Lost in Translation
On Tuesday morning I had my very first official Catalán lesson. I was back at the language school where I took my TEFL course almost five months ago. The course began with an hour Catalán lesson to help us empathize with the learning process (and all the frustrations it brings) our future students would experience. Ever since then I have been trying to soak up Catalán by reading signs, enduring a minute or two of Catalán TV, eavesdropping in elevators, on the street and in shops and listening to my students whisper translations and explanations to each other. (I can’t imagine the paranoia I would have suffered had my junior high students been armed with a secret language.)
With my work schedule more set now, I was finally able to arrange Catalán lessons. I was beyond excited to begin my 1-hour one-on-one lesson with the same awesome teacher I had back in September. And it didn’t take long before I found myself (squirming) in my students’ shoes.
After covering the basic introductions, when the teacher then asked me my “cognom” I felt so confident as I recognized the word for “last name.” Then she asked me to spell it and all I could do was utter each letter in Castellano (Spanish, as it’s known to most of the world), which luckily turned out to be about the same as it is in Catalán. And then she asked me the origin of the name. My only option at that point was Castellano and so I launched into the story that has been told in my family for generations: When my great-grandfather arrived in the country, he didn’t understand an immigration official who asked his last name, so he asked, “Sir?” With that, the official wrote “Sair.” I continued to tell my teacher that my family had come from Russia and Poland but that no one knows what the last name was there. At this point in the story I began to recognize the look on my teacher’s face. As a fellow language teacher I have worn a similar expression countless times before, it’s one that says, “I hope the student doesn’t realize that she has just given an answer to a question that was never asked and I hope when she does come back to the surface for air, she doesn’t begin to realize that my next question was what I actually had asked before she began on this diatribe a lifetime ago.” So, it turns out that my teacher never asked the origin of my last name; instead, she had simply asked, “Where are you from?”
Later in the day I could barely get the words out as I shook with laughter telling and retelling the story. And my students were thrilled to hear of my quite relatable language learning experience.