A simple farewell to the world’s last great leader, but one that comes from my very sad, but immensely proud South African heart. Go well, our father.
(lines remembered from my first viewing of ‘The Sound of Music’)
I have just done a few weeks of training and a talk at BESIG in Prague. As each session approached, I went through various levels of nerves from the slightly dry mouth through full-blown hyperventilation. These variations all depend on stuff that we are all familiar with – perceived lack of preparation, unfamiliarity with audience and venue, physical well-being (had to do two training sessions while recovering from food poisoning – not advised).
These swings and roundabouts at the self-confidence fair can pretty much be managed by us. We all have our rituals and mantras to get us through. But it is the unexpected blows that come from others that take their toll – and sometimes a lasting one. Twice in the last week I have experienced this – both to do with speaking and both fairly damaging accounts.
The first affected me. I was teaching a student with a name I found hard to pronounce. On paper it looked fairly straight forward by the nuanced intonation and pronunciation of the sounds defeated my rather direct South African accent. Every time I said the student’s name, he winced and pulled a face expressing violent disgust. He’d shake his head and say, “Horrible! Euch!” After two or three of these little demonstrations, I became so irritated, I decided to call him by his surname, which came more easily to me. In my head, I said, “Sod off then, I’m not going to say your ridiculous name. I have tried and tried and with zero encouragement from you, that’s me done.” I learnt more then about how to approach the teaching of pronunciation than ever before. Pronunciation is deep and personal – tread very very carefully.
The second affected another of my students. 5 years ago she was trying to sort out a fairly complex shipping assignment – a pet from Dubai to Belgium. She started off lacking confidence in her English because of the unfamiliar nature of the assignment and needing to do a lot of it by phone. At one point she was unfortunate enough to have an impatient, rude, unsympathetic operative at the other end of the line. She was told that she was stupid and couldn’t she speak proper English. That jibe has stayed with her all these years. She hasn’t forgotten it and still today, her English suffers because she is afraid that she may be slapped down again. Her voice was shaking as she told me and I felt so angry with that faceless, nameless person for the damage she had inflicted on this quiet, gentle lady in front of me.
Look after each other, especially those whose confidence may be shaky and who need some encouragement.
But there may also be a “gain in translation”. I watched a lovely little TED talk this morning where a young Chinese woman revealed that “happiness” translated into Chinese as “fast joy”. Now I appreciate that our – as in native English speaker – understanding of the word “happiness” is a whole lot different, but the Chinese translation does give one pause.
And then there are these delightful examples. Would they gain or lose in translation?
“Appropriacy refers to whether a word is suitable for the context it is being used in. It is an important aspect of language but an extremely complex one, as decisions about how to say things depend on understanding exactly what is right for the context and the culture. It is also a big part of one’s sociolinguistic competence.” So it says on the BC website
I’ve been wondering about this for a week or so, because I was party to an interesting little interaction during lunch between a teacher and two students. The general conversation was about Spain. Here it is more or less verbatim:
Teacher: Have you ever been to Spain, X?
Student X: (looking up from dinner plate with hooded eyes) Of course – many times. (low, slow monotone and then the eyes drop back to the dinner plate)
Student Y: In Spain was business or holiday? (head on one side, looking interested)
Student X: (once more raising eyes lazily to look at interlocutor) Of course holiday. What else?
Student Y: (shuffles in chair, drops eyes and addresses lunch.)
Teacher: Gosh you’re really lucky, X. I have never been to Spain on holiday. I would love to. Y, you live in Spain. If I come, can I visit you? (looks at Student Y)
Student Y: Of course – it will be pleasure for me.
The expression that alerted me was “of course”. The way student X employed it was inappropriate and his tone made it sound dismissive and arrogant. Student Y’s use was entirely appropriate and his tone, warm and friendly. Student X has a high B2 English level. Student Y is at best high A1. Is appropriacy cultural? Can it be taught? Do some people “just know” what is appropriate because they are socially adept?
Who is the better communicator? Who has the better interpersonal skills? Which would you choose as a linguistic competence – high accuracy or high appropriacy?I know which of these students I would prefer to visit…or teach again.
Have just read these nuggets of exuberance and razzmatazz
……in today’s competitive and fast changing workplace, we can never hope to achieve success unless we’re willing to embrace change and risk the discomfort of failure. In short, we must be willing to get comfortable with the discomfort involved with taking risks.
Ten years from now there will be people who have achieved extraordinary success. While we don’t know who they will be, one thing is sure – they won’t be people who have stayed inside their comfort zone. Rather, they will be people who have continued to stretch themselves, even when things are going smoothly, and who have been willing to risk failure or looking foolish, knowing that the biggest risk they take is not taking any risks at all. The question is – will you be one of them?!
