Tuesday, January 16, 2007

lost in translation

the instructors on my celta (certificate of english language teaching to adults) course impressed upon us that humour was hard to translate and teach (this was pre- borat). however, belly laughs were frequent in many of my classrooms. during one of my young learner's lessons i was trying to differentiate between "sometimes", "usually", "always", and "never". while eliciting sentence completions a little korean boy gave me "pick my nose". he then proceeded to demonstrate the meaning of the verb "to pick", versus "to choose" to his peers.

no surprises that gesture is the quickest and most effective way to communicate across the language divide. my pre-intermediate adults were learning "it might mean", "it could mean", and "it probably means" as it related to interpreting signs. their textbooks were open at various hand gestures, the first one being the 2 fingered "peace" sign- as opposed to the 2 fingered "up yours" sign. one very straight faced saudi raised his hand, and using correct grammar told me "it might mean: 2 sandwiches, please".

teaching primarily muslim only students can make the western, female teacher very aware of attire, personal space, and saying "bless you" after a sneeze. substituting for an upper intermediate level i was warned that their was a mullah, or religious cleric in attendance. sure enough he had the long beard and robes. the topic of the evening was celebrations as they related to different cultures. teaching the relevant vocabulary for the chapter we covered; "dancing", "singing", "giving thanks", and "street carnival". while testing the meaning to see if they understood; roads being blocked off, crowds of people in the streets and a lot of noise, the cleric raised his hand and told me "in bahrain, we call these riots".

there is a divide between east and west; time zones, topography, culture, fried twinkies, and religions that require special underwear and abstinence from coffee. thankfully the ability to laugh at the extremes of your own culture is universal.

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