Picture the scene: It’s Wednesday, and I’m at work. I’m not ill, but I’m not really feeling lekker as the saying goes here. I’ve got a bit of the sniffles, it’s April, and therefore, I am utterly confused and disoriented. I’m working with a small group of children, and their task is to make a terrible medicine for Grandma. We’ve been listening to the George’s Marvellous Medicine audiobook you see; (I’m not ‘the weird English woman who teaches us how to kill Grandma’) and the students are excited because they are allowed to put anything they want into Grandma’s new medicine in order to get her to pop her literal (here in the Netherlands) clogs.
‘Anything?’ This boy looks too smug.
‘Almost anything,’ I reply, trying to disperse his clearly filthy thoughts. ‘Nothing… weird’.
Whilst clearly defeating the purpose of making a disgusting medicine, I’ve heard the conversations between these students and know that there really is no length they will not cross to ensure they make each other double over with laughter at the concoctions they can come up with. I mean, the worst line George seems to cross is nail polish and flea powder, but this story was brought out in 1981, and I’m sure the standards of ‘disgust’ were much less vile back then.
The boy, it seems, understands what I mean.
Will he bother to follow my instruction?
No he will not.
Do you remember in the old days, when we used to have to get a dictionary and physically search for a word until we found it, on page 93 underneath a crude phallic scribbling? That’s not a thing anymore. Google Translate is the thing nowadays. It’s not too handy when you want to translate whole sentences or chunks of text, but for the odd word, it’s usually not too bad. Naturally, I try to coax my students to use a good old ‘wordbook’ as the Dutch so accurately named their dictionary.
‘No, Miss, I’m going to use Google Translate’.
Wow. I feel so in charge right now.
Everybody settles down to their task. They like it because they are allowed to be disgusting. I always find that funny about humans. We love to be a bit weird if we’re told it’s alright. Everybody is quiet. I retreat back to my laptop silently and stealthily. There’s no one quite quick to catch you out as a high school student; they smell your tiny droplets of fear before you’re even aware you’ve produced any and then pounce with questions that they know the answer to but are far too lazy to think about themselves.
This is great. They’ve been relatively quiet for about 6 minutes. I tap away happily at my laptop. One child makes a cat noise on one side of the room. This is normal behaviour and doesn’t even warrant the need for my attention. I’m basking in the peace. As many teachers know, this is the unattainable… and slightly too good to be true.
Have you ever used the voice software in Google Translate? The voice that pronounces each carefully typed in word with that robotic accuracy; once at normal speaking pace, and for a second time, should you click it once more, at… a… slower… dumber… pace…
‘Je bent een piemel’.
My head snaps upwards so fast that I almost give myself whiplash. No one looks out of place. They’re all squirreling away as they were a minute ago and my brain wasn’t fast enough to decipher which side it came from. The robotic Dutch voice wasn’t much of a giveaway. I’m utterly confused. Usually the class would have erupted, but they’re playing me. Someone noticed me stealthy backing away… I have failed!
I let it go. In fact, it makes me titter a little bit. Je bent een piemel is kinda funny. I mean it’s completely inappropriate, and I should not be laughing of course, but my sense of humour is a little off to the weird side anyway, so I’m sorry for that.
‘You are a penis’.
Now the robotic English woman has piped up.
I decide to not cripple myself completely, and lift my head in exhaustion. I knew Google Translate was a bad idea. The sniggering has begun. I let the students know with my eyes that although this is indeed a very funny prank that they are playing, they should not continue this further. You know the look I mean. We get back to work.
I can feel something in the back of my nose. Urgh, it’s a sneeze brewing. Can you not? I think to myself. My sneezes come in multiples, and although relatively quiet from holding them in as much as possible, I can’t tell you I’m a fan of the feeling they give me. I look up at the harsh white light above me. Looking at lights is my Life Pro Tip for getting those stubborn sneezes out, although I think everybody already knows this information. It’s working. I feel the sneeze shifting from the top of my nose into the middle and further. It’s coming. It’s almost there.
It’s a nice subtle noise, that barely breaks the silence. We carry on with our work.
‘Health!’ The robotic English woman blesses my sneeze with the worst translation I’ve ever heard.
‘Hea…lth!’ She repeats, slowly, just in case I missed her the first time.
A boy is looking up at me from behind his iPad. I nod my thanks, and inform him that in England, we say ‘Bless you’, rather than the ‘gezondheid’ that just got butchered through the power and of Google Translate.
It’s the thought that counts though. At least he didn’t call me a penis.