Wednesday, April 25, 2012

End-of-semester molesters

Inevitably, at the end of each semester, my students start molesting me.


Let me explain. For us English speakers, the word molestar in Spanish is one of the tricky ones. One of those words that, over and over again, cause unintentional awkwardness and/or unsolicited attention. Mis estudiantes me molestan. Don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds. My students do not "molest" me. However, they do "bother/annoy/upset" me all the time. Especially at the end of the semester.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my job and I LOVE my students, but they get to be seriously bothersome these last few weeks. Getting them to pay attention in class is like pulling teeth. Getting them to accept the grade that they themselves earned is like pulling teeth out of a hippopotamus. Students seem absolutely astounded to learn they will not be getting an A in the class even though they never received a single A on any assignment. I have received more emails from students in the past few days than I have all semester. I have seen multiple students cry.

To get me through the hard times, I like to entertain myself with other molestar-type-word related stories:

For example: My friend Bryan once worked for a Colombian woman who's English was not 100%. She apparently asked Bryan on multiple occasions to get new carpet for the science laboratory (not carpeted) in which they worked. Hmmm.... thought Bryan. New carpet? This seemed like a strange request. Eventually, he figured out that what she meant was carpetas. She wanted him to buy new carpetas, or "folders", for the office. Not carpet.

Then of course there are the stories where language barriers just make communication funny. Like the difference between ¿cuantos años tienes? (How many years do you have/How old are you?) and ¿cuantos anos tienes? (How many anuses do you have?). Oh the difference a little squiggle over an 'n' can make. Or maybe when you tell someone you are soooooo embarazada (pregnant) after running into that guy you hoped you'd never see again. I remember once, years ago, asking my Peruvian co-worker "¿cómo estás?"  and her casually responding by telling me she was "constipada." At first I thought, well, Peruvians must be more open with that kind of thing. Later I realized this just meant she had a head cold.

When I was living in Paraguay, my father and uncle (neither of whom speak any Spanish) came down to visit. During the trip my dad kept getting me to hide from my uncle so that we could observe the look of pure terror on his face as he thought he had been abandoned by his only way of communicating with the world around him. The only time I actually left them alone, in fact, was when we were staying at a cheap motel that had an all-you-can-eat-meat restaurant on the first floor. After getting my fill of pork chunks and chicken hearts I went upstairs to sleep, while my dad and uncle stayed below drinking beers and smoking cigars. I was awakened by my father an hour later for what he deemed an emergency translation. My father, who loves animals way more than people, had seen some stray dogs in the street and wanted to get them some food. He thought, "oh! I got this! I know the word for dog!" So, he walked up to the young man standing at the grill, pointed at the various kinds of meat and stated his word proudly. "Perro!" He repeated it multiple times and could only get a look of disgust and confusion from the young meat-server. When I went downstairs, the guy explained to me that he understood my father had a craving for dog meat, but could I please tell him that they do not serve this in his restaurant.

Then there are the hundreds of examples I have from when my students use a dictionary incorrectly. Like "when I'm bored at home I like to paint los clavos." You like to walk around and paint those little metal pegs you use to hang pictures on walls? Oh, wait. Fingernails. Uñas. Not clavos. Or (a recent example from my friend Caitlin) "I love to eat astillas con queso." You like to eat sharp fragments of wood or ceramic covered in cheese? Oh, wait. I get it. You mean that other kind of chip... like the kind you get in Mexican restaurants.

Learning to communicate in a different language is obviously no easy task. Teaching a different language is.... well, challenging and oftentimes frustrating, but even when my students me molestan, they still manage to entertain me and make me love my job. In fact, I feel pretty pregnant whenever I think about how much I enjoy it. Oops. I mean embarrassed.

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