In our ever more cautious and competitive world, there is little security in playing safe. Being willing to give up the familiarity of the known and embrace the discomfort that comes from being outside your comfort zone is increasingly crucial to your success in work and life.
They were written by some mega-guru, important person called Margie Warrell. And do not for one second think that I have anything at all against her. It’s just that it’s all hype, innit?
We are told how many times a day to NOT be taken in by all the celebrity glamour and gorgeousness; NOT to take all the advertised promises of unconfined joy that will be yours if you buy whatever it is and NOT to allow trends and fashions and media messages to turn us away from who we are and make us eternally dissatisfied because we don’t conform to the perfection that could be us if only we tried harder. So why are we so easily taken in and duped by the hype that sparks off all these coaches/trainers/advisors/management consultants type people? It is as damaging and as weary-making and dissatisfaction inducing as the pursuit of perfection. I don’t WANT to be a high achieving success junkie; I don’t want to stretch myself and challenge the accepted and break new ground and shine bigger and brighter and more completely. What is so wrong with my comfort zone? It’s called that for a reason – I made it, I like it and I’m staying here. Thank you very much for the offer of swapping it for a discomfort zone, but I’ll pass. I mean that claptrap about “the biggest risk is not taking a risk at all.” What exactly does that MEAN? It’s all just a string of sound bytes that mean nothing, yelled by the modern world’s cheerleaders to make us feel inadequate, useless, unproductive and a waste of everyone’s time unless we “get comfortable with discomfort.”
Or am I missing something here? If so, so be it.
Well there’s that and then there’s the what has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of a horoscope character-assassination I read once. (I know there’s a more elegant way of saying that, but I’m into clumsy and inarticulate at the moment.) Back to the horoscope (or as it was touted in the headline, “Horrorscopes”). Mine said: The ideal length of time to know a Libran is four hours.
And do you know, I think that may very well be true.
In the last half decade I have had more people drift in and out of my life than the Ritz Carlton – or maybe the Travelodge at Terminal 5. It always starts off in a blaze of bonhomie – how fabulous it all is and oh my God we have so much in common! And who’d have thought after all these years!
And it’s not limited to my social life – if a Travelodge has social life. Such congratulation and artful smilery as: You brought a breath of fresh air to the organisation! We are so lucky to have you! We really need you to be shouting this from the rooftops across the industry! I see your role as much more far-reaching. You are absolutely the ideal person for this – not only will you be keeping everything running smoothly, you will also be stretching yourself and getting more experience. We will support anything you wish to do. Would you like to come and bring that energy to our team? We NEED you to be sharing this with ALL of us. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’m sure some of these sounds bytes are familiar to you.
And then everything changes – sometimes suddenly, sometimes it’s just a slow, but obvious erosion. It could be Andy Warhol, but personally, I think it is because I am a Libran.
I have just given this a watch and a listen and I got that all-too-familiar crawling sensation up the back of my scalp and that nauseous surge of adrenalin that leaves one cold and clammy and that sickening lump in my throat.
What is it about being observed, having someone, anyone, a so-called ‘better other’ watching what you do in the classroom and then “giving you feedback” that is so terrifyingly, debilitatingly, nerve-wrackingly, vomit-inducingly, gut-wrenchingly vile? I cannot think of anything worse than being “coached” in my teaching, going back to Mr Gates’s TED talk. I see the value in it, I would be happy to be a coach for any of my teachers, but the thought of going through it myself is more ghastly than anything else I can think of.
And I’m not the only teacher who thinks this way. Almost every other teacher I have ever met, spoken to or worked with feels exactly the same. As DoS, I have had to help teachers breathe into paper bags before I could observe them, I have had to leave a classroom because of the agonies the teacher was experiencing (it was cruel to stay), I have had to comfort and reassure, hand out tissues by the box-load, destroy any recorded evidence of lessons and promise that I wouldn’t fire anyone. It has got to the point where doing observations has just become a complete trial. I have tried any number of alternatives: let a video camera run and give the teacher right of veto – no joy. Peer observe – turned into a praise fest, which is fine, but not terribly constructive. Go in unannounced – probably worked the best, but had to re-establish trust with the teacher concerned.
And it’s not like I’m an ogre. I think I’m kind and gentle and positive and helpful and those teachers who did endure were always very pleased and grateful for the “feedback”.
So what is it that makes us so terrified of it? Answers on postcards, please, or just post a comment below.