I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

language empathy...

Teachers can turn anything into a learning experience.

My husband and I were recently in Mexico for four days. It was a trip he earned through his job and believe me, we were well aware that we'll probably never get this opportunity again, so we tried to make the most of it.

On one of the days, we signed up for a bus tour that took us to some important sites, through a Mexican town, and ended up at Chichén Itzá, Mayan ruins that were built during the 500's. It was a wonderful trip; we learned so much, and the ruins were some of the most spectacular things I've seen in my life.

NOTE: The wee tiny little spot in front of the steps is me.

During one of our stops we disembarked for lunch; it was delicious. We sat at a table with people from all over the world: England, Mexico, India, Colombia. Our closest seatmates both spoke Spanish, and my husband and I each have a passable ability to understand and speak some Spanish. One of my very favorite things from the day was talking with a woman from Mexico and a man from Columbia and learning about them through their beautiful and our (very broken) Spanish. Several times we were trying to explain something and had to talk all around the idea in order to get to what we were trying to communicate.

On the bus trip itself our guide would give part of the lecture in Spanish and then would translate it into English. I had to pay close attention to the Spanish, and even then I missed probably 50% of what he was saying, and that which I understood I'm sure I only understood at a very rudimentary level.

The whole experience got me thinking about what so many of my students go through daily when they come to school. They are listening as best they can, but it's not their native language, so they are understanding as much as they can, as best they can.

If those few hours were exhausting for me, I can only imagine what it's like for them, day after day. It renewed my empathy.

Like I said... teachers can turn anything into a learning experience. :)


Anouk said...

When I first moved to NL and started working there, I was exhausted from the effort it took to listen to and speak Dutch all day... and I was fairly fluent going into the whole experience! How nice of you to be able to take your holiday experience and recognize the similarity to what your students must experience. Also, what an awesome vacation! I SO want to see Mayan ruins - would love to go to Belize. I should try to learn some Spanish first maybe...

Nathalie said...

Going from language A to language B back and forth can be very exhausting, especially when your grasp of the language isn't 100% At the same time, it gives such a jolt of accomplishment when you realise that hey! you've learned another work or you were actually able to follow (bits of) a conversation.

The Mayan ruins are on my list to see one day!! They look wonderful. And what a lovely time you must've had, working out what you were saying with those two people!! It's such a rush when you've managed to explain something...

kirsten said...

Anouk - you know, I hadn't really thought about that, but it makes a lot of sense. It's a very different kind of thinking to switch to, no wonder you were exhausted. <3

Nathalie - you are approximately 492 times better at ALL of your languages than I am at mine. And you should have seen the two of us trying to explain something, and then sometimes they'd help out with a word suggestion and we'd be so grateful. But it was such a great thing. :)

Mason said...

I had the exact same "learning experience" when I went to Peru for 8 days in February two years ago!! I actually remember telling several of our colleagues a very similar story to yours when I got back.

Glad you had a good time, and we should chat because 5th grade just started studying the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas. I'll have to tell them you were just there!