Friday, February 27, 2015

"Lady Killer" or "Killer Girl" ?

AJ had been with us a year or so. He was around 9 years old. We were still speaking Spanish, but were transitioning to using mostly English. He was amazingly orally proficient for being in the country such a short period of time. He had huge holes in his basic vocabulary, but was also a complex thinker using 11th grade words; "speedometer" was one of the first words out of his mouth when we first adopted him.

One day we stopped at the alterations shop so I could drop off some pants for hemming. The owner looked at AJ-the-Latino-Charmer (quite handsome with his award-winning smile, if I do say so myself) and said, "My, AJ, you're going to be a lady killer some day!" On the way out of the shop, AJ looked at me and asked, "Mom, what's a killer girl?I must have explained it in terms he understood, because, after mulling it over awhile, he exclaimed, "I’ve got it, I know what a "killer girl" is! It's when a girl likes me, sticks to me like gum, and I say 'No, no, no!"  His exact words! At that time he told me that he understood this well because he was having "dates" with  a 3rd grade girl who had been relentlessly vying for his attention -- those "dates" consisting of "staring" at one another  across the playground at recess. LOL

An antiquated idiom story - "What a bummer!"

Here's an "antiquated idiom story" from a few years back. For about 18 months I had been practicing the "Love and Logic" principal, both in parenting and classroom discipline -- that's an approach where you empathize with the child first, using phrases like, "I'm so sorry," to keep him or her engaged - and then you follow up consistently with a firm consequence. I practiced with AJ using the phrase, “What a bummer!" (an unpleasant experience) quite a bit to engage him. 
One day, after some months, I was thinking about idioms and it dawned on me to ask my son if he knew what "a bummer" meant. AJ looked at me and seriously asked, "Is it a boat?" I queried, "Do any of your friends used that expression at all?" ..."Uh, no," he replied.
It was then I realized that I was a bit out of touch, using an antiquated idiom, and had better be careful of the words and phrases I use if I want  “Love and Logic” to work! :)

A Few Funny Idiom Anecdotes from Adult ESL


Kay has graciously permitted me, a classmate in her TESOL Principles and Practices of Online Teaching Certification Program Foundation course, to post to her wonderful Idioms blog.

Here are a few funny anecdotes about idiom confusion:

Bring a Dish from your Country for the Class Potluck
Students in a colleague's ESL class wanted to have an end-of-the-class pot luck.  Everyone pretty much understood what a potluck entailed, except, evidently, one student whose listening comprehension skills were not at the same level as her peers'.  The teacher explained to the student to bring a dish from her country.  The student seemed to understand.  On the day of the potluck, the student showed up with a Fed Ex package and proudly took out a beautifully hand-painted "dish" from her home country that her mother had paid a lot to ship to the United States.

Those Darn Phrasal Verbs!
An ESL student stayed after class one day to apologize for and explain her absences from class earlier in the week.  She told that teacher that her mother had been ill and had to be taken to the hospital.

The next day, the student was late.  She once again stayed after class again to apologize and explain.  The teacher asked about her mother.  The student said, "She's not doing too well.  Today she passed away."  The teacher was shocked.  "You didn't have to come to school today!"  The student was calm and said she didn't want to miss any more classes.  The teacher told the student that any upcoming absences would certainly be excusable and that she could repeat the class, if needed.  The student apologized again and said she promised she would not be absent again because she really liked the class and was learning a lot.  The conversation ended, and the teacher gave the student an American hug.  The student said she'd be back the next day and that she was on her way home to check on her mother.  Huh?! 

As is turned out, the student meant that her mother had "passed out" -- NOT passed away!

The Beautiful Woman in Iraq
My student Mustafa had good English and a strong interest in women and finding a girlfriend (especially one with green eyes).  One time he was explaining how much he wanted to find a girlfriend with green eyes and how there had been a beautiful woman in his home country, Iraq, that had such eyes -- and many, many male admirers.

I commented that she really must have been beautiful to have such a following.  Mustafa hesitated and then said, "No, she washed their minds."  - meaning, of course, she "brainwashed" them.

These are just a few that come to mind.  Thanks to Kay for setting up this blog to compile such anecdotes.  ESL students should know that we are definitely not laughing at them, but rather at the interesting ways in which people learn, interpret, internalize, and produce a language that is not their mother tongue.

I am sure that these stories will be good segues into lessons on idioms in English!  Look forward to reading more contributions!
-- Kristi Reyes

A dog is housebroken?

My friend, Gaby from Ecuador, was told by a friend that her dog was "house broken!"  Gaby thought a part of the house such as a wall was broken, but couldn't understand how the dog had broken it.

Toss and Turn or Toss the Ball?

Today I was reading "The Princess and the Pea" with one of my ESL students from China and she got to a part where the girl "tossed and turned" all night. She stopped reading when she came to "tossed" and looked at me to make sure she was reading the right word. I'm sure she was picturing the girl tossing a ball all night long.