25 October 2007

Bыступление и наказание

(That title doesn't translate at all – it means "presentation and punishment." But in Russian, "presentation/vystuplenie" sounds almost exactly like "crime/prestuplenie" - get it?)

Since starting out as an ETA, I've had to get up in front of people and talk more times than I can count. Maybe that seems obvious, since – duh – I'm a teacher, but even if you take out all the lessons I've led, I've still made at least two dozen presentations. There was the time I had to present my senior project research to the phonetics department at DVGU and ended up getting drunk on Soviet champagne beforehand (no, it's really called Soviet champagne); the time I had to speak about Emily Dickinson at a poetry reading; the times (four) I've had to give "Welcome to the World of English" speeches to students or prospective students; the times (two, once in English and once in Russian) I've had to talk about my Iceland research at scientific conferences; the time I had to give a surprise lecture to local English teachers on English grammar (I did not talk about English grammar – I still wouldn't know a gerundive if it bit me); the time I had to talk about American Fulbright programs for Russians... the list goes on and on.

That was one of the things that scared me most about Fulbright – we went to the orientation before coming to Russia, and returning grantees talked about having to make stuff up about Che Guevara or the mortgage system like it was no big deal, and everyone else seemed to think it was no big deal, but I felt sure that I would rather be poked relentlessly with sharp objects than have to stand up in front of people and talk about something I didn't feel qualified to talk about. This begs the question of whether I was really the right choice for English Teaching Assistant, but now that I'm a safe fourteen months in, I think it's a moot point.

And besides, teaching pretty much squishes that fear response within a few weeks (although I still have days every now and then where I just don't feel like my lesson plan is solid enough and I consider running and locking myself in the teachers' bathroom), so by now I'm so used to getting up and talking in front of people that I actually volunteer to do it. Take tomorrow, for example. I am going to Rostov, purely out of the goodness of my heart (ok, and the promise of McBreakfast), to speak at a conference on improving Russian higher education in the humanities based on American standards.

This is something I actually am qualified to talk about, at least sort of, since I know plenty about both American and Russian higher education. So where's the problem? Umm, the problem is that I'm lazy and didn't start writing the Russian version of my presentation until today. About the time I got to the third paragraph (1.5 hours in) and realized that I just don't know how to translate "grade point average" (either words or concept) and had already used the same phrase for "to give a grade" four times in two sentences, I texted Seth and asked him to tell them I had come down with malaria. He responded: "Give the talk in English and they will love it."

Hmm. Why didn't I think of that? I guess now that I've given two talks in Russian more or less successfully, I feel like I have to do it in Russian. Amara confirmed this when I complained to her of my translating woes: "If you have time, do it in Russian!" she texted back. Crap. On the one hand, I feel like she's right – nothing makes you feel lamer than being the only person at the entire conference who doesn't present in Russian, even if you are one of only two foreigners present. But on the other hand, I can't say nearly as much in 10 minutes of Russian as I can in 10 minutes of English, what I do say will have lots of mistakes in it, presenting in Russian means standing there reading from my notes while presenting in English does not, and I can't express myself clearly in Russian, at least on the issue of the American grading system. (I can definitely express myself clearly on the issue of drivers who don't stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, as that guy in the green Volga found out today.) So, is it really worth the ego stroke of being able to say that I speak Russian well enough to present at a conference, if I actually... don't?

I'll let you know when I decide. Trouble is, I just remembered that there is one bad thing that can happen if I show up and refuse to give the talk in Russian: they could assign me a translator on the fly. That happened to me once before. She knew more about Emily Dickinson than I did, or thought she did, so she kept embellishing what I was saying and saying things in Russian that I had wanted to be my next sentence in English. It was SO horrible. So I think I'll at least make some notes I could stumble through in Russian, in case of emergency. And now, I'm going to go give myself a gold star for wasting half an hour writing this instead of working on those notes.

1 comment:

Celine said...

Well, I'll still respect you if you do the presentation in English. I hate presentations anyway. But yes, a cocky translator would suck. To make you feel better about that I'll tell you the story of one of our professors at de Russian department of my university: he had the incredible honour of being the translator for Michael Gorbachev. The latter was visiting for a lecture. After about two minutes Mr. Gorbachev announced that he would prefer his own interpreter to take over... Very painful!

Good luck to you, you brave girl. You will be fine!