Sunday, January 3, 2010

You Teach Spanish; Will You Please Translate This?

by Ann Abbott

Colomer, Soria Elizabeth and Linda Harklau. "Spanish Teachers as Impromptu Translators and Liaisons in New Latino Communities." Foreign Language Annals 42 (2009): 658-72.

Once, right after I had given birth to my first daughter, I was at the breastfeeding clinic. Things weren't going well, I was in a panic, and I was in shock at the totally unrealistic schedule they had prescribed to "fix" things. Another nurse came in the room. I thought she was going to help me. Instead, she said, "I have a Spanish-speaking mom in the next room, and I can't communicate with her about her let-down. You teach Spanish. Can you come translate?"

You think that's weird? Here's the really weird part. I did it!

How many times have you been put in the position of deciding whether or not to translate for someone who really, really needs your help. You want to do the right thing. But it's not your job. You're not a translator. What if you mess up? What if the business/organization relies on the good will of people like you instead of hiring qualified translators like they should?

Soria Elizabeth Colomer and Linda Harklan (both from the Univesrity of Georgia) just published an article about that in the latest issue of Foreign Language Annals. They bring up very important issues for students who we train to be second language classroom teachers, requiring an "Advanced-Low" proficiency but who are then pulled in to being the school's translators--a job that requires specialized knowledge and a "Superior" proficiency level.

The article is highly readable and contains important information for all of us who are engaged with students who are preparing to become Spanish teachers--or really, any of our students who will be dragged into translating and interpreting because of the great need and lack of resources these communities and non-profits face.

I'll quote from the article's introduction, but I highly suggest you read the whole piece:

"In this article we document how Spanish teachers, as some of the few Spanish-speaking educators in new immigrant communities, are bearing an especially heavy burden as impromptu, unofficial translators and school representatives. Taking the experience of north Georgia educators as an example, we document a wide range of duties assigned to and assumed by foreign language educators working in schools hosting new immigrant student populations. We show how these duties include not only translation and interpretation, but also much more demanding roles as surrogate counselors, administrators, and teachers of English and other content areas. We explore the hidden extra workload that this work imposes on Spanish educators. Finally, we consider teachers' varying attitudes and responses to these new demands. We conclude by considering the implications for the field in terms of professional education and policy."

I believe Spanish community service learning (CSL) should play a role in the final point of "professional education and policty," but the entire Spanish curriculum should oscillate more easily between theory and practice in order to truly equip our students for the language situations they will encounter outside the campus bubble.

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