Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Foreign Affairs

Exiting my "Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages" class yesterday, I had no way of knowing how quickly I’d find practical use for the theories jotted inside my notebook.

Who knew I’d find useful application for notions such as comprehensible input, or the conversation between Josh and Miguel, which my textbook lauds as exemplary communication between a member of the native population and a new arrival?

What would have surprised me the most, had I known what awaited me at the office that sunny afternoon, was that circumstances were about to cast me into the role of Miguel, and I’d need every ounce of that lad’s pluck and fortitude to chart my path through the foreign territory that lie ahead.

Blissfully unaware, I strolled across campus, glad that I could enjoy the walk, unlike last week when I waited too long line for cheap Wynton Marcellas tickets and had to sprint across campus clutching my lunch cooler like a medic en route to surgery with a fresh organ or detached limb.

All pretense of leisure vanished as I arrived at the threshold of my office. Ominously huddled around the computer were Dr. S, Professor F and the One I Knew to be Samson.

Now, the arrival of Samson was an event that had loomed large since my own arrival, weeks earlier. Known as a Computer Guru with a penchant for inadequate explanations of Computer Phenomena, Samson’s presence was also indicative of an event I’ve heard referenced as the Vital Upload, or perhaps Download, invariably spoken of with a shudder.

I thought of excusing myself, not wanting to rudely barge into a meeting obviously well into its prime, but Dr. S. ushered me in with enthusiasm, introducing me in a tone I felt should only be reserved for someone with Key Player status.

Both Samson and the Vital Up-or-Down load are associated with a program that, they tell me, “doesn’t let you fix your errors.” Dr. S, Professor F. and the outgoing graduate assistants—perhaps I failed to mention that the other two grad assistants are leaving, and it’ll be down to just me in mere weeks?—are all understandably tentative of this system, thus the summons of Samson.

I know my readers will agree that a rigid system of Tough Standards is not one that seems a good fit for my skills, and every day that passed without mention of my involvement was chalked up to the "no news is good news" category.

I was hastily handed some literature and guided to a chair near the terminal. Samson’s lips were moving, but he wasn’t saying anything to which I could connect meaning. His literature was equally incomprehensible.

In a wave of understanding, I suddenly realized I’m Miguel.

Quickly summoning the particulars to memory, I realized that I was in an ideal situation for foreign-tongue acquisition. The lesson indicated that “situationally-bound” interaction—I think the book had activities such as the construction of model cars, or baking cookies in mind—lended itself to learning new language.

The text also made mention of an idea known as comprehensible input, or vocabulary with which one is familiar, mixed in with language that is slightly out of reach.

Focusing carefully on Sampson’s speech, I came to realize that we, indeed, possessed some shared vocabulary. I could, for instance, pick up words like “computer” and “internet.”

What would Miguel do? I wondered. Bringing the printed conversation to mind, I recalled Miguel contributed only two utterances to the dialogue: “Huh” and “OK,” as Josh prattled on endlessly about colors and shapes and crayons. And the authors of the text seemed to think he did just fine.

In the tradition of Miguel, I fell silent, nodding only occasionally.

I realized I was beginning to gather meaning when I clearly picked out my name in the conversational flow. From context, I was pretty sure the Vital something-or-other was the topic, and there seemed to be some concern over this business of the non-correctable program with which someone had to work.

Dr. S seemed pretty convinced that not too many people should get involved, in fact, she seemed to want only one person to handle this tricky situation.

And then she said my name.

Yes, readers, it all became clear. It’s an Upload. Of significant data. Scores. Social Security numbers. Student Records. Into a no-compromise program unforgiving of even the common typo.

Did I mention that I really can’t spell or type?

Reeling, I leaned heavily on the structure provided by Miguel’s discourse with Joshua. I had only two responses from which to choose.

All eyes on me and all I can mange is “Huh?”


Catherine Wannabe said...

I sense an all system crash approaching. Can you smuggle Brsd in???

Catherine Wannabe said...

Whoops, apparently I can't spell or type, either. Of course I meant BrAd.

Catherine Wannabe said...

Have you MOVED to a foreign land??? Update, please!


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