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Translator

November 24, 2010

I arrive at school ten minutes before the bell rings, in search of Luda to find out what the topic is for my tenth form class.  Normally, I wouldn’t be too worried if I found her or not, as it is my second year of teaching and I can improvise pretty easily, but being that it is with older students who seem able to sense things like unpreparedness and discomfort whereas the fifth grade girls are mostly oblivious to a forgotten word or two, I find it necessary to find her before the lesson, so I can have some idea of what I’m talking about.  Ten minutes soon become five, five become two and as the last minute dwindles, I finally find myself face to face with Luda, who hands me a sheet of white paper and simply says, “environment.”  The word settles in my mind uncomfortably and I look down at the sheet of paper, which reads “Our Threatened Planet.  Can it be saved?” and one painful word comes to me, “Translation.”  I hold the piece of paper at my side reluctantly like a bag of trash and walk into the classroom, where students of the 10th form await me, their first lesson of the year with Ms. Kathleen.  The faces are new to me, as they are not the same from last year, and I suddenly remember Luda saying she’d given me different students, ones that needed more help in English, ones that will probably not understand a word I will say.  I clear my throat, which in my mind gives me some element of authority, and begin by clasping my hands together joyfully, hoping to brighten their sullen, 16 year old faces.  “Hello!” I say, feeling like a comedian about to perform to a less than desirable turn out.  “How are you?”  I ask, sounding like a therapist.  Some of them chuckle, as most do upon hearing my voice for the first time, and look to one another for support.  I wonder if they are just being shy, or if they in fact do not understand the words how-are-you, if which is the case, I will be in trouble when it comes time to address “Our threatened planet. Can it be saved”, which I’m unsure of how much interest it will incite, as the students have a hard time answering how they are.  “Ok then, good, good,” I say, trying my best to facilitate things, keep matters moving.  “Today we will talk about the planet.”  The moment the words are released, all the heads dart around, looking to one another as if I have just said something controversial or injurious, like I am making a campaign speech, slandering the other candidate.  I decide to start again, holding up the paper, and say, “Planet,” breaking up my sentences now, “today”, speaking only in words like I used to do when I first got to Ukraine and I didn’t know the language, saying things like “ketchup,” at the dinner table, the rest responding, “good katya!”, giving me a thumbs up for my one word contribution of the night.  They don’t seem to pick up either of the words I have said and so I translate planet and today as best I can.  “Oh,” they say shaking their heads up and down, “Got it,” they seem to say with their body language.  “Ok let’s begin,” I say pointing to the paper.  “Deema, please read.”  Deema looks at me blankly and I point to the first sentence on the page and he looks down and begins.  “The pro-t-e..” Deema stops almost immediately, staring motionlessly at the page.  I look back at him sitting in the last row alone, trying to understand his adolescent mind.  “The protection of nature has become one of the most burning problems,” I say helping him along.  “Now translate.”  He sits frozen, and seems unable to open his mouth any further.  “Ok,” I say, “Angela, help him.”  She also sits frozen, incapable of any further elaboration.  I start to become nervous, as I might have to give my own muddled translation thought up on the spot, but before it comes to that, Nina, sitting in the front row raises her hand politely.  “Nina!” I say almost shouting, “Please, go ahead.”  The words comes out quickly, compactly, like she prepared them at an earlier date, and every head looks up at me, the infallible source now on Russian English translation, to see if what Nina has said, is in fact correct.  I shake my head up and down, “Good Nina,” unsure of exactly what her words meant in Russian, as I’m not sure of the correct sentence structure for “has become one of the most burning problems.”  Seeing Nina’s examples, the rest follow.  Dasha now raises her hand, giving a vaguely comprehensible read in English, followed by an even quicker one in Russian.  The whole class once again looks to me to see if Dasha has now given the correct translation.  Once again unable to correctly translate the words, “The development of industry has had a bad influence on the nature of the whole world,” I give a similar encouraging head nod, which makes Dasha smile and the rest more hopeful of their translating skills.  I decide at this moment to slow down, and take the text word by word, using a dictionary, but when I look into my bag, I find that I have unfortunately forgotten it.  “Ok,” I say, taking a deep breath, “building, to build.”  I write the word on the board and the class looks back at me blankly.  As I reach into my mind for the translation, I too am blank, and decide to resort to my theatrical skills, something I pull upon often while trying to relay something in English.  I make exaggerated motions with my hands, flailing them around me, trying to mimic what a builder might do, feeling like I am suddenly part of a game of charades.  They look around at each other and begin to giggle, though not mean heartedly I notice, but rather sympathetically, like they appreciate my efforts.  “Stroet,” Angela says.  “yes!”  I shout back at her, excited about our progress, “Good.”  We move on to the next word.  “Pollution.”  I mime my hands in a semi circle, driving a car and follow it by car exhaust with my fingers.  Nina raises her hand and says something in Russian, which I take to be pollution, “Nina, good.”  We continue on now at a quicker pace and I continue acting out such things as “garbage truck”, “garbage dump,” and “taking out the garbage,” in which I swing my arms and let go of an invisible bag in the air.  As we get to “cutting down trees”, and I debate falling over, I see what I think is a dictionary in the far back corner and Vika searching for something with her finger.  I smile appreciatively at her, who would not let things get so far that I might have to fall over, and at the rest, who seem to be trying despite their complete lack of knowledge of the English language, and moving on, I call on Deema to read the next sentence, “All life on the Earth-from the littlest bug to the biggest whale,” and waiting patiently for him to finish, I get my arms ready at my side.

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