The day I tried to explain the expression, “do you mean it?” to my class:
The phrase was a part of a taped conversation between two embarrassingly enthusiastic students discussing their vacation plans. If you’ve ever listened to foreign languages tapes you know that these tapes are usually cheesy and contrived. I remember listening to such tapes in my beginning Spanish classes thinking, “wow, these people are lame.” I use the tape accompanying my text because it lets the students hear an accent other than mine and sometimes we share a laugh over the emotive actors. Anyway, in this particular conversation one student invites her friend to accompany her on a trip to the beach where her parents own a condominium. The friend replies, “do you mean it?” My students were flummoxed when I explained that she was asking if her feelings matched her words: if she was sincere. It’s not that they didn’t understand “sincere” there is a cognate, “sinceridad” in Spanish. What they couldn’t comprehend is WHY anyone would ask, of course if you invited someone you want them to come. I said that sometimes people might feel obligated to invite someone, but not really want them to come. Blank and confused stares: huh? I tried another angle. Say your girlfriend bought a new dress that she is wearing to your date tonight. She is really proud of the dress, but you think it looks awful. Instead of telling her “honey, I think that dress is terrible,” you lie and say, “you look great.” You don’t really mean what you said. That example clicked, but the whole explanation got me thinking about generosity here. It’s not that people are more generous necessarily than in the states and it’s not that there aren’t often strings attached. It’s just that, from my perspective, people are really excited to offer things and it doesn’t feel like they are doing it out of obligation. Every time Tim goes to our landlord’s apartment to ask a question he comes back with some juice or bread or candy. They also regularly feed us lunch on Sundays. One time they asked Tim if he wanted some more juice. He tried to articulate in Spanish the idea that he didn’t want to be a mooch. They smiled and said, “why?”
Student dialogues: I had my students write a conversation based on pictures which showed some problem. One of the pictures showed two students studying while a puppy chewed up a backpack. I explained the assignment (we were working on apologies and excuses) and broke the class into groups. There was one group of three assigned to the puppy picture. I suggested that they write the conversation between the students and maybe another friend or the mom of one of the students. Immediately one of the students asked with a smile, “Can I be the puppy?” I laughed and said, “sure.” The puppy actor is one of by better students. His group came up with a dialogue that went something like this:
Francisco: What is the answer to number 3?
Diego: I don’t know.
Fransisco: What a cute puppy!
Puppy: That backpack looks delicious!
Fransisco: Come here puppy.
Diego: You don’t want him he is crazy puppy.
Fransisco: Come here.
Puppy: Now is my opportunity.
(Puppy grabs backpack)
Fransisco: Stop! He broke my backpack!
Diego: I am sorry, he is crazy puppy. You use my backpack.
They had most of my class laughing and applauding the puppy’s performance. It was a good day.