Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Although teaching English as a foreign language has its challenges – as does any realm of teaching – it also has its rewards. And often, these rewards come in the form of adorable mistakes, experiments and just overall non native-speaker…ness.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting some of my favorite examples, and these, ladies and gentlemen, are them, er, they, er, just read on.

When vacations come around, my favorite go-to activity when we’re back in school is to do a review of past simple and have my students tell me what they did on vacation. It’s a good excuse to review a useful tense with content that interests them, and it also allows Mr. Matt to not have to plan anything. Win-win-win.

This year, I got this gem:

What did you do on Christmas vacation?
"I bought pineapple.
I cut fruit.
I made a fruit salad.
I killed a cop."

Well, that escalated quickly.

As a man who enjoys his toilet humor, I also couldn’t help but include some of those.

We do a dictation tournament where they have to correctly write the word I tell them on the board. It’s a head-to-head competition, and the winner moves on, March Madness style.

Welp, we were reviewing adjectives, and when I told them to write “fat,” I got:


This student had no idea what she had written, which is why she didn’t know the reason she’d just made Mr. Matt double over in laughter.

Speaking of farts, I was deep in a lesson on, well, to be honest, I don’t remember anymore, but what I do remember is, at some point, the lesson devolved into a five-minute detour on a cultural exchange of making farting noises with parts of our body. I can honestly say I learned more than I taught that day.

So let’s talk about poop now.

Sometimes TEFL gems come not from mistakes, but from an accent. This is one of those.

In another post-vacation class, we were talking about what one student did over Christmas vacation:

“I played with my poopie.”
“Um, your what?”
“My poopie.”
After about five seconds spent in suspended animation, dl. Met finally realizes what she’s trying to say: “Oh, your PUPPY!”
“Yes, I played with my puppy.”
“Yeah, that’s way better.”

Often, as an EFL teacher, you have the privilege of seeing your language through the eyes of a non-native speaker. And sometimes, the insightfulness of those eyes surprise, and impress, you.

While doing a lesson on anatomy, we reached the toes, which is a difficult concept for Romanian speakers because they more or less use the same word.

"What are these called?"
"No, we have a different word for the ones on the foot."
“Well, no. But they should be.”

Google Translate is a great tool, if you want to get in the ballpark. However, I’ve found that Google Translate is responsible for some of my favorite translation blunders.

First, in yet another lesson where we talked about Christmas vacation, I had at least two students make this mistake. In Romanian, there are three A’s, all of which have a different accent and are, therefore, different letters. It usually doesn’t make that big of a difference. This time, it did.

What my students wanted to say was:

What they actually said was:

Hungarian is a really hard language. It has almost a complete lack of cognates, glues its prepositions on the end of words and has nearly indecipherable grammar. However, some things aren’t that hard like, for instance, when I tried to confirm the translation of how to say “Mr. Teacher,” something I hear all the time. This, I didn’t expect:

And finally, my favorite of the lot. I’ll just say that this is supposed to translate to, “I went sledding.” I’ll also say that no less than four seventh graders said this in front of the entire class.

Got it, Bogdan. Thanks for the heads up. Now back to what you did on vacation.