Today marked the first day of classes for the spring semester at Beihang Fu Zhong. Leif and I teach 7th and 10th grade at this high school here in Beijing. At the start of last semester, I remember being nervous. Would the kids like me? Would I be too boring a teacher? Would I be too spastic a teacher? Shoot, why in the world was I signed up to be a teacher?! This was definitely not the plan. After my first class though, I was no longer worried. I knew I was cut out to stand in front of kids and laugh at myself. I mean, I certainly don’t plan to do it again after this year, but it’s been a good lesson in not taking myself too seriously.
And here are five reasons why: 5 Naughty Words My ESL Kids Love
Disclaimer: These stories are all in regard to my 7th graders.
Leif and I had a great “Welcome back to English Class” lesson prepared. It started with giving a hand-out to each student that had the story of our spring festival vacation. We spent an hour coming up with this fantastic summary of our trip to Harbin and Thailand. Then we proceeded to take out key words from the story, so the students could listen closely and fill in the missing words. Our mistake? Having the kids listen for the word “beaches.” The moment I said it I completely lost my class to a round of uncontrollable giggles. I rolled my eyes and quickly wrote the correct spelling on the board.
“No, class. No.”
Last semester, Leif and I taught a class on the wonderful American holiday of Halloween. It was maybe my favorite class as I forced my kids to play a game called “Trick or Treat.” They would draw a paper from a hat and it would either read “Trick” or “Treat.” If it read “treat”, all they had to do was pick a candy. If it read “Trick”, they would have to perform a stunt of my choosing. Oh, it was great. I decided that one of my student’s tricks would be to act like a ghost around the room. Not knowing what a ghost was, my student asked for an explanation.
I turned to the class at large and said, “Well, guys, a ghost is someone who walks around under a sheet and –.”
“WHAT, Mrs. Jacobsen?!?!” The class was dying laughing.
Unfortunately, I was still somewhere in my head explaining “ghost” to my class.
“You know, a sheet.” I responded, confused. Laughter continued to explode all over the room.
Oh, the mistakes you make as an ESL teacher.
I often call on individual students for answering specific questions. This seems like a teacherly thing to do. Gosh, I just must be such a great teacher. Anyway, this one particular time, I called on this adorable little girl, Shirley. Shirley always wears a tiny little sparkly hat on the side of her head. I say hat, but it’s really a big hair clip that looks like a hat. I like it. This particular day, I asked Shirley if she could tell me an example of a food her family likes to eat.
“Vegetables, Mrs. Jacobsen,” she responded.
“What kind of vegetables, Shirley?”
“Such as…?” I prodded.
Snickers from all over the classroom.
Sometimes it takes all of me not to turn to them and say, “Really, guys? That’s the best you’ve got?”
Periodically I will have a class show up fifteen minutes before the period is supposed to begin. It’s this awkward moment where I smile at all their bright, shiny faces and think, “What the crap am I supposed to do with you kids for an extra fifteen minutes?”
One particular morning I was fresh out of creative ideas, so I went around to each student asking them to tell me their favorite animal and why.
“Duck, Mrs. Jacobsen!” “Lion, Teacher!” “Dragon, Mrs. Jacobsen!”
One of my favorite students (Wait, did I say that? Just kidding, I don’t have favorites.) stood up and yelled, “MRS. JACOBSEN, MY FAVORITE ANIMAL IS BEAVER!!!!”
“Luke, that’s fantastic! What do you like about beavers?”
“Dam!” he yelled as he sat down proudly.
Chinese students are encouraged by their Chinese English teachers to take English names. I am endlessly grateful for this tradition, because I would absolutely butcher their Chinese names if I had to call them out every day. Instead I have a bunch of adorable Chinese kids running around with old-fashioned American names. Many of my girls have names like Dolores, Fanny, and Betty. Oh, so many Bettys (Betties?).
And then there is my most popular boy name: Dick. My first day of classes last semester, I went up to the first boy who entered my classroom. I welcomed him with a hearty “Hello! What’s your name?”
He looked up at me and said, “Dick.” Now, I’m not sure what my face exactly looked like when he said that, but I’m sure my eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Oh! How did you come to choose that name?” I questioned politely.
“I like it,” he said with a smile.
After a semester, I’ve decided about fifty percent of my kids know that Dick is not a very acceptable word in English nowadays. Every time I call on a Dick I prepare myself for the round of laughter from the boys and a few of the girls. It’s such an ordeal.
You know, now that I think about it, maybe those who named themselves Dick are smarter than I give them credit for. Perhaps it’s all one big stunt so I won’t call on them in class.
HA! I’ve got you now, Dicks!
Have you run into any funny mispronunciations while living abroad? Leave a comment below.