Sometimes, when I’m coming back to the ‘dag after a weekend of blissful metropolitan immersion, I run into a student or two. My students are university level, but some of them really give me a run for my money when it comes to a contest of who has poorer foreign language skills: me or them.
After nearly eight months here, my Turkish is okay. I speak competent survival Turkish. My vocabulary is typically restricted to food, transportation, and the general language necessary to explain who I am and what I do. Turkish is simply too different from English for me to pick it up the way one does a romance language (I did learn French in about 4 months.)
Sometimes I feel bad laughing (to myself of course) at my students’ maiming of my mother tongue. Most still struggle to string a full sentence together, and they speak in fits and bursts of English peppered with the Turkish place holders şey and yani (think words like, like or well). When newbies come to visit (my sister and my colleague’s friend from NY) I realize the depth of this mutual dialect that has formed between us.
Sometimes Turkey is fun, sometimes its funny. Most of my students can’t keep these two words straight so our classes tend to be both. I constantly feel like Turkey is putting the finishing touches of the master bedroom skylight when the concrete of the basement is still wet. That is, they dream big. What they lack in followthrough they certainly possess in grandiose dreams. Where the US can’t imagine a university without internet, we’ve got internet, but what we don’t have is a constant flow of electricity.
We give exams four times a year, and on the last exam, there were several truly disheartening essays. I tend to laugh, thinking of my own idiocy in Turkish, but then I realize, I don’t attend 26 hours, per week, for two whole university semesters entirely dedicated to the learning of this foreign language. I speak about as much as my students and its all street Turkish.
Here are a few gems, they were responses to the question, “Please discuss the differences between home cooked food and fast food.”
There are several differences fast food firstly its make a food at night. My don’t home make food. Secontly I like fast food. Thrtly Burger King is a very delicious and opened servis at night finally my favorite burger is King Chicken.
This contains the common half-thoughts, disordered sentences, and replacement of the English word (take out) with the Turkish word servis.
I think discuss the differences between home-made food. Because. My mother beautiful home-made, first of all differences between delicious home-made, secondly, I eat vegetables diet because “sağlıklı”. Thirdly, discuss the differences between fast food fry (yağlı.) After, Home-made is cook funny and very good, finally home-made is health cook.
Turkish doesn’t distinguish between good, well, lovely, or beautiful, they typically employ the word güzel, hence the “beautiful home-made.” They also seem to have the perpetual problem of not distinguishing between “fun” and “funny” which turns out to be both fun and funny for me.
There are several discuss the differences between fast food and home-made food. First, fast food is fat, similarly home-made food likewise. Secondly, fast food and home-made food is very health. Because they are very fat. Thirdly, fast food and home-made are very special. Finally.
They love, love, love, love to begin sentences with “Because”, alas I am but one person attempting to hold back the deluge of fragmented sentences, but I guess when looking at all the other problems they have, fragmented sentences is only the beginning.
These are the real gems of hilarity, their style (unintentionally) creates a bit of a good time for the grader, and what other students lack in style, they typically make up in grammatical errors.So imagine my surprise when, this morning, grading the homework, a student, exasperated asked me to please explain what the reading was about. I flipped to the page and saw the following passage:
Ever since man the hunter and gatherer gave up his nomadic way of life
and began to tend stock and grow crops, he has been involved with genetic
manipulation. Firstly, in ignorance, simply by choosing to rear particular
animals or plants which were in some way advantageous to his developing
lifestyle, and then much later, since the science of genetics began to
develop, man has been engaged in breeding programmes designed to
produce varieties of plants and animals exhibiting the specific
characteristics which fit them to his various needs.
As man’s exploitation of natural resources has continued and industries
have developed based on the synthetic ability of micro-organisms,
particularly the bacteria and fungi, his need for knowledge of the
fundamental principles of the genetics of these organisms has increased and
the new science of molecular genetics has emerged. The discipline seeks to
understand the molecular base of inheritance and the way in which the
information encoded by deoxy-ribonucleic acid (DNA) is utilized by the
Advances in the field of recombinant DNA research over the past decade
have given the geneticist the techniques required to mobilize individual
genes, that is, specific sequences of DNA which code the amino acid
structure of single proteins, and then transfer these genes from a donor to a
recipient organism, thus conferring on the recipient the ability to synthesize
the gene product. This is the practice of genetic manipulation as we
understand the term today and which has become a cornerstone of the new
Biotechnology. Now, in addition to searching in nature for wild
micro-organisms capable of producing specific products, a process which is
often long and tedious and sometimes unrewarding, microbial hosts can be
tailored for specific purposes by introducing foreign genes into them. The
source of this foreign DNA can be microbial, animal, or plant and thus
microbial hosts can be converted into biosynthetic factories capable of
making a wide diversity of materials needed in every aspect of our lives
from food and fuel to agriculture and medicine.
What the hell?
I shrugged my shoulders, told my students that I studied French and International Politics, not biology (if that’s even what this falls under) and explained that they shouldn’t worry about not understanding since I, too, did not understand. It’s another case of building a skylight before the building’s foundation is completed.
Now, all that said, my better-performing students have been writing and acting out dialogues this week. The prompt? “You are meeting your girl/boyfriend’s parents.” I wish I had brought a video camera, it was amazing. Common themes? The crazy father who threatens the life of his daughter’s boyfriend and the nutty mother-in-law who demands her new daughter-in-law quit her job and spend the rest of her life pregnant. An unexpected one? A group of three who decided to act out two lesbians meeting one of the girlfriend’s father. The father was attempting to stay calm and understanding but after hearing his daughter’s girlfriend “doesn’t drink water, and only drinks alcohol” and that she “smokes all day” and that she’s an “artist” he finally declared, “If I had 100 daughters I wouldn’t give one of them to you.”
I still have no idea if my students enjoy my classes or if they loathe them. I make them draw mutant animals, write and act out love scenes, I force them to pantomime verbs for which they can’t find synonyms, and I myself act out some comically embarrassing situations (to give birth, to have diarrhea, to beg.) The more they learn, the more fun we can have.
They have started understanding my jokes, they have also started firing back some pretty good retorts. For example, one student looks like he has been picked off a ranchero somewhere in the desert between the US and Mexico, he’s got the pony tail, the skin color and the cool attitude of a rancher. One student called him Juan the Mexican to which the young man laughed, saying yes, he agrees he looks Mexican. We started talking about the diversity of skin color, since my students are quite diverse. Another student, F. we’ll call him, walks in late. He looks like an Irish farmer (mutton chops and all) and I said so to him. He paused for a second and said, “Well teacher, you’re right. My great-great-great-grandfather is come from Ireland”, to which I answered, “Mine too! We must be family!”
My students make me nuts more often than not, but they can be pretty damn funny. This morning I heard Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk coming from my colleague’s office. A bunch of teachers were crowded around his desk watching this:
I’m thinking we might have to organize something equally awesome. Ideas?