Last Tuesday the school had the annual visit from a group of students and teachers from Adel Primary School in Leeds. Basically a day filled with workshops and food and displays of music and dance from each culture. Pretty standard.
The Wednesday before, Teresa, my coordinator had told me that she would be giving an introduction and welcome speech at the beginning of the day, when the school arrived. She proceeded to tell me that I would be interpreting as she spoke. This scared the bejesus out of me. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish is DEFINITELY not perfect, but it has improved a hell of a lot since I first arrived, so much so I understand the majority of what people say to me (mini-wave of celebration), even if I talk respond like a complete moron sometimes. This is not the case with Teresa. She has a particular manner of speaking (not her words or her accent, literally her voice) which is quite unclear and I find it extremely difficult to understand her. Naturally then, the idea of translating under pressure while she spoke made me want to run off up a mountain somewhere and hide. I told her that that prospect made me quite nervous – could she possibly write down a speech and I can just translate it (I didn’t even go into the fact that as an English teacher, she should probably be able to give the speech her damn self)? A firm “no” was the response. She just told me that she knows I’m not very good at Spanish, so she’ll speak slowly and use easy words…oh how benevolent of her. I had heard that last year, the previous assistant had to do the same, and Teresa had only said “Welcome” in English, before handing the reigns over to her. The teachers all laugh about this now, and I’d heard the story from several of them, so I had almost been waiting for this.
I told my friend Gustavo, a sixth grade bilingual teacher who actually speaks very good English, about what happened. He laughed. I asked why couldn’t he or some other teacher do this task, since they could probably do it better and a lot more accurately – he said it would make it obvious she couldn’t speak English, whereas if I do it, it’s more like I’m earning my keep. He told me to tell the head of the school, a really lovely teacher, Pilar, that I didn’t want to and if she could help me. I did so later that day, where she told me she’d do her best, but to bear in mind Teresa can be “difficult.” I feel you, sister.
It got to Monday the next week, and Teresa pulled me out of classes, to get me to translate the itinerary for the visit the following day into English, make up and print timetables for the workshop, and got me and the French assistant to put up signs around the school. A valuable use of our time.
When I arrived at school the next morning, I felt like I should have taken Gustavo’s advice of “pretend to be sick”. I was bloody terrified. Eventually the school arrived at 10, and I witnessed Teresa speaking English for the first time. She sounded like someone had chopped up the tape from inside a cassette, and spliced it together, missing out words and mixing around phrases. It was stunning. She then immediately got me to translate for the English teachers, so she could speak to them, before leaving me to give an introduction about the school, and to answer their questions. I knew none of the answers and felt like a complete idiot.
Eventually the time came to go out into the playground and give the speech. The entire school was there, complete with staff and several parents there to help. All I could hear was the sound of my knees knocking together. Teresa started with easy stuff, hello, welcome, glad you lot are here again etc, and then paused to look at me, signaling my turn to go. I felt like I got the majority of it right, and thought it was all gonna be not hideous. Then Teresa went off on a page long speech, interspersed with her getting one to say something in English, which she then followed by asking me to translate it into Spanish, which threw me RIGHT off, at which point Pilar ran over to help in case she said something weird – beautiful woman. Luckily she didn’t even give me the chance to say more than a couple of sentences. She began trying to get one of the English teachers to speak Spanish to everyone, which resulted in him quoting something I said (grammatically incorrect, I think) and looking like he wanted to die. It was horrendous and I could see Gustavo, Ángel (a fifth grade bilingual teacher), Manuel (the English teacher for fourth grade and under) laughing away, whilst my friend Eli (a first grade bilingual teacher) did both that and record it on her phone. Priceless. So I didn’t even intepret the final part.
Eventually the horror was over and the kids began doing their little dance displays and things. All the aforementioned teachers gave me hugs and said I’d done great, etc, which was nice to hear.
Since Teresa had not let me translate the final part, which mainly included actual important things, like what was going to happen, I went over to the group and explained without a microphone after the performances. Teresa came over and started saying something I nor the English teacher who spoke some Spanish could understand. I waited for more, until Teresa just came out with (in English, in full earshot of the visitors): “You’ve really learnt no Spanish while you’ve been here, have you? You cannot speak it at all.” To which I replied “I feel I have improved quite a lot…”. “But you only speak English to the teachers,” she said, which infuriated me because I have only ever spoken to her in Spanish, plus the whole staff isn’t bilingual, so I wouldn’t get far if I didn’t.
I told this to Manuel, who I believe must have told the other teachers, since when I was wandering round between the classes afterwards to help with the workshops, because both bilingual and non-bilingual kept approaching me asking if I was ok, that I shouldn’t worry and that I’m doing fine. Even Pilar found me later, and said jokingly “Your Spanish is soooo bad!”, before hugging me and telling me not to listen to a word Teresa said, which made me feel a lot better.
I still couldn’t believe it, since it just seems like such a rude thing to say to someone. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression I was there not only to learn Spanish, but to help the teachers and students with their English…how wrong one can be.
The day concluded with a picnic, which was nice as I got to interpret for one of the mothers who was helping out, who wanted to speak to the English teacher who could speak some Spanish (which I found odd, since he teaches Spanish at home), for about 45 minutes. This was however marred by Teresa doing her signature arm-grab-and-drag-away, taking me in the direction of the former Head, who she had told I would do a “favour” for, and then proceeded to patronizingly tell him to “speak very slowly, she doesn’t speak much Spanish, if you don’t she won’t understand you.” The favour was going to the airport to pick up some people and interpret for him. Nice.
A crazy day. If anyone has any advice or has had similar experiences please let me know, however I sincerely hope nobody has! Found it all very strange. Although I’m happy to know the majority of teachers at school don’t share Teresa’s opinion of me.
Now a nice song, which I feels captures the essence of what I wanted to reply to the nasty comments (or the title at least)…