Working with a Translator

Gina Stickney

Volunteering in Guatemala was a holistic learning experience. This experience helped me look at my life with a deeper thankfulness, attention to long-term goals, passion to volunteer and desire to further my own self-studies. The experience of teaching dance at The Little School in La Limonada challenged my current pedagogy by encouraging me to be more creative, flexible and versatile in the classroom and in my lesson planning.

I received a lesson in poverty. I have seen what it can do. From the gold and silver teeth to the empty glue tubes on a dirt floor… I have seen it. When we don’t have we search; when we cannot find we beg; when we cannot get we starve; and when we cant deal we steal. There are so many holes to be filled in the heart of our world. Poverty in La Limonada, Guatemala City, Guatemala is one of these holes.

My trip to Guatemala has impacted my life in four areas. Ironically these areas are the same areas called ‘blessings’ that are unique to the BuildABridge holistic approach; the very same blessings that I seek to impress in my own teaching. These blessings are Social, Spiritual, Creative and Academic. These ‘blessings’ make up a nexus in which Holistic Personal Development can be viewed, improved and fostered. I find it amazing that these blessings organically unfolded in my Thanksgiving Trip to Guatemala!

My experience volunteer teaching in Guatemala:
• (social) increased my global awareness and cultural sensitivities
• (spiritual) challenged my comfort levels and deepened appreciation of ‘living’
• (creative) informed my creative pedagogic practices and techniques
• (academic) developed my knowledge of Central American history and the Spanish language [as well as my desire to increase these areas]

The most consistent interaction I had with one Guatemalan was with my translator. She was my translator, and she was also previously a teacher at The Little School. She had a very strong reputation with the children, and she was deeply invested in every level to the school and children. This investment became more apparent to me as the week progressed.

This multi-talented young Guatemalan woman also became a guide for me concerning any cultural questions I had in teaching the children as well as interacting with teachers and families on home visits. I felt her presence was always very positive and invested. Working with her taught me about her experiences/beliefs of Guatemalan social conduct in terms of speech, dress and orientation/proximity of bodies. This became useful in the contexts of greetings, teaching, working proximity, and with students, friends and family, strangers and general public in La Limonada.

The following statements I have written specifically about the first-hand learning I obtained in my first-time experience working with a translator. Communication and boundaries need to be set for successful attainment of class outcomes. It is important to understand any relationships previously established between the visiting artists, teacher, students and translator. Teaching with a translator, especially in a movement-based classroom, requires planning and discussion time before class to incorporate the translator into the lesson and clarify expectations of involvement.

Consider the following models/examples and the challenge each one could create.

1.) Lecture situation (nearly 100% verbal)

2.) Classroom (with conversation)

3.) Visual/Movement Arts Classroom
(with conversation, non-verbal and artistic expression)

In Model 1 there is no way for the speaker to know if the listener understands unless they are asked by the translator and vise verse.
In Model 2 the use of questioning and conversation can be possible ways to assess the students, however, all content is still mediated by the translator

In model 3 The teacher and student are able to work in union through the art-making. The art speaks for itself, through meaning, skill, expression etc and therefore opens the door for further ways gesture and context can be expressed to students and teachers. The voice becomes less important.

However, I was presented with a further interesting challenge. When the non-verbal caused a response to not only me the teacher, but also her, this caused confusion between role of teacher and translator. Examples of this (especially in children) behavior modification, praise, co-teaching, discipline. etc. Therefore these roles needed to be clearly defined before the first class so that our boundaries of the teacher and translator were understood by both of us AND the students.

Helpful translator tips

1. Ask about the relationship between the translator and class/translator and main teacher
2. Ask about styles of discipline used by the teacher and guest artists involvement in that discipline
3. Share lessons in detail with the translator and teacher before classes
4. Discuss how dance/art is viewed in a co-ed classroom and how it is considered in the cultures’ social setting.
5. Practice working with the translator: how to speak to the class, speed in which to speak, how long of phrases to use, proximity of self and translator, their comfort level with that proximity and use of touch/gesture
6. Ask about the translators knowledge of dance and experiences in translation for dance
7. Come up with ways to let the translator know when they do not need to translate something or ways that the translator can express that they do not understand, etc.


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