September 27, 2013

FRIDAY: How to 'mess up' correctly


---- — Yo hablo español.

It comes in handy around here. Like the time I walked past an empty building with a sign on it advertising some new business. I read all about the business from the one Spanish poster on the door and was quite proud of myself.

Until I noticed the English poster on the other door in the double-door entry. Sigh.

Twice a week, I meet with a Logansport woman to help her practice her spoken English skills. She speaks Spanish and has a solid grasp of written English, so we’re translating that to the spoken word (pun definitely intended). We talk about how our respective weekends went, what antics her daughter has been up to at preschool or at home, but inevitably we start talking about how crazy the English language is.

This week, it was “mess up.”

“Mess up?” she asked quizzically. I’d used the phrase to describe what a bump under her note paper was doing to her handwriting. “Doesn’t that mean – like making a mess on your clothing?”

Well, no. If you mess something up, you make some sort of mistake with it, I explained. We proceeded to talk for 10 minutes about ways you can use “mess up” in a sentence. Driving through a puddle will “mess up” your car, for instance. Bumpy papers mess up your handwriting. Four-year-olds mess up your plans (or so I hear).

But there was one question I wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Why ‘mess up’?” she asked.

Hey, you try explaining that one!

I don’t get much practice speaking Spanish with her. But occasionally she does explain to me how certain English words translate into Spanish. And once in a while, she knows the word in Spanish – I’m sure of it – and I know the word in English, but neither one of us can explain what we’re thinking of very well.

We resort to wild gestures and sometimes even drawings. And by we, I mean I.

Once in a while – actually, nearly every week – her daughter prances up in some pink, sparkly outfit and presents her mom with a stack of children’s books she wants to borrow from the library. Sometimes she’s all about Dora the Explorer. This week it was “Hello, Kitty” books.

I tell ya, I learn a lot about four-year-old culture from this kid. Maybe as much as I learn about Spanish from her mom!

– Sarah Einselen

Friday editor / Literacy Volunteer

For more information about Literacy Volunteers, contact Carolyn Killion at 574-753-5906 or 574-355-0986.