This morning I woke up early and headed down to the basement to get a workout on my new Ski-ergometer, a seemingly medieval contraption that makes one look and feel like Quasimodo pulling down on the ropes attached to the bells in the Notre Dame Cathedral. In order to pull on those ropes and get any semblance of a workout I need to distract myself from the pain and repetition of the activity. Today I queued up a Berkeley lecture on existentialism on iTunes while playing last night’s Monday Night Football game on the big screen. I would love to say that I had an epiphany linking these three activities to one another, but I mostly left the workout utterly confused and fully gassed.
My favorite iTunes lectures are simple recordings of actual college lectures and discussions rather than slick recordings with high production values. I love hearing the chalk on the chalkboard, the interchanges between students and professor, and I am always thrilled when a student asks the question that I am thinking of but might be too afraid to ask—even three thousand miles away on a Ski-erg. Professor Hubert Dreyfus’ lectures are often scattered but he is engaging enough that one of his former students named a character after him on Futurama. To me, the most interesting discussion this morning started when the professor began instructing his students about the particular translations of readings he wanted his students to purchase. He was critical of a number of translators and talked about how the wrong translation can fully alter one’s understanding of a reading.
In teaching students to think critically and to be citizens of the world I feel it is important for them to understand how culture shapes and produces language, and reciprocally, how language shapes and produces culture. Can we fully understand a culture without understanding its language and can we fully understand a language without understanding the culture from which it originated? At Dublin we have the advantage of having teachers and students from all over the world. As educators it is important that we take advantage of those moments when we can engage in rich discussions about culture and language with one another. I am also happy that our students are required to study one of the four world languages we offer and are learning about translation and cultural identity every day of the year.
To engage the students in a fun discussion of language and culture I have challenged them in my question of the week to come up with the best translation for the word “moxie” in any foreign language they would like to use. If you would like to participate just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.