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A SECOND LANGUAGE:
A TIME TO LAUGH, A TIME TO UNDERSTAND

by Storyteller Antonio Rocha

www.storyinmotion.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 5 minutes, 20 seconds.

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THEME
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It’s important to learn about other cultures,
and one of the best ways to do that
is by learning another culture’s language.
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STORY DESCRIPTION
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rochaIn “A Second Language: A Time to Laugh, A Time to Understand,” storyteller Antonio Rocha tells about studying English while growing up in Brazil. His mother, though not highly educated, wanted him to study English because she knew that learning English might help him be successful.

While studying English, Rocha delighted in learning sounds in this new language that were unknown in his native language of Portuguese. Even more important, he enjoyed learning about new cultures by learning a new language.

His learning increased exponentially when he came to study mime in the United States. Even though he came to study the silent art of mime, he learned a lot of English from his host family and the friends he met in the American university town. His new language posed surprises with its idiosyncrasies and idioms. Rocha ends by encouraging all of us to study another language as a way to learn about another culture..


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REFLECTIONS & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
About A Second Language: A Time to Laugh,
A Time to Understand

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1.    Rocha’s mother encourages him to study English even while he is in Brazil because she thinks it will help him advance in life. Why do you think she thinks this? Why English? What language do you think is important to know? What language would you like to study and why?.

2.    What idioms have you learned in other languages that are surprising? Have you ever talked with someone who is not a native speaker of your own language and had to explain an idiosyncrasy of the language to him or her? Tell that story. Have you ever had a misunderstanding in another language? Tell that story..

3.    What is your opinion about Rocha’s final thoughts in this story? How does learning a language change you? How does it help you understand another culture?.

4.    Do you think you can ever fully understand another culture? Why or why not?.

Action

Have a conversation with someone who is not a native speaker of your language. Ask them about a word or phrase in your language they find confusing. Try to explain it. Then ask them how they would say or explain the same thing in their language.

 

 

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STORY TRANSCRIPT of
A Second Language: A Time to Laugh,
A Time to Understand
by Storyteller Antonio Rocha

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Note : The transcript below of the video and audio story is not in correct text book English. It is a transcription of the spoken story. There are also a few variations from the spoken word.  This text is for your guidance and reference as you start to study and think about this story.

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Hi, my name is Antonio Rocha and do I have a story for you. When I was fifteen, something happened in my life that completely changed everything that happened afterwards. You know, there is always that moment when something really changes your life, and this is one of the stories.

My mother came into the house, sweating from downtown, with an envelope. She put the envelope down and said, “I have signed you up to learn English because even though I don’t have much of an education,” she says very simply that, “I heard learning a second language will take you places.” And it was like a clairvoyant moment in her life, and I am like, “Ok!” So I went to class, and it was like this tiny little treasure box that opened in my head because I didn’t know how I would be learning English, but it was so exciting to try these different sounds and learn about culture because as you are learning the language you learn the culture. I learned about England, learned about the US, and trying to say “This” because “this” doesn’t exist in Portuguese. You don’t go “Th,” you know. Usually you have a speech impediment if you go “th” in Portuguese. So those things are very kind of intimidating when you are learning a language. It’s really about playing with sound.

But nothing really prepared me for the cultural experience than full immersion because you are learning how to speak the language and you are learning about the culture, but really being there it’s a whole different animal. For example, in the textbook you learn “it’s raining,” that’s what you learn. You don’t learn “shower,” “we’re going to have showers.” When I heard that, I’m like “we’re going to have showers!?!”

So I had a chance to go to Maine 22 years ago. I went on a scholarship to learn mime. How about that? I’m learning English as a second language and I come to the US to learn a silent language—mime. And so I’m learning all these new words: it’s not just “snow,” it’s “sleet,” it’s “we are gonna have snow showers.” It was like, all these different expressions, and then there were all these misunderstandings, cultural misunderstandings. People thought that I lived in a tree because I come from Brazil. I had all these silly questions like, “Do you have cars in Brazil? Do you have airplanes in Brazil?” I’m like, “No, we don’t have any of this stuff.  I canoed all the way to Maine.”

But you can’t judge those questions because people are speaking of… they’re innocent. They are not trying to hurt you. Just like for example, in Brazil, the sandwich. Knowing that America is a sandwich-type of culture in terms of a quick food is the sandwich.  The hamburger is the only sandwich we heard about. But I got here, and somebody invited me to go and eat an Italian. I’m like, “Are you a cannibal? You’re going to eat an Italian? What is that all about?” It’s a sandwich!! “Reuben”—another sandwich! You don’t hear these things, unless you sneak into the culture, you know.

And then there was that moment that somebody asked me how I was doing with my host family, I was living with a host family. And I was trying to be very, very good at my English. You learn: you swim, you’re a swimmer. Right? You paint, you’re a painter.  So they said, “What do they do?” “Oh, the father is a consultant and the mother, she’s a hooker,” I said innocently. I didn’t know that a hooker was connected with prostitution. I just said, “She’s a hooker,” and my friend said, “No, no, she can’t be a hooker.” I said, “Yeah, she is.” And the more I tried to explain that she was, the more it looked real because I said, “Yeah, she is. She stays home during the day and then twice a week in the evening I stay with the kids, and she goes out, and she is a hooker.” My friends are like, “No, she can’t be a hooker, you misunderstood something.” “No, she hooks rugs.” And she goes, “Oh, we don’t say that, if you hook rugs.”

I started laughing when I understood what she was saying. It was the most hilarious thing, while standing on the sidewalk waiting for the university bus to come and pick me up and learning that new word through that very funny moment. And I got home and I told my host mother what I had said, and she started laughing, and, so, that’s how you learn a new language. You take steps, you fail, and you laugh and you learn. You know, I do believe that if everybody took a chance to learn somebody’s language, especially if you have an issue with that culture, go and learn that culture’s language, try at least, and you’re going take a peek through a window you’ve never looked through before and you’re going to start understanding that culture. And I think that’s what I got from it and that’s what could actually change things in the world, is trying to listen to different cultures’ stories through language.

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©2011 RaceBridges For Schools.  This lesson plan is part of an initiative for educators called RaceBridges For Schools. It is a project that  seeks to provide free tools for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities. This guide  may be freely used, reproduced and distributed for educational purposes as long as this copyright information is displayed intact.  The video and audio excerpts and transcript included in this unit is copyrighted by Antonio Rocha.  Used with permission: www.storyinmotion.com