Why I Am Monolingual: The Tale Of Woe ContinuesPosted: August 25, 2010
Having tossed aside my ability to speak a second language at a young age, I had formulated a foolproof plan to rekindle that language. I’d spring my knowledge on my unsuspecting family members. Part of that plan rested on the shoulders of one person – my high school Italian teacher. My parents had just met her. My dad was about to hold forth on his opinion of her and I could see that the assessment was not in her favor.
“Being Odd Is The Least Of Her Problems…”
My father has always been an exceptional judge of character. I put a lot of stock in his opinion of people. It was not just an assessment of character he had in mind this time.
I had advanced the opinion that the teacher was a little odd. My Dad said she had a bigger problem than that – “She doesn’t know how to speak Italian”.
The teacher had refused speak English when she spoke to the parents gathered that night. She chose to describe the curriculum and her grading practices in Italian. She would accept questions in English, but she gave her answers in Italian. Apparently her command of the language was not all that good.
If she was not competent my plan wouldn’t remain viable. I questioned my father’s opinion. He just shook his head – “she was making up words she didn’t know.”
You might imagine that it was shocking to learn that my Italian teacher wasn’t effective in communicating in that language. Actually, it wasn’t. I had a clue about this on the very first day of class. I didn’t want to admit it, but it was as plain as the nose on her face.
You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression
During the first day in Italian class the teacher called the roll. I was surprised when she read my first name and then paused. She studied her typed roster and slowly mispronounced my last name with a questioning tone. Then she looked out at the class with a “someone help me out and let me know if I’m right” look. This was, understandably, standard operating procedure for most teachers. I didn’t expect it to happen in Italian class.
I said I was present. The class giggled, they knew she’d butchered my name. She smiled, greeted me and asked how I pronounced my last name. I said it aloud for her. It sounded not at all like what she’d said.
Then it happened. She asked the question that would set the tone for our relationship until I graduated. “What language is that name?”
This was a no-win situation for me. I decided to just tell the truth. I told her that it was Italian. She glared at me. I felt the class clown label being burned into my skin. Game over.
I know my answer embarrassed her, but I didn’t mean for that to happen. I could have told her my name was Scottish, but that would have caused more laughter and a longer explanation.
So, after starting my years in this woman’s classroom by humiliating her in front of my peers, we charged forward into what became a very hostile relationship.