I work for a French company, in a factory with lots of modern machinery.
This machinery frequently breaks down, meaning we need to call in engineers.
As many of these machines are foreign made, it follows that the engineers are also foreign.
Part of my job involves me translating what these foreign engineers are saying.
We use English as our common language, and I then translate it for the benefit of my French colleagues.
We had a major problem with one of the machines recently, a machine of Dutch origins, and so we had to call in the engineers from Amsterdam.
A full team of highly trained, specialist engineers with many, many years of experience between them duly arrived.
They spent the first part of their morning preparing their equipment, assessing the problems and setting to work on it, with efficiency and speed.
Their tools were all laid out, gleaming, on the side, they were in constant contact with their boss back in Amsterdam via Skype, and they even had the very latest in Microsoft Virtual Reality headsets, so they could show the problems directly as they repaired them, and their boss could advise them in real time.
They then asked me, following the successful analysis and repair of the machine, if my assembled French colleagues had any questions for them.
I translated this to the group and there was much muttering and discussion, before a consensus was taken.
‘Could you ask them’ began the spokesman for the group ‘If they still have the ladies in the windows in Amsterdam?’.
I also encourage them to ask questions; where in England am I from? What’s it like over there? What is the weather like? Do we eat similar foods? What are the schools like over there? What do I think of the current situation vis-a-vis the ongoing problems facing the country following Brexit? etc. etc.
I also encourage them to ask questions regarding the language and how to ask questions, directions, what the days of the week are, general conversational matters and so on and so forth.
With that in mind, here are – in no particular order – the top ten questions I get asked:
‘How do you say ‘Bottom’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Fart’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT SLANG TERM FOR A PENIS HERE*’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Poo’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Boobs’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Burp’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘You smell’ in English?’ (this one made me sniff my own armpits)
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT SLANG TERM FOR A VAGINA HERE*’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT ANOTHER PUPIL’S NAME* smells’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘I don’t want a bath’ in English?’
Well, that’s the problem when you work with kids between the ages of seven and eleven – you might have lofty ambitions about what you want to achieve, but they’ll bring you back down to earth very, very quickly.
I’m currently working in a campsite here in a very, very hot and sunny France.
Today I had the pleasure of helping out a young Norwegian family.
They came in, looking very flustered, telling me that they needed to to see a doctor, as their eldest daughter – who was the grand old age of two – had a rash that was spreading, and they wanted to take action before it got any worse. I ran a search on the internet, printed out a list of local doctors, and gave them all the relevant info.
“Ah….. yes…..” the mother of the family said, looking at me with despair in her eyes: “But although we speak English – we don’t speak any French”.
Luckily for them however, I’ve been living here a while, so I thought I might be up to the task. Nothing ventured nothing gained, eh?
I rang up the doctor. He answered. He clearly wasn’t a natural-born Francophone.
So here we were. A Norwegian family who didn’t speak French. An Englishman who didn’t speak French well. And a doctor from parts unknown.
Thankfully it all worked out and they managed to get an appointment for just a couple of hours later.
They will let me know if everything is ok with their little one as soon as they can.
Me? I’m just happy that my language skills are better than I expected. Or maybe it’s one of those extreme pressure-type situations, where your brain works at a higher rate than normal.
Now if I could only figure out how to make it work like that all the time…..
I went in to work today at the office. A couple of my French colleagues were there, one of them was watching something on his PC, I couldn’t see exactly what it was, but it seemed to be a news programme as there was a lot of chatter from various people. The other colleague asked me how I was and – using a French phrase she has helped me to learn – I said I was fine apart from ‘the shit weather’. She corrected my French as I’d made a slight error.
It was at this point that the ‘programme’ that my colleague was watching piped up with: ‘The weather is shit?’.
My other colleague wasn’t watching a news programme, he was on a conference call via Skype.
Took the kids swimming yesterday. When we’d finished, and got out to get changed, I went and retrieved our clothing from the locker. The nice reception lady was in there, cleaning the floors. I had so many items of clothing I had to put my glasses in my mouth.
‘The locker’s so full it’s going to explode’ I mumbled with a mouthful of spectacles ‘Like a suitcase before you go on holiday’ I added. She laughed and agreed with me. Then I took my glasses out of my mouth and said ‘I think I speak better French with them in my mouth’.
I’m back at school now, teaching the kids – not MY kids, although they are there, I mean the kids in general. This return has been a long time coming, thanks to that ever-present virus, and to be honest with you I wasn’t sure if I’d be going back at all.
Just to recap/fill you in – I’m an assistant at my local school and I teach the kids English – quelle surprise – teaching is maybe a bit grand as it’s more of a mixture between entertaining and teaching, but I do my best and we all usually have a laugh. I take the kids on before and after their dinner hour, the bigger kids first then the the little ones. So I get load of distracted, hungry big kids and then a load of full, lethargic little kids.
Most of the time.
I’m up against it though in terms of popularity, as my fellow ‘animateurs’ – as we are called here – are all French and so offer a variety of exciting activities liked painting Pokemon, creating little purses, crafting cuddly donkeys and one activity that simply involves going in the ‘room of fun’. So put that up against ‘English class’ and it’s not really a surprise that I’m usually the last girl at the dance. The other animateurs have queues for their activities, me? I have to get the security ladies to make them come along.
That only applies to the bigger kids though – the little kids are more than happy to come along and find my accent fascinating. Strange how kids can change in a year from all happy, eager smiles to grumpy and ‘cool’. Too cool for English anyway.
So yes I’m back but it’s a very different landscape to the one I was forced to leave due to being furloughed following the Corona outbreak (part one?). Now all the kids are regimented, separated into classes, kept apart and generally monitored to ensure they don’t interact with other groups too much.
Like a kind of health-conscious segregation.
It’s masks on all the time for me as well, which makes it so much easier for the kids to understand me.
There also seems to be a lot less kids in general, I don’t know if they are hiding away or if some parents have simply opted, in the current ‘climate of fear’ to go the home-schooling route. I used to be that you would have to fight your way across the school playground, fighting through the crowds with all the speed of a salmon swimming upstream, dodging running kids, footballs, hats, you name it. Now you can just stroll right through them, like their fun-factor has been drained away.
Children that did not keep up with their studies during this current crisis have suffered the worst though. There was the confinement period, which was followed by a brief return to school, which was then followed by the eight week holidays. Some parents have not helped their children maintain their education levels, and never returned – albeit briefly – when they could. As a result of this some children are having to repeat the year, or have even been relegated into lower-level classes. It’s not great to see – potential like that, squandered.
Still, my kids are there too and it’s really great to be able to see them in this environment. I often arrive early and so get the privilege of being able to watch my children play with their friends, unaware that I am watching them – the office has mirrored doors and windows. I look at it as a kind of aquarium, just one for kids.
They can be my bridge for the other children too, when a concept is too difficult for me to explain, or I simply don’t know the words, bilingual kids come in very handy, especially when they are your own. Just don’t rely on them in crucial situations like at the bank or when asking directions as they have a tendency to shut down in times of real need.
So yes, I’m back, for how long I don’t know, and I’m not saying that as a reflection of my abilities, more of the ever present threat Covid 19 poses. The landscape at school has changed, but whether these measures will be sufficient? Time will tell….