Teacher Tales - Page Four
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I teach ESL in California to Spanish speaking 1st graders. I have many funny stories to tell but my worst mistake comes from my attempts to communicate with parents. Often there is no one available to translate a note. I know some basic (key word - BASIC) Spanish but am not fluent(I can say "be quiet", "get your backpack", "pick up your child at 3:00", and simple things like that.) Often to get a note out on time, I am forced to translate my own notes. Once I made a spelling error that changed the meaning of my note from bring a "bottle" of water.. to bring a "boot" of water. But my worse mistake is when I bought a translation program and "trusted" the program to do things right. I wrote a simple note about a field trip where we were going to eat hot dogs and chips in the park. Children were requested to bring a beverage. Later I was informed that the note read in Spanish that the kids were going on a trip to the country, and that they would eat Hot -"caliente - too warm or sexy" Dogs -"perros - the animal". They would also be eating wood chips and should bring liquor. Not exactly my intended meaning!
One day, about eight years ago, I was teaching an advanced group and had them doing some conversation exercise, which I eventually wanted to bring to a close. I stood at the front, clapped my hands and waited as the group slowly got the message, except for two young women, who were deep in conversation. I then whistled and one of them looked at me and said, "We are not dogs!" Not being one to miss a vocab opportunity, I said, "No, you are bitches!" Fortunately, they still speak to me when we meet in the street.
Mel Tisdale, England
It was my first week teaching a group of high school kids in Paraguay. After I finished giving directions for an activity I noticed one boy with a nasty look on his face was gesturing towards me: he put the fingers of one hand together, pointing upward and shook his hand several times up and down. I assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume!) that it was something vulgar and told him angrily that he could never make that gesture again in my class. I found out later that it means only "what the heck are you talking about--I'm so confused".
Helmi Shepard, USA
Well I teach a horible school and most of the kids are pretty bad and then you get your occasional good bunch. Well I teach advanced students and on day a child from a lower class came in and said "You ain't gonna be needing this book because that's what Mrs.Longangle said." One of my students said "You shouldn't say ain't - it isn't a word."
Lisa Murocho, Winlsow NJ
With the arrival of the new Harry Potter film in Japan, I decided to do a lesson on the books and made up some top trump cards for the kids to play with. Top trumps is a game where each card has a unique character on it and their attributes and the object is to collect the cards. I listed the character Sirius Black, Harry's godfather and proudly pronouced his status as being dead. Unfortunately he doesn't die until the fifth book which has yet to be translated into Japanese. Some of the kids were almost in tears and the japanese teacher who was half way through ploughing through the fifth book in english, was less than pleased.
One day while teaching intitial sounds to my Primary 1 class, we were working on the letter N. I asked the children all the words they knew beginning with N and then i began giving clues and the children told me the words. One of my clues was 'What would we be if we had no clothes on?' One very bright child answered 'laughing'. I almost fell off my seat and had to congratulate the child with 'Yes Laura, we probably would!'
I teach high school ESL in the U.S. One afternoon, a very quiet 16-year old Ecuadorian boy named Johnny came to class after gym. When I asked him what he had done in gym class, he hesitantly replied, "Clean." I asked him what he meant, and he pointed to the wall and said "Cleaning the walls." Because he had only been in the country a short time and was very uneasy speaking, I tried asking a few simple questions to clarify, like "Who was cleaning? You or the whole class?" He said he and a few other students. I asked him why they were doing this task, were the walls dirty, etc. He just kept shrugging his shoulders and making hand gestures toward the wall. At that point, I was getting rather enraged. How dare the gym teacher ask him to clean the walls! Was this some form of racism??? Finally, another student who spoke Spanish arrived and I asked her to please help me understand what Johnny was saying. Come to find out, he was trying to tell me that he was CLIMBING a wall. I remembered that it was "Project Adventure" week and the gym was set up for all kinds of cool activities like rock climbing. We all had a good laugh!
I teach to young adults or executives in Mexico.. my first embarassing story goes like this: Teaching the simple present to beginners, we were saying things we usually do like "I speak Spanish at home", " I don't speak Russian" , (let me tell those who don't speak Spanish that "como" means "eat") when one of the students says "I come on the table..." I almost lost it and didn't start laughing only because I realized he was trying to say "I eat on the table!!!!"
Astrid Mues, Mexico
I teach ESL to adults in central Nebraska. Sometimes I get to explain bad words and things that would not be OK for a class of kids. But, there are days I still blush and get shocked! For example, I was once teaching a lesson about feelings and I was fishing for the answer "in love" so I asked a student of mine named Oscar "How did you feel the first time you saw your wife?" To which he promptly replied "Satisfecho" which means satisfied in Spanish. Oh Lord I hope he really didn't feel that the first time they met! Now I know to be VERY careful what I ask. Especially Oscar because now I think he tries to embarass the teacher. We couldn't ask for a better job, could we????
I have been a EFL teacher for more than 20 years and have enjoyed every moment of it. My story begins more than 18 years ago. My students, young adults who were studying English as a Foreign language at an institute where I used to work were asked to write simple letters using the one found in the lesson as a guide. One charming young 17 year old girl, did not check here spelling when she turned in her paper so I read the following letter: Dear Maria: We are all very happy to hear that you are doing well in school. Your family misses you. Your father says hell. (The student forgot to add the final "o" to the word hello.). A few minutes later, after I finished laughing the students were able to understand the joke. Thank you.
