When I'm not translating, sometimes I give Spaniards English classes. I like to think of it as an exercise in language and in pedagogy. To keep in mind how the receiving end feels, I also go to Catalan and French classes. And then I turn shamelessly, take those lesson plans, put them in English  and use them on my students. Buah hahaha.

David Bellos published an book on translation in 2011 called Is That a Fish in Your Ear?.  In a chapter on mother languages he says something that rings especially true with me: " Teachers of foreign languages are expert in distinguishing between mistakes that language learners make and those that are characteristic of native speech". He goes on to add that, "for a native speaker of any language, there are some kinds of errors made by others that sound not just wrong, but not native". Hey, I said while reading it, I know that feeling! I always scrunch up my face on those nails on a chalkboard constructions, even when I sort of understand what they're trying to say. Sort of.


But then my students correct me when I say something like "me and my friends". The ones who say "We are 13 people in the office". The gall!


Learners of a language, I've found, are looking for what's "right". That's what they can grasp on to. That's what they can check off in a multiple choice test and then get a good grade on. That's what they can open a book and learn. Hey, I've been there. I know what you mean.


I realized the year I studied abroad in Spain that what I really needed to do was to stop telling the language what it was supposed to do and just get with the program and imitate what it actually did. Mimicking native speakers  like a trained monkey has been the way I've mastered Spanish.


So I tell my students, "This is how we say it", "Just copy how I say it", "It sounds like this".  They hate those slippery, completely un-correctable directions, and always want to know why. "But why do you say it like that?, "It's so hard to say, though", "Why are there are so many letters you don't even say?" Etc. Etc.


There are reasons I stopped giving classes full time and went into translation. Because how can you explain to someone that knight and night sound exactly the same, but mean something completely different, and both are impossible to spell. Excusing English for being so hard to learn was becoming disheartening. Bad English, bad.


Would-be students beware: This is a no-questions-asked kind of English lesson. We say it like this. You just gotta believe me.




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