Learning a language can be a daunting task. Teaching one even more so. The student-teacher dynamic is a tricky one and being on one side certainly does not prepare you for being on the other. In fact, it can be much too easy to forget what being a student is like when you’ve been on the “giving” end (that is when you’re wielding the sword of knowledge) for a while. This is a story about just such a dynamic.
Send your flash fiction pieces in to email@example.com. See your name in print. Revel in it. When your friends say, Hey, you made it onto the SA Current Flash Fiction blog, you can say, “ho, vitsi.”
Ho, Vitsi by Jesse Tatum
Teaching English was a good way for me to earn extra cash in my spare time in Tbilisi. Passionate and eager students of all ages would get in touch each month to seek my infinitely vast and untapped knowledge of The Bard’s tongue.
But surprisingly, all of my students secretly turned out to be know-it-alls, often having a grasp of English far beyond mine. During our lessons they would indicate such knowledge in Georgian by saying ‘ho, vitsi
,’ which means ‘yes, I know.’
Now this may sound harmless enough, but let me tell you why I often had to fight off the urge to reach across the desk and administer a swift smack upside the head as if it were 1805. Ho, vitsi
’s literal translation does not convey the meaning in its truest sense. In particular the non-verbal part was telling. One student shook his head, avoided eye contact, furrowed his brows and clucked his tongue to mean: Of course I know this word, you little foreign twerp. Who on earth do you take me for? I work for the freaking Ministry of [please protect].
Rather than punish corporally, though, I inhaled deeply and then asked him to repeat in synonymous terms what in fact the word or phrase in question signified.
Silence. A smug smile crept onto my face.
Later in the day I would see the tables turned: Georgian lessons for me. I arrived at class having rehearsed lines to show how prodigiously loquacious I’d become. It’s no stretch to say that I was a veritable paragon of studiousness.
But during the lesson, while I was rushing through my simple sentences, my teacher interjected a question. I understood only half of it even though I answered hastily as if I’d caught it all. I started blathering, hoping that she wouldn’t follow up to ascertain whether I’d comprehended.
But she called my bluff and asked, ‘Jesse, what does shek'eteba
Breaking into a slight but disgusting nervous sweat, I responded, without eye contact, ‘Yes, shek'eteba
. Ho, vitsi
— it means—’
Damn. I'd forgotten.
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
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