Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yes, You Can SayThat

 Some readers might recall a posting some time ago in which Madam complained about the politico-econ leanings of language training, never mind the responsibilities to which the learners might be assigned.

After all, consular officers spend their work days in conversations that almost never relate to NATO, inflation, or elections.  As she wrote at that time, consular officers need more than the first four or five lessons' "good morning, how are you, where were you born, are you married, do you have children," to help them handle "interviews with accountants, archaeologists, musicians, machinists, mechanics, cattle farmers, and chicken sexers. Not to mention the sensitive and urgent on-the-fly handling of airline hijackings, automobile crashes, emergency surgery, beatings by prison guards, pet murders, taxi scams, rapes, dismemberments, child abductions and lost luggage."

That aside, of course, as we say these days, "It is what it is."  And being tongue-tied just won't help the queue of customers get home on time tonight.

Madam has known officers who used translators for every interview from the day they arrived at post until the day they left; she has known others who arrived with exactly the same ability, vocabulary and test score, and immediately started interviewing on their own - fumbling at first, but learning with every exchange and quickly totally independent.

What was the difference?  The willingness to speak as if they could speak.  And - since Vonnegut was right - soon they truly could.  She remembers the sense of triumph she felt the first time she held her own in a casual conversation outside the office.  She remembers her pride when she overheard her ELOs discussing where they might go for lunch and why - in the host country's language.  And very recently she reacquainted herself with a language she hasn't spoken in many years and was delighted as it came trickling back - in overheard conversation, on road signs and billboards, and in simple exchanges leading to more complex ones.  Nearly everyone there speaks some English, an easy trap to step into, but Madam is proud to say she did not succumb.

And you don't have to succumb either.  Rehearse exchanges in your mind.  Review conversations that fumbled, figure out the flaws, and realize that you COULD have said what you meant to say, if you had tried it THIS way.  Walk through the streets assembling little speeches about what you see ("There is a dog over there.  He is not barking.  His collar is blue and his leash is red")  Loosen up.  Untie the tongue.  Talk with the FSNs in their language, despite their fluency in yours.  After all, what's the worst that can happen?  You've been laughed at before and survived.  And it will never be a mean laugh, but an understanding laugh, with appreciation that at least you tried.

So say something and watch the response - confusion, or an appropriate answer?  Be willing to try a different way, until the eyes light up with comprehension.  There's no feeling like it.  And yes, you can say that.

No comments: