Friday, January 30, 2009

"Oh My God!"*

*Imagine that coming out of a pre-teen's mouth. Now imagine you're in Azerbaijan.

With family ties being as such, it is not outlandish to think that I would teach a ‘cousin’ in one of my classes. Ayten is in my sixth form class. She reminds me of a stereotypical American pre-teen. She honestly cracks me up. With her shiny Azer-boots, pink glittery shirts, and hair up in a braid, she lives in her own world where everything revolves around her.
I’m not trying to make her sound like a bad kid. She is incredibly sweet and taken quite a fancy to me. On my part, I find her hysterical. She just talks and talks to me and blows kisses to me when I pass her in the hall. The kids here really aren’t much different from the kids at home. They just speak Azerbaijani.
Early in January, Ayten asked me translate something for her. She had heard it on television and wanted to know what it means. Oi, I thought, my language skills are good for expressing my needs, so/so for expressing desires, weak for expressing my thoughts. But I have to give it a try. I’ve learned with middle school aged kids that her question could range from something really profound/taboo to something incredibly vapid. I was truly hoping for the latter. What she wanted me to translate lies somewhere on a whole other level; Ayten wanted me to translate, “Oh my God.”
Part of me still cracks up at this. I did the best I could. How do you describe why Americans say this much less translate it. Is there a translation? Do I go into the moral ambiguities of taking the Lord’s name in vain? The best I could do is to explain we say it when we are shocked, surprised, or dismayed. It’s like when Azerbaijanis tisk, or clap their hands in dismay, or say, “Vy, vy, vy.” I think she actually got it. As for the translation, she got, “Ay menim Allahım.” She giggled at the translation. I have to laugh myself. It takes an outsider to make you realize how ridiculous something can be.
The application of what you teach is the best way to tell if you taught a lesson correctly. My sixth form students had to write compositions about English speaking countries. When they read them, I noticed that many of them were perfect. No grammar errors, correct sentence structure, and all articles were included. There is only one explanation for this; they copied their compositions out of the fifth form book. My students were shocked when I pointed this out to them. (That’s right, Ms. Amy is not stupid.) Ayten in astonishment said, “Oh my God.” She used the phrase in the correct situation, so I guess I taught it well. She almost sounds like a good American pre-teen when she says it. It kind of takes me off guard and cracks me up.
At the end of my two years, if over half the kids in town are saying, “Oh my God,” it is not 100% my fault. I have to share blame with the hazel-eyed pre-teen who asked me what it meant.