Saturday, October 01, 2005


I’m in the department office, correcting papers and congratulating myself that I have only 5 million more to go when Vivian bursts in, crying hysterically. I try to calm her down, and ask what’s wrong. Vivian, an incredibly conscientious student who arrived from China only months ago, thrusts a paper in my face and begins to cry even louder.

It’s in Chinese. Between sobs, she sputters she got a D on her composition, and apparently, it’s all but ruined her young life.

“I’m sorry, Vivian, but I can’t understand Chinese. Did you ask the teacher why?”

“Yes.” (sob, sniff….)

“What did he tell you?”

“I don’t know.” (cry, sob)

“What do you mean?”

“I c-c-can’t understand his Chinese.” (sniff, sniff)

“Come on, Vivian.”

“NO! NOBODY understand his Chinese!”

“Well, you must understand it better than me...”

“I ask him five time, and I don’t understand. Finally, he tell me in English….” (sob, cry, cry…”)

“What did he tell you, Vivian?”

“He tell me in English ‘It suck!.’ “ (serious bawling)

Well, as criticism goes, it’s certainly concise.

Later, I look for her teacher and find him. Unfortunately, I find his English utterly incomprehensible. That’s unusual for me—my job involves regularly dealing with people who speak little or no English. I have a Chinese-speaking colleague call Vivian’s parents on my behalf and tell them what a wonderful kid she is and how well she’s doing in my class.

It probably won’t help.
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