Tuesday, February 1, 2011

English as a Second Language

We went to parent teacher conferences last week (my kids are doing wonderfully, by the way).

My daughter's teacher mentioned that there was a student who started out the school year not able to speak English. Now, this student is at the top of the class.  And, they translated the conference for their parents.

I have mixed feelings about this.  There's a part of me that is proud of this young person, and glad they have this opportunity. I hope they continue to learn English and to learn so quickly.  It will be a great advantage to them as they get older.

There's another part of me that's a little wistful - it's a lot of responsibility for a child to translate for their parents. 

I've written before about my grandmother, whose parents never learned English.  I don't know how she felt about translating for them - or how her siblings felt. 

Being a translator has a lot of power.  There are nuances that are difficult to translate.  You get to decide what to translate, and what not to translate. 

The teacher can say "Aerin needs to tuck her shirt in more" and I could decide to translate that as "Aerin does a good job of dressing appropriately".  A kindergartener is probably not going to attempt to re-translate.  But as they get older, they might. 

There are school employees whose job it is to translate between the parents and teachers.  Probably for just this situation.  Language has a lot of power, the person who has command of a language has a great deal of power.  I'm assuming since the student was doing so well, the teacher didn't feel that a translator was important to call in (other than the student themselves).

I remember my French teacher (back in high school) talking about her experiences translating.  An important person from France was visiting, and she was translating.  One of the things the French official was extolling about was the virtues of French  milk and French cows.  My French teacher translated this (word for word), and resisted the urge to smile or laugh.  She felt that American cows and milk were just fine, and the chances of us buying French milk instead of midwestern milk was unlikely.


Freckle Face Girl said...

I bet your kids are loving school too. I CAN'T wait to put mine in next year. :)

I also think it is a big responsibility for kids. I saw it all the time when I worked in Houston and Miami. One summer back in high school, I worked as a receptionist for GMAC (the finance company for GMC). An older Mexican lady came in to talk about her car loan. She brought in her 5 year old grand-daughter to translate. I wondered how she thought a 5 year old could translate difficult concepts like that. Fortunately, there were Spanish speaking workers to help her.

Stella said...

I agree with you. It was the same for my grandmother and I know she despised her parents for their inability to speak English. It ended up causing quite a rift.