Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Language Barrier

I've mentioned before my students' propensity for spewing English obscenities with no regard for the fact that their lockers are located DIRECTLY NEXT TO THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT. As a middle school teacher, I've made peace with the fact that I'm going to have students that use foul language. It's a fact of the adolescent years. I decided a long time ago that as long as they weren't hurling the insults at me or a classmate, or as long as they weren't screaming that kind of language down the hallway or in classroom discussion for all to hear, I just wasn't going to fight that battle. It would be a losing one.

I am a little surprised by how often I hear and understand cuss words among my Saudi students (I'm sure they're using the Arabic ones...I just haven't learned those yet). Thankfully, they pretty much reserve their potty mouths for their frustration with their lockers ("What the hell!? Why won't it open?!") or with their awful use of time ("Shit! I'm late to class!"). Imagine my surprise the other day when I thought a student let a cuss word fly in the middle of class! Here's the situation:

I have a student who gets frequent nosebleeds. I had her last year in the seventh grade and I'm so glad to report that she no longer freaks out and goes into a panic every time the blood appears (seriously, in the winter it's almost a weekly thing, and last year she would have almost a weekly freak out). The other day, she calmly placed her hand over her nose, raised her other hand and said she needed to go take care of it.

"Sure. Grab a tissue from my cart then head to the bathroom." (I'm on a cart this year. Have I mentioned that? A cart.)

The girls are so used to me not allowing them to take a restroom break during my 40 minute class period that they all assumed I was telling her to suck it up and finish the class with blood all over her hands and face. "The soulless white lady's at it again!!"*

*They didn't really say that, but wouldn't it be funny if they had?!

As I was trying to clarify my directions, one of the girls who sits completely across the room from the nosebleeder finally tuned in and figured out that her friend was losing platelets.

"Damn, Nora!" she called out. She didn't quite yell it, but I was standing directly next to her.

"Rebecca!* Seriously?! I'm standing right here," I said, a tone of annoyance in my voice. "I can understand what you said. It's my language."

*not really her name. ...obviously.

Twenty-five very confused faces turned toward me.

"Wha--...I'm sorry? I didn't mean..." she trailed off, looking at her friends to see if they knew what the crazy lady was talking about.

One of my most patient angels with fantastic language skills and a knack for quickly understanding situations said, "Oh...no, teacher. She said, 'dam.' It's Arabic. It means blood. She was asking if it was blood."

....oops. Open mouth, insert foot.

I apologized personally to the non-foul-mouthed student.

Vicariously yours,

After telling my husband this story, he asked if I checked to make sure the Arabic word for blood actually is "dam."  Cause that would have been the world's most epic case of trolling if the girls tried to play the language barrier card to get away with cussing in my class. In fact, the word for blood is dam (دم).

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