PRATIE PLACE

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Badaunt struggles with memo

From Present Simple, one of my favorite blogs, written by Badaunt, a New Zealander teaching ESL in Japan

Mystery memo

On Wednesday one of the Japanese teachers approached me in the teachers' room.

"I have a question about English," he said. "It's just a quick one, won't take long. Do you have time?"

"Of course," I said. "What's is it?"

"I'm wondering how to translate this into English," he said, showing me a memo we'd all received a few days ago.

I stared at the memo. It looked vaguely familiar.

I remembered we'd got a bunch of stuff in our mailboxes, and rather than struggle through them I'd taken my usual easy way out by asking the lovely secretary, and chucking away the ones that weren't important. I seemed to remember that this was one of the 'not important' bits of paper. But I couldn't understand anything on the memo, and felt stupid.

"Which one is that?" I asked, staring at it and struggling to understand even a few words that might give me a clue.

The teacher stared at it, too. "It's about ... it's about ... Well, that's the problem. I don't know how to say it in English."

"How about in Japanese?" I asked. "What's the main topic of the memo?"

He hesitated, looking embarrassed.

"Well, actually, I don't know that, either," he said, finally. "That's why I was asking you. I thought maybe you could make it clearer by putting it in English."

What a sneaky man! He didn't want to admit that he couldn't understand a memo written in his own language, so he asked me to translate it into English so that I would feel stupid instead!

"That must have been one of the ones I threw away," I told him. "Let's ask some of the other teachers."

He really didn't want to, but I insisted. By now I was curious and didn't care whether his feelings would be hurt.

We both stopped feeling stupid when it turned out that nobody understood the memo, including the secretary. Her response to it was to laugh and say,

"Don't worry about it."

Nobody could even begin to explain the TOPIC of the memo, in ANY language.

We decided that if the memo turned out to be important, our lack of response would inspire somebody to write another, clearer memo, and if it wasn't, it didn't really matter.

But now I really want a copy, so The Man can have a go at translating it. I'll have to see if I can get one from another teacher next week. This is the problem, not having adequate Japanese - gems drop in my lap and I don't even notice. That memo must have been a positive MARVEL of obfuscatory prose.


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