It’s been less than 24 hours since the arrival of our 13-year-old Chinese Exchange student, Mark. Armed with Google Translate on the kindle fire, the laptop and phones, we attempt to communicate with our non-English speaking guest.
My children gravitate to the technology of google translate and I am enjoying listening to the translators lovely automated voice send Chinese sounding sentences into my home. It is my contention though that despite our best efforts with google translate, I find good old fashion hand signals, charades, and show and tell work just as well. Even when I do my best charades, my son responds with “Stop Mom, your confusing him…”
Google translate isn’t perfect either and it has left us all scratching our heads at times because some things just do not translate well from English to Chinese or vice versa.
This morning’s point and nod session support my contention that simple human interaction is sometimes faster and more accurate. As my son typed furiously into his laptop to find out what Mark wanted for breakfast, I opened the refrigerator and pointed.
The charades pointing went something like this:
Cantaloupe ~ “Yes”
Pineapple ~ “No”
Milk ~ “No”
Orange Juice ~”Yes”
English Muffin ~ “Yes”
Eggs ~ “Yes”
Shredded Cheese in bag ~ “quizzical glance, no response”.
A moment later our google translator announced something out of the laptop that should have meant “What do you want for breakfast?” I turned to my son and said, “Why don’t you make Mark an egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin with a side of cantaloupe.” My son looked at me in astonishment, he obviously missed the point and nod session in front of the refrigerator. And, whatever google translate had just said left Mark looking at my son and shrugging his incomprehension.
It’s not to say that we wouldn’t be lost without google translate. With on-line translation help we found out about Mark’s family; his Dad is an engineer, his brother is nine years old and his mother “manages fruit”, the last one needs some work, I think.
The rules to Chinese checkers though can be taught by Mark with simple board moves followed by “No” and “Yes”. A little pointing, and hopping over one more peg that makes sense, by Mark, showed us all the finer points of the game.
Tonight we will attempt the grocery store and I am definitely using the point and nod technique, but later I hope my children will show Mark google earth and we will be able to see where he lives, right down to the street he calls home.
It is fascinating to watch our cultures, our languages, our generations, but most importantly, our ability to communicate collide with the help of modern technology and good old fashion charades.