Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Translator

Translators are invaluable, a fact hammered in my brain after teaching international kids and traveling extensively! This is from November 17, 2013.
Wayne was absent from my class last Thursday and Friday. We had a test and a quiz; he has the test made up so far and I'm sure he'll have the quiz taken care of quickly. Wayne is a pretty good student and good students get their work made up in a timely manner. This would be an odd entry if it was simply about an absent student, a daily occurrence at every school. He missed classes those days with his teammates as our Wildcat basketball squad played in a tournament at a nearby college. But Wayne is not your typical Westbury Christian basketball player. You see, Wayne, whose given name is  Wenxuan, is from China and the first international student from Asia to have an impact as a player in our program in my sixteen years at WCS. I would guess he's 6'7" and he's coming off a broken leg suffered last season but he's rehabbed and healed quickly. But this isn't a basketball story either; it's a language story.

Wayne is in my 7th period class which is called ESL Bible and a first for us in the spiritual department. It's a bit of a misnomer as not everyone in the class has English as their second language. I requested that Jean Lander, our amazing guidance counselor, sprinkle a number of native speakers into the class roster to help those for whom English is a struggle. Last year, I had several American students sit with international students as we took notes and I discovered two things. One was that the grades of the international students improved and secondly, a bond was formed which would not have otherwise. This year, we are attempting to do it on a broader scale while teaching the same material as in my other four sections. Of the twenty-four kids enrolled in my 7th period, twelve are from China but it doesn't stop there. Another is from Vietnam by way of Japan, one is from Ecuador, one is from Tanzania, and one has dual American citizenship with South Africa. But that doesn't quite tell the story, either. Four of the students, all girls, are American citizens but their parents are immigrants, two from Nigeria and two from The Philippines. These last four, as well as the young man with dual citizenship and the young lady from Tanzania, have English as their first language but they are well acquainted with the barriers that language can erect. When we begin the note taking part of class, usually the final fifteen to twenty minutes, we rearrange our desks as the English speakers sit with the international students and help with spelling and translating my ramblings. Some good friendships have formed already this semester as well as some pretty good report card grades. In English, we refer to that scenario as win-win!

That brings me back to Wayne. To be honest, Wayne's vocabulary is so good he doesn't need help. But his absence last week created a dilemma for me. Electronic translators are not allowed on tests and quizzes in my class- they are permitted for writing assignments. So, when an international student does not comprehend a word on a quiz or a test, they raise their hand and I move to their desk and define it. Except sometimes, they don't understand the meaning of the definition so I try again and they don't understand that either. That's where Wayne comes in. He's deep in thought and I say, "Wayne- ..............." and he spits out the proper word or phrase in Mandarin. Invariably, there is a light of recognition, a shaking of the head, and a return to the quiz. And I invariably add, "That's what I meant to say." It is no exaggeration to estimate Wayne's input probably raised one of his classmate's grade by 5% points this semester. I hope his countryman will remember Wayne at Christmas time, or at least during the Chinese New Year.

If the Lord were to bestow on me any gift I lack, I would request the gift to be able to speak a second language, especially Chinese or Vietnamese. My effectiveness in mission work would soar, or at least that is my perception. In 1st Corinthians, Paul stresses the need for an interpreter when someone is speaking in tongues so the hearers are not left in the dark. We all have different levels of understanding in the academic areas and that pertains to language as well. Many of my international students excel in Bible, a subject of which they might possess little background knowledge. The overwhelming majority, especially the young ladies, are successful due to extreme diligence in their efforts. But sometimes, they all need a helpful nudge and not just from the instructor. One thing I try to instill as we study each day is a little American culture along with the scriptures. I think I need to pass on the meaning of the old proverb, a word to the wise.  And in my class, it usually emanates from Wayne.

Applicable quote of the day:
"I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain."
Jane Wagner

God bless,

Luke 18:1
E-mail me at


No comments: