Laugh it off!

Learning a new language often comes with making mistakes. Some mistakes are natural and relate to first language or mispronunciation. However, every now and then our students make mistakes that can make you laugh uncontrollably. What do you do then?

Certain class situations can make you laugh out loud. I guess that’s just one of the perks of being an ESL teacher. Of course, depending on the level of your students, their age and the country you teach in, you can either allow yourself to let loose and have some fun, or you must control yourself and keep the lesson going.

Being an ESL teacher in Spain allows you to have some fun in the classroom. Spanish culture is quite relaxed, and your students will often try to tell some jokes or anecdotes, so you may as well just go with the flow. I’d like to dedicate my post to all the students whose mispronunciation and misunderstanding made my day and will make me remember them forever. So this one is for you guys!

Kitchen vs. Chicken

I guess you already know where I’m going with this one. It’s possibly one of the most common mistakes that happen in the classroom! From the top of my head, I can recall five separate situations in five different groups when one of my students said I love eating kitchen for lunch or She prepares dinner in her chicken. The first time I heard this mistake I laughed a little bit, but now I’m immune to it. However, this error always brings a lot of laughter amongst the students, so it’ll always remain my number one.

Translating words from Spanish to English

Yes! Sometimes it can work. Students often notice the pattern and try to change Spanish words into English ones because they are usually correct. For example, invención = inventionnacionalidad = nationalitypalpable = palpable, the list goes on. Imagine the shock on my student’s face when he came up to my desk at the beginning of the lesson to say, Hey Joanna! Javier isn’t coming today because he’s constipated. It was at the very beginning of my ESL career when my Spanish was very VERY basic. I looked at my student and responded with Okay. Thanks. That’s a bit TMI, but I appreciate your honesty. At this point, we were both looking at each other with a lot of confusion. After describing Javier’s problem and realizing that he’s under the weather and his bathroom situation is fine, we both learnt something important that day: constipado ≠ constipated (estar constipado = have a cold).

Guess the meaning!

I don’t like spoonfeeding my students. I want them to work for it and guess the meaning from context! It happened in one of the B1 exam prep lessons. My students finished working on reading for gist, and before moving to the exam task, I wanted to go through some vocabulary. Normally, students are great at understanding the meaning from context, but there are times when I like to isolate certain words and elicit definitions. I pointed to one of the sentences The street was filled with pedestrians and asked Who are pedestrians? Jackpot! As suspected they knew that pedestrians are people, but what kind of people? So I decided to describe this word You know, pedestrians are people who walk outside. I could see one of my students have a lightbulb moment Oh, oh! Like pederastas! I remember stopping for a second and saying Erm…no. Pederastas can be pedestrians too, but that’s not it. After this, I lost it. My student’s face turned red, and I just decided to give the Spanish word pedestrian = peatón. Don’t worry, she laughed it off, and I am more than sure that she’ll remember this word forever.

Repeat after me ‘fish, sit’

This happened quite recently in one of my adult general English classes. I was modelling and drilling the pronunciation of /ɪ/. It was going well, but one of my students kept saying feesh /iː/. I quickly tried to remember any other word with /ɪ/ that she was familiar with. We did imperatives and she did well before, so I wrote down sit. Then I decided to model pronunciation myself and let her repeat after me. I said, Ok, listen. Fish – Sit, Fish – Sit, Fish – Sit! She looked at me with determination and said Fish – Shit! Her eyes opened wide, and she covered her mouth, then she started laughing. I started laughing too. I created this situation unintentionally. I must say one thing though, she nailed that /ɪ/!

They are too young to know…

The last mistake I’d like to describe happened in one of my VYL classes. I had three brave five-year-olds who loved repeating after me. I pulled out my flashcards with farm animals and asked them to listen to me, point to the animal and say the name. Where is a duck? Here it is! Good job! Now, where is a cow? Right there! Awesome! Okay, can you see a horse? They all knew where it was, but as they were repeating one of them kept saying hore – no ‘s’. I thought to myself that I shouldn’t ignore this mistake and drill the pronunciation of horse as it may bring some problems in the future. I tried everything – saying ‘ssssss’ like a snake (horssssse), triple pronunciation, shouting, whispering, singing…and nothing! He knows how to say ‘s’ on its own, it’s just this word that seemed to be complicated. For now, I left it as it is. I guess I know what I need to work on next year…

Here are some of my favourite ESL mistakes. Some of them are universal, and some of them you can only hear in a Spanish speaking country. Tell me about your funny classroom situations and how they are affected by the country you teach in!