One of the things I love about teaching is that I never know what is going to come out of my students’ mouths. Whether it’s a funny mispronunciation, an over-the-line comment, or a brilliant idea, I almost always have stories to tell at the end of the day. For those who I haven’t updated, since I returned from Russia, I’ve been teaching English to international college students at a local university. Most of my students are from China and the United Arab Emirates, but I also have a Vietnamese and a Russian student. Over the course of the past few semesters, I’ve tried to keep track of the funny, profound, and unexpected things my students have said or done. If you’re in need of a laugh or if you’re just interested as to the funny business that goes on in an ESL classroom, I think you’ll enjoy my list of international student superlatives:
BEST CHINESE IDIOM EVOKING MEMORIES OF NAPOLEON DYNAMITE:
Student: They steal my pocket food.
Me: Pocket food? Like snacks, chips? (Student nods) All I could think of was Napoleon and his tater tots all squishy in the pockets of his linty pants…
BEST MISTAKEN WORD:
Me: Do you know what defective means?
Student: Uh, like a policeman?
Drumroll please, we have a defective detective in the house.
Student: I don’t like to eat green paper.
Me: Hmm…what do you mean by green paper (over-thinking, thus thinking that it must be the Chinese way of saying lettuce). Sudden realization: Green pepper, Hope. He’s saying green pepper!
BEST SATIRE OF AMERICAN ETHNIC STEREOTYPES:
Me: So are you good at math?
Student (grins, gets a teasing glint in his eye): I’m Chinese.
Me: Class, take out a piece of paper for the quiz.
Student: You did not tell me there was a quiz.
Me: When you’re not in class, you need to ask your classmates what you missed.
Student: I did, and they told me there was no quiz.
Me: It’s in the syllabus.
Student: But you did not tell me.
Me: Well, we’re having it anyway.
Note: it has been quite an adjustment learning to teach students from cultures (in this case, U.A.E.) where this kind of persistence and bargaining is simply the way things are done. I’ve definitely had to learn to be direct and firm.
MOST DARING EXCUSE: A student skipped class. After class was over, two of her friends came up to cover for her.
Student: She got lost.
Me: What do you mean? Where is she?
Student: In the Union (which is a three minute walk to my classroom).
Me: But I don’t understand, how did she get lost?
Student: (Points at male classmate) Usually he goes around to class with her, but when she’s alone, she cannot distinguish.
Ok. I mean, I would understand if it were the first week of classes, but by week 8, if you don’t know how to get to class, an intervention is in order. I definitely didn’t buy the excuse, and I’m glad I didn’t. As I rode away from campus, I saw her walking toward my building for her next class, clearing lacking no directional skills whatsoever.
Most likely to end up as a challenge on the Amazing Race: Before spring break, my students excitedly handed me a vacuum packed morsel. “Duck tongue, duck tongue!” they said.
Me: sure, thank you, I’ll try it. By the way, where do you get this? Do you order it online?
When I said this, my quietest student grinned slightly and pulled a manila envelope out of his backpack. The envelope was bursting with duck tongue. Oh boy. I did try it, but I’ll admit that I was a wimp and was not able to finish it. It wasn’t the moist slimy texture that got me, or the flavor of Thanksgiving gizzards mixed with formaldehyde. What got me was the bony CRUNCH in my second bite. Nope. I don’t do cartilage.
BEST REFERENCE TO A TROUBLED DECADE IN RUSSIAN HISTORY:
Me: So, what is the significance of the gun in this story?
Russian student: Well, it is like offer of friendship when the woman offer the gun, because when you offer people gun it is like showing sign of friendship.
At first I was flabbergasted by his answer, when it dawned on me: there was a short section in the chapter where a woman offers two children a stick of gum. I began to laugh and told him I had said gun, not gum. “Unless giving a gun in Russia is a gift?” I teased. He didn’t miss a beat, giving a completely deadpan delivery: “In the 90s.”
BEST NEW PHRASE: although all the above superlatives are certainly noteworthy, none compare with the new phrase coinage that shows the elasticity and infinite possibilities of the English tongue (note: duck tongue is not elastic at all). While tutoring one morning, one of my Chinese students got frustrated and let out what I swore sounded like “Oh my Lady Gaga!”
I laughed, sure I had heard him wrong, and asked him to repeat what he said. “Oh my Lady Gaga!” he said again. “Is that like ‘Oh my gosh?’” I asked. He grinned like a little boy and said, “yes, but I want switch with Lady Gaga, and so I say Oh my Lady Gaga.” And that, my friends, is the best thing I’ve heard in quite some time.
Now I’m curious, for all you teachers out there, what are some of the funniest or most unexpected things that have come out of your students’ mouths?