The Best Idea That I’ve Ever Copied Non-Award goes to Gabe at (Almost) Unsalvageable. It isn’t an award, it’s me giving him credit where credit is due because I totally related to his post I am so sorry for myself, I no speak in this language very much.
He refers to problems when you don’t know a language well but are trying to fit in. His post is hysterical. I have LOADS of examples of that in my personal life, but even more in my students’ lives.
I’m sure I’ve made many embarrassing mistakes, but the one that is so crystal clear in my brain that I even remember what I was wearing that day, occurred when I was in college. I’m 63 now and was probably 19 then, so this gives you an idea of how completely humiliated I felt.
To give you a little background, I’m 100% suburban New York, born and bred in the US and only fell in love with another language in 7th grade. We had to take a “foreign” language at school and I chose French. My older brother took Spanish, so he told me not to be an idiot, but to take Spanish so he could help me.
This new language and I started our love affair the first day of class and it continues to this day.
As a Romance Language major in college, a lot of my classmates were native, or first generation, Spanish speakers. I always felt a little out of my league, but I read and write fluently and have good listening skills. My deficit is being timid speaking with native speakers. Not counting my students with whom I do not feel intimidated at all.
At any rate, at one point I had to give an oral presentation in a difficult college Spanish class.
Side note: In this class, there were 4 essay questions on the midterm. Question #2 was “Write a brief history of Spain.” Seriously?
After my presentation, and I have no idea what the topic was, my professor asked me a series of questions pertaining to the presentation. I have no clue what I was trying to say, but it was along the line of “As a ______________ yourself, you are much more of an expert than I” or something like that. In the blank spot, I called him a “chuleta” which is a pork chop.
The entire class fell out. He was staring at me open-mouthed until he realized that I wasn’t being rude, just had made a horrible mistake. I will never, ever forget that moment.
Now we live in the world of Google Translate. I tell my students that if they use Google Translate they will fail my class. I love it when someone tries to be slick and use it and they end up with a nonsense sentence and swear it’s their own. I mean really, be honest and say you didn’t know how to write it correctly and I’ll help you. Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing when you so obviously don’t.
And then a new student from China arrived. Uh oh. How do you say good morning in Mandarin? I didn’t have one of our Mandarin/English dictionaries handy, so I quickly….you guessed it…..looked up “good morning” in Google Translate, English to Mandarin. And wrote it on the board. I have no idea what I really wrote, but it was obviously not “good morning.”
This very quiet, stereotypically reserved non-English speaking, Asian student looked up at the board, doubled over holding his stomach until laughter erupted unbidden from the depths of his soul.
O.M.G. What did I write?
He is too polite to ever tell me.