. Something about writing, maybe. Or behavior? And they sat there talking to each other, glancing at me occasionally as I nodded and brow-furrowed my way through the meeting. Finally, one of them remembered something critical.

"You don't speak Arabic, do you?" she asked, and I confirmed that my Arabic comprehension was just shway-shway.

"But how long have you lived here?" she asked, befuddled. Shamefacedly, I admitted that I have been here for a year and a half. To save face, I added, in Arabic "Arabic is very hard! And everyone here speaks such good English!" (At least I think that's what I said.)

She forgave me, I think, and we switched to English.

I explained that sometimes Kyra doesn't do her homework because I can't read the instructions, so I can't help her. Also, I don't really know my numbers (I can say them, but I can't read them), so when they send home math problems, I can't correct them.

We all had a good laugh, and they agreed to send home a number chart for me so I can learn my numbers alongside Kyra.

Really, though, it's embarrassing to go in there and admit that I can't even participate in kindergarten-level homework after a year and a half here. It's not a good feeling, not at all.

That said, now that I'm done with my Russian test (3+/3+, in case you were wondering, so it's not as if I'm a complete foreign language dolt), it's back to Arabic class for me next week.


tree hugger said... [Reply]

i have nothing but respect for anyone living life in a place where the language they speak isn't what everyone else speaks. what a difficult thing to do! i panic a bit when i'm in montreal because my french is less than perfect and i'm embarrassed to use it (though the instant i even try and start speaking, they switch to english)

if you already know the names of the numbers, you've got the hard part down! the digits themselves are easy to learn. 1, 9 and 10 look almost just like english. 7 is a v like the v in seven. 6 looks like an english 7 and 8 is an upside down arabic 7. (or like the frame of an A , which sounds like 8). 3 has a bit of a sideways english 3 going on. that leaves you with just 2 4 and 5. no problem.

Donna said... [Reply]

I don't know, tree hugger, you aren't inspiring confidence. I know the number 5, because it looks like a zero. (and if it looks like a zero, shouldn't it be a zero??) As for the other 9 numbers from 1-10, aproximately sixteen of them look the same to me...

tree hugger said... [Reply]

okay, how about this: look at 1 2 3 and 4. 1 has one stroke, 2 has 2 strokes, 3 has three (bump, bump, line) and 4 has 4. easy. you know five.
6 is 2 in reverse.
and zero is just a dot. almost nothing (since zero is nothing)

LeesOnTheGo said... [Reply]

Thanks for this! It hit the nail on the head for some of the same thoughts I've had as well. I grew up & eventually taught in a state with a lot of ESL kids (& parents) and the underlying attitude toward them has been what you described...intolerant, etc.

Moving overseas and not being able to communicate easily has given me personally a greater appreciation for what their struggles are as well.

And the inability to read cans at the overseas grocery stores gives me a greater compassion for the illiterate in our country as well. =)


Please. Write your own stuff.