Amateur Translators Get Things Across

What I have learned from Educational Change workshops, classes, and RC literature has been helpful in my learning and in my teaching.

When I was preparing to take the Graduate Record Exam to enter graduate school, counseling about math brought lots of tears. When I took the exam, I actually felt a little disappointed when I realized that there were no more math sections to complete! Throughout graduate school, counseling was very useful. I was able to think in class while material was being presented!

Right now I am teaching library science courses in Krakow, Poland. I teach in English and have a translator. About four weeks ago one of the translators was ill. She asked me by phone what I would do, and I said I would teach the class. I felt freer on my own and had already arranged the students into groups of six, with two to three students who were stronger in English at each table.

I told them that there would only be them and me, but I was sure we would do fine. I told them I knew they were intelligent and wanted to learn. They laughed heartily. I asked if other teachers had treated them as if they were intelligent. Almost everyone shook their head, "No." I told them that I would always be aware that they were intelligent whenever I talked to them.

Next I asked them to talk with the person next to them about a time they learned something, any time in their lives. Then each told one thing to the whole class, in Polish or English. There were things like reading, bike riding, swimming, and singing. Already their faces were brighter!

Then I said that it is important for them to remember that they are intelligent, that it makes learning new things easier.

I told them that at the University people are aware that I am a foreigner and speak slowly, or we list our languages to find a common one, but that on the street, when someone speaks to me fast, I feel panic. When I feel this panic, I cannot understand; it stops me from thinking. If I can ask, "Jastem raz (please repeat)," and remember that I can speak some Polish, I do better.

It was a wonderful class. They figured out who were the best translators and had them take turns. I was asked to repeat at a couple of places-I was glad they felt comfortable with this; this was new.

The next day a young faculty member approached me and said he'd heard that Professor Wñ had been sick and that I had taught alone. He said the class had sent him to tell me that they wanted me alone for the future!

After four weeks of classes, Professor Wñ is well enough to return. In class this morning I had her sit down and simply answer questions. I had told the students to come with questions about Polish practice on any of the subjects I had covered, and they popped questions for the whole class. It was wonderful. I asked for a translator for myself, who whispered the questions in my ear (so I didn't break the momentum). I smiled at every questioner and stuck my thumb up a lot in extra approval.

At the end, the other faculty person told me she thought it had gone very well. I asked her what she saw as especially good, and she said that they asked good questions and were obviously interested in the issues.

Donna Gagnier
Kraków, Poland

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00