Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I must be in Paris

I used to use an English language exercise about the difference between must and could. You know the sort of thing; she must be delayed: she could be ill, she could be in traffic. The example went something like " I can see the Eiffel Tower, I can see the River Seine - where am I?" I learned to write the words on the board because my pronunciation never clicked with my Spanish students but it didn't help much. The success rate on "You must be in Paris." was pretty low. Maybe 50% would get the French capital with Rome coming a close second. Another exercise had pictures of the Christ statue in Rio, the Opera House in Sydney, The Coliseum in Rome and The Capitol Building in Washington DC. Hardly anyone could identify anything other than the Coliseum.

Now not recognising Sydney Opera House is no sort of crime; no measure of intelligence. I'm dead against lots of rote learning and there is no reason that anyone should know a series of landmarks but I would have hoped that a bunch of young people would maybe have done just a little better. Most of the students for the particular course were mid 20s university students doing Master's degrees after all.

There are lots of American series on Spanish TV. Programmes like The Mentalist, Bones, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two Broke Girls etc. Nowadays we normally watch these programmes in English with the Spanish subtitles on just to give the impression that we live in Spain. Where the subtitles make some reference to something colloquially American - Betsy Ross sewing the flag, tater tots, doughboy marshmallows, Fox News etc. - the subtitles often gently subvert that into a Spanish reference. So Lifesavers become Chupa Chups and Russell Westbrook becomes Marc Gasol. Some "black" US delicacy in Blackish last night was translated into ham and tortilla by the subs.

I sometimes don't get the US references myself. It's a foreign country after all, and my faculties are going, but I can usually work out the basic idea. I can also see a justification at times - for instance where the reference is language based as in the example of tater tots - which were simply translated as crisps. On the other hand such a narrow, parochial view of the world where everything is referenced to Spain seems basically unhealthy to me. It could be one of the reasons those students don't know that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.

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