I’m fluentish in Spanish. And I like making up words in other languages. Actually, I like making up words in English, too. As an example, I tell my students that I am not an abuelita, I’m an abueloca. For non-fluentish Spanish types, instead of abuelita, which literally means “little grandmother” but is the term of endearment that many call their grandmother, I made up abueloca, which means nothing. But I smushed “grandmother” and “crazy” to make myself a crazy grandmother. Haha I kill myself.
And I distract easily. As I was meaning to say, Spanish is my second language. I’m an expert in listening, reading and writing, but my errors occur in speaking. Even when I’m not making words up. Usually, I get stuck when I think too much about what I want to say. If I want to say in Spanish “listen to me, go sit down, open your notebook and be quiet” you better believe that comes out as fluently as Picasso. But if I’m on the phone with a parent trying to tell him that his son cut class and went off-campus and did who knows what, and I’m trying to couch it so the father understands but won’t punish the kids for 10 years and will encourage him not to do it again, I stumble around. Because I’m fluentish.
Last weekend, I took a bunch of kids on a field trip to the New York Botanical Gardens. A phenomenally beautiful place I had never visited before. We had 4 instructional hours the week before so the students knew what we were going to see. I focused on ecosystems, photosynthesis, the beauty of trees and flowers, architectural landscaping, etc. They went to the website, they drew flowers, trees, birds, looked at videos….I thought I had nailed the lesson. We listened and sang with the Minions as we finished our preparations, and off we went.
As an aside, I can’t stress enough the value of field trips. This particular trip was through a grant for new immigrants and first generation kids who would not have the opportunity to go on trips without this program. Besides soaking in the culture and education of museums, botanical gardens and the like, students make connections when reading which helps their reading skills and content area skills enormously.
We arrive at the Botanical Gardens and it hadn’t started to rain yet. About half of the kids on the trip were born here, so they knew English. The other half were recently arrived kids who knew some English, but not a lot. I knew that while they would be learning a lot in English that day, I would have to translate some things.
So far so good. We stopped here and chatted about ecosystems and I was on top of the world. Man, am I a good teacher.
And then, suddenly, it all started to go terribly wrong.
I realized that I knew almost no science words in Spanish.
We got through that and then they wanted to know about the cricket. I have no idea how to say cricket in Spanish. It has never come up before and I have never had a burning desire to learn that word. All I could think of was cucaracha. And a cricket and a cockroach are two very different things. Finally, I said oh it’s an insect. Phew. Off we went.
This is a Cinnamon Fern. I LOVE ferns and had never seen this type before. We were in the section that I dubbed to myself plants from everywhere in the world but the Bronx. This type of fern is from South America, and the students from Guatemala recognized it right away. But, like most kids everywhere, didn’t know what it was called. Cinnamon Fern. Blank looks. Think, think, think. Fern. nope.
Me in Spanish: It’s ummm a kind of plant….ummm that smells…umm…like something.
Dear God please help me.
Normal students’ shenanigans, everyone is having a good time, and then we came to the rock from hell.
“Wow kids, look!” What it is, is a huge rock split by the freezing and thawing cycle near the end of the Ice Age and was formed by a glacier 14,000 years ago. What I said, after saying all that in English was…
Me in Spanish: It’s a rock that is 14,000 years old and…during the Ice Age….ummmm there was ice….and then it got a little hot…and then water, then it froze, so then ice. Don’t climb it!”
I started to give up. Snack time. I looked around and saw this tree. They were so excited. How unusual! I told them. “It’s Cousin It.” They all took pictures.
Did I mention that now it was starting to rain? And no, I don’t know the difference between sprinkling and drizzling. I just said it’s raining a little bit. *sigh*
Oh look Miss! Luckily, for face-saving purposes, I knew waterfall, rapids, trees, etc in Spanish so we could ooooh and aaah and I didn’t feel stupid.
But as you can see, I really should have taught them the expression “paint by number.” The rain wasn’t too bad. Only one student slipped and fell.
Everyone who doesn’t know how to say in Spanish, old stone millhouse where in the 1850s people milled grain and sold it, raise your hand. ME!! Mill and milled threw me. For heaven’s sake. Who would have known how limited my vocabulary actually is? I explained it all and then used chopping and grinding motions with my hands until they understood me.
It was raining in earnest as we marched ourselves out to the bus. I was thinking about Barnes & Noble and buying a science dictionary when one of the students asked me…
Miss, where are we going next Saturday?
It didn’t matter that I don’t know science words in Spanish.