There’s this frustrating phenomenon with being an English-speaker in France, and even more so an English-speaking English teacher in France, where everyone assumes you can tell them what a word translates to or what an equivalent idiomatic expression is on the spot.
One of the reasons I disliked the translation exam on the teaching concours so much was because I just don’t think constantly learning equivalent words and expressions serves any purpose in speaking a foreign language. (And, importantly, neither do the official Education Nationale curricula—but when it comes to testing teachers, apparently they don’t care.) After ten years in France, like most people who speak a foreign language, I don’t translate words; in fact I think I’m particularly lazy when it comes to trying to nail down a precise meaning or a precise translation of a new word. I tend to re-use them without thinking about it once I’ve heard them enough times.
So, I only know the equivalent if it’s a word I’ve actually had to look up to understand, a word I learned in French class in the States, or a word I’ve studied or thought about for some reason or another. Same goes for idiomatic expressions, which are the worst questions. One of my colleagues texted me once to ask me how I’d say in French, “slow jam the news.” While I do really like my colleagues and appreciate that they use me as a resource, can you imagine a world in which I’d have figured that one out?
(In her defense, this particular colleague enjoys finding equivalences and actually likes the translation exam, so probably just assumed I did too.)
So I get pretty annoyed about these questions and often tell people, including sometimes students, “I’m not a dictionary.”
The catch is that sometimes I really do know the exact equivalent because I have spent time thinking about it, usually for some chapter or other I’m doing with my students. So it’s a crapshoot for my colleagues as to whether I’ll be annoyed and useless or in fact have the exact response on the tip of my tongue.
Anyone else have this type of problem? And do you ever snap at people or are you always a beacon of patience and reflection?