Sunday, March 6, 2016

Slice # 6- Spanish Fail

I work in a dual language (English and Spanish) school. Children are expected to leave eighth grade fully bilingual and bi-literate.

Well over half the teachers at my school are fully bilingual. I am not one of them. I speak English, and some Spanish. I work on my Spanish every day, talking to kids and teachers, reading, doing tutorials, etc; but it's hard to learn a new language, and I won't be fluent for a long time.

There are a few benefits to learning a new language along with our students. Kids see me as a learner. I take risks. I approximate.

And I make mistakes. Lots of them.

One this week was especially notable.

I am standing in the lobby redirecting middle schoolers up to the second floor after lunch, when L, one of our new seventh graders approached me. L is very, very shy and speaks only Spanish.  (This conversation actually occurred in Spanish, but I'm writing it in English, so people can read it).

"Where is Ms. M?" Ms M. , a secretary in the office is fully bilingual and very gentle. Our middle school girls, especially the Spanish speakers, adore her and often go by the office just to say hello or when they need a little reassurance.

"I think that she is at lunch, sweetie," I say. "Can I help you?"

L ducks her head and speaks softly. I strain to her what she is saying. It's hard. Most of the middle schoolers are tromping up the stairs and her voice is very soft. She also speaks quickly, and I can't understand some of what she is saying. I catch the words necesito (I need) and ciclo (cycle).

I draw on my favorite Spanish strategies. I know the words needs and cycle. I think about the context (middle school girl). I watch L's facial expression (worried?).

Based on that information, I think L is in need of feminine products. I know where those are, because girls regularly ask me for them.

I finish herding the middle schoolers, then take L into the nurse's office. I open the cupboard and hold up a box.

L looks confused. I wonder if she uses something different and hold up another box.

This time L shakes her head no.

I try a third time. L looks desperate.

I feel a little desperate too. What could she want?

I decide to seek Spanish backup and look around the office. At any given time,  there are usually several Spanish speakers available, but today there is no one.

The assistant principal is a woman, and fully bilingual, she also has a middle school daughter. Maybe she can help us. I check her door. It is closed, with the sign telling people to come back later.

I feel a little desperate. I have to find someone who speaks better Spanish. I know the second grade teacher, G, has planning right now. Another very gentle woman. I think L might talk to her. We head down the hall. G is not in her room.

Way down at the end of our block long building, I see one of the paras, Mrs. O, a grandmotherly woman who makes the best chicken tacos I have ever eaten. We head her way.

I ask for help.

"¿Qué quieres, m'ija?" (What do you need, m'ija (this is a term of endearment, kind of like sweetheart), Mrs. O. says.

L says something. Again I think I hear the word ciclo and I wonder where I went wrong.

Mrs. O turns to me, "She wants to see the psicólogo, the psychologist," she says. "She is really worried about something."

We head down the hall to find J, another fully bilingual member of our staff. Thankfully, she is available, and I leave L in more capable hands.

Later, telling the story to several teachers, I laugh about holding up all of the different feminine products. It really is kind of funny, and yet at the same time, it's not. A child needed help and I failed her. I think about it all night long.

The next morning, I find L in the hall. I apologize. I tell her that I am learning Spanish, just like she is learning English. I ask if she will help me and she nods. I tell her I will help her with English. A small smile crosses her face and then she hugs me.

We are learners, making our way through new worlds together.


Ramona said...

What a story! I could sense both your frustration and her puzzlement at the solutions you offered. What a gift you offered her when you asked for her help learning Spanish!

Unknown said...

What a great story. when you said necessito and ciclo, my mind went to the same place yours did. Learning a language can be frustrating but there are lots of funny moments to. I lived in Colombia for three years, teaching at an Americans school. My roommate once asked for vagina ice cream instead of vanilla!

Anna Gratz Cockerille said...

I love this! As a Spanish learner, I appreciate it, and as a teacher I appreciate it. You kept trying to help and you showed your willingness to learn. Wonderful.

elsie said...

We learn from fails, so actually this was a win for you because now you have someone who is a partner in the learning of the language. Now that's the way to make a difference! However, it was rather funny when you "thought" you knew what she was asking for.

Noël said...

You brought tears to my eyes, not of laughter, but of understanding. You taught an amazingly wonderful lesson about how to say sorry as well as that we all can learn something from each other. That school is lucky to have you.

Carrie Gelson said...

All of those communication break downs don't matter. She felt your persistence and your care! Loved reading this.

Tara said...

I had to laugh, too - but both of you stuck it out together trusting that a solution would be found...and it was!

Linda B said...

Nice story, Carol, and it does show your caring all the way through. It is amusing too, and probably won't be the only time you, & others "fail". A friend a long time ago who "thought" she spoke Spanish pretty well told that she was invited to a wedding. She asked if she should dress up, and used a word similar to "perro". They all looked surprised, thought she wanted to bring her dog. She said it was a most embarrassing moment.

JenniferM said...

Hahaha, love it! But I loved the ending the most -- what a special connection you have with her now!

Unknown said...

So much to love about this post. I want to learn Spanish. Expect a package (finally). Mailed yesterday