Maria Guadalupe Santana, Guadalajara, Mexico
I am currently teaching ESL in China to Grade One students. The other day I was at my desk drawing a cabbage. A group of little girls were surrounding me and looking at the drawing. I asked one of them if she could tell me what the drawing was in Chinese. She told me the name and I repeated it several times - make no mistake my Chinese is TERRIBLE - I then told the girls that this was a cabbage. "Cabbage, cabbage, cabbage," they cheerfully repeated. Then I asked another little girl, "Is this a baicai (Chinese word for cabbage)?" She gave me the strangest look and then very nicely said, "No teacher, it's a cabbage."
I once had a beginners group on Headway One. It was my very first class and of course I wanted to make a good impression. I started the lesson by asking the students what their names were and soon came to the wonderful idea of getting them to repeat: he said his name was tomek; she said her name was marta. After the lesson had finished, quite please with myself, I informed the school's director of the wonderful lesson I had just had only to be told that we don't teach beginners groups reported speech.
I DON'T KNOW IF YOU CAN PRINT THIS!!!
I had an Hispanic student in my regular classroom. We were studying social studies...and on our list of famous people was Francis Marion. The book said 'Francis Marion was the general who fought the British in the south during the American Revolution.' My little ESL student who was reading phonetically read: "Francis Marion was the general who f*cked the British in the south..." My response to him was, "He sure did!"
Frances Trovillion, Virginia, USA
I'm coming towards the end of my year as a language assistant in a rural school in Spain and will certainly have enough stories to keep me going for a while. I would like the girl from Milan to know that she is not the only person who has talked about her 'rabbit' (that's pussy in Spanish then) mine was rather unfortunate as we were discussing potential chat names and mine was 'HappyRabbit'...My students keep me both amused and exasperated, unwilling to speak any English except when they want to ask me personal questions..I'll never forget when I was left in charge of a class of 16year olds by myself and they started chanting 'Are you virgin' banging on the tables. My best withering stare was ineffective. Or during a competition to write the most things you could wear (I was thinking clothes, jewellery, they were thinking, tampax, condoms, prostitutes). Perhaps my biggest problem has been my name, which no'one could pronounce for a while until they realised that it rhymed with one of their favorite words. I have been Hannah Hannah Marijuana ever since.
Hannah, Cornwall, UK
About three years ago I started teaching my first high school ELS class which was a group including Sudanese, Chinese, Dominican, Mexican, and Zambian students. After just a couple of days with the students we had a long weekend for Labor Day. Upon returning to school I thought we would try a little speaking activity using past tense so I asked the students to describe what they did over the long weekend. Some students were hesitant to respond, but one of the older Sudanese students said that he went to a wedding. I asked if the American wedding was any different from a Sudanese wedding. He said, "Yes! You don't have to pay!" Surprised at this comparison I asked, "You have to pay to go to a Sudanese wedding?" "No," he replied, "you don't have to pay for the bride!" Changed my scheme of reference completely.
I am a teacher in India, and I train Korean students in English to help them get ready to study at Indian schools, the other day I gave the kids a 10 sentence essay to write on their mothers, one of them wrote "My mother is like black color " and the other "My mother dog", it was quite embarrassing for me to ask them why they had written such things after a while it translated "My mother does not like dogs" and "My mother loves the color black."
Mark, India Bangalore
I was doing an opposites exercise with a group of Finnish 13 year olds. I said one adjective from Box A, and they were to find the opposite from Box B. One well-behaved young girl couldn't find the opposite for tall, so I said in English "It begins with sh". She still didn't get it so I repeated the sentence in Finnish. In the Finnish language, the letters are pronounced like this S=ass; H=ho + the grammatical ending of luh. So she heard ass-ho-luh. She exclaimed in Finnish, "hey, my dad says that when he drives the car!"
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I'm an assistant English teacher in a JHS in Japan. One day we were reviewing vocabulary with the students repeating the phrases after me. One young man decided his word of the day was "peanuts" or "nuts". So I would say "a happy family," and loud and clear came, "a happy PEANUTS!". "A white cat." "A white NUTS!" "Are you happy?" "Are you NUTS?" It took a while for me to stop laughing long enough to tell my teacher (who is Japanese) why that was so funny. The whole class then got to laugh too!
Adrienne, USA, now in Japan
I was teaching english in Japan and asked my 18 year olds to write a letter to Santa Claus asking for gifts. I knew some of them were copying each other but was a little surprised to find ten requests for "a big poo", otherwise known as a large toy Winnie the Pooh". I explained the connotations to the Japanese teacher who freaked and made them all change it which I thought was a pity....
My first day ever out of Texas and in the Classroom of little six year old Koreans. To lighten the mood I Put my thumb between my index and middle finger and expressed that I had one of my children's nose. Come to turn out, this is equivalent to giving the middle finger. I wondered why the kid was shocked
Michael Wolfshohl, South Korea
First off this is my first year in this position, I am the Migrant/bilingual aide for a small school, grades K-8 and I have approximately 33 students, that I see at different times of the day, for different subjects. I love my job and I love the school, co-workers, students etc.... This year for our Christmas program I decided to put on a play (by myself ahhh!!!) just a small, short story called "The Deer Dance", we practiced and practiced, come the night of the play all heck breaks loose, you name it, it probably happened, one mother who volunteered to help with makeup, didn't show up until the last five minutes before curtain went up, my daughter locked herself in my classroom and I had to go get her, no sound , the microphone was too low, the list goes on and on, but you know what the kids had fun, the parents enjoyed seeing their child on stage, and I am planning to do another one in the spring. Am I crazy or what? Thank you for listening.
Silvia R, California