Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Warning: Mushy Feelings About Being Translated into Spanish

***Warning***Changing Languages***You Must like Languages and the Speakers of Any Language to Continue onto this beautiful Spanish translation of my bio that I tried to do but was much improved by Helena Alonso and Khédija Gadhoum (mil gracias). Bio and then some thoughts on being translated (oh díos mio, what a feeling).


Melisa “Misha” Cahnmann-Taylor, es profesora de educación, lengua y alfabetización en la Universidad de Georgia. Es autora del poemario Imperfect Tense, (White Point Press, 2016 https://www.amazon.com/Imperfect-Tense-Melisa-Cahnmann-Taylor-ebook/dp/B01HPA9RBA), y varios libros de investigación en el campo de educación, entre ellos: Teachers Act Up: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities Through Theatre (Teachers College Press, 2010); Arts-Based Research in Education(Routledge, 2008; 2018), y Enlivening Language Education through Drama & Improv (con publicación en curso en Routledge).  Es recipiente de cuatro becas de National Endowment for the Arts (NEA “Big Read”), El Premio Beckman para “Los profesores que inspiran cambios sociales”.  En poesía, ganó los Premios Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg y Anna Davidson, y una beca Fulbright de nueve meses, para investigar el tema del aprendizaje del español entre los adultos, en el estado de Oaxaca, México.  Es oradora en materia de pedagogía y desarrollo de lenguajes artísticos y consultora en lingüística,. Desde el 2005, se ha desempeñado como editora de la revista Anthropology & Humanism, y ha servido como jueza del concurso anual de poesía etnográfica. Actualmente es embajadora Fulbright de los EE.UU. Es graduada del programa MFA Low-Residency del New England College, y del programa de doctorado en educación lingüística de la Universidad de Pensilvania.  Sus poemas, ensayos y artículos sobre el aprendizaje de idiomas se encuentran en su blog: http://teachersactup.com

The above is the bio that two Spanish speakers helped me to write because even though I can (I think I can) communicate myself in Spanish, there’s a literary eloquence that I never acquired that these two women have. This after Khédija sent me the final translation of 6 of my poems. I read them outloud and I felt like a college student reading a Spanish literary text. It was so beautiful and the Spanish words were often so out of my reach, that I had to go to my own translation to confirm what I had originally written in English. This is not to say that I didn’t understand the Spanish–that’s not entirely true. What I couldn’t understand was how good a really good translator really is. Their combined efforts made me feel like I was reading a different person’s poem, but it was my poem–my ideas transformed by their artfulness in their first language. It’s a strange feeling of exhuberance as a bilingual–to feel seen and deeply understood from English to Spanish. I approximate this when speaking in my second tongue but I still feel so limited in my eloquence, my reach for words, and my intensions truly communicated fluently and personally.

I am so grateful to experience this feeling, one I don’t expect to be lucky enough to have often. Maybe like childbirth and owning my first rescue pup, this experience of having one’s poems translated into another language feels special, unforgettable. I don’t take this experience lightly. I feel the burden of how often I might wish for this level of bilingual expression and how so few of us ever achieve this feeling of self in a second or additional language.

Isn’t this the wish we have for all bilingual youth, to become themselves their own best translators? To interpret this experience to the rest of us so stuck in the habits of a single mother tongue that even years of study and practice later, we feel misunderstood.

Or maybe we are always misunderstood. Maybe the best we can do is to try to find the language to articulate through the limitations of any language. There comes a thrill when writing through a poem toward some newer understanding of what it means to be human, to feel as though you are both predator and prey caught in a web that will inevitable get knocked down.

You don’t know if anyone really gets you.

But maybe, in two languages, you have twice the opportunity to try to be understood.

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