found in translation…


We all know about what can be lost, but every once in a while, listening to someone trying to express themselves in English with limited vocabulary can be surprisingly cutting with its directness and truth. My wife had won my mother’s heart over very quickly over the phone with language that touched her in a place that our usual way of speaking tends to avoid, or doesn’t really know how to find.

Listening to my students struggle to tell me something is usually a little more painful than inspiring, but with patience from both sides, we make it to understanding most of the time. I remember one time being puzzled when a student told me he wanted to go to New York to “free the women.” My confused look said it all, so another student added, “The ice cream woman!” Finally, when a bunch of them held up their right hands and grabbed their books in their left arm, I realized he was trying to tell me he wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty.

The really funny ones only occur every few months, but today it seemed every class had something strange to say. My first class had a 9 year old student who told me, “Teacher, my father’s mother’s father’s father is die.” I couldn’t respond with anything other than a smile and an understandingly expressed, “Ya, me too.” My next class, of the same age as the first, commented that I looked tired and asked if I’d slept. I told them I had but not very well because my baby had cried quite a bit last night (I didn’t want them to assume I’d been out all night drinking Soju, since that’s how the news tends to project most foreign teachers). Again, a little boy raised his hand and suggested I give my baby sleeping medicine. The irony of this one is that just a couple months ago, the news exposed day care centers in the area that were giving the toddlers sleeping medicine as soon as their mom’s dropped them off. Maybe he thought this was OK?? When they asked if my baby looks more Korean or Canadian, I thought I might take on the challenge of explaining that my features are more European and there isn’t really a “Canadian look” as much as their is a Korean one. Another student told me his foreign school friend,  “looks more European then you, Teacher. He has whiter skin and yellow (blond) hair.” My third class topped it off for the day and even what was said in the last three classes couldn’t follow. It was a class of 12 year olds and the topic was sleep overs. I’m supposed to teach them a vocabulary word, then try to get them to put it in a sentence. The word was ‘pillow fight’ (yes, that’s 2 words) so I asked them, “What can you have at a sleep over?” Since I’d just written the words ‘pillow fight’ on the board, I thought the answer would be a no-brainer for them. What’s the teaching about assumption, again? I obviously haven’t learned it… One of the boys I’m usually hassling for not participating well enough blurted out in a big voice, “Disease!” If I may assume one last thing before I go to sleep in a few minutes, and try not to assume anything tomorrow, it would be that he was referring to the N1H1 virus and not an STD!


3 responses »

  1. Words are mischievous devils, aren’t they? It’s hilarious and delightfully inventive how children freely use them in unique contexts when they are not burdened by knowledge of the rules of language. I love that about them! You must have been relieved of some of your fatigue by the students’ repartee–especially that last response, haha! Art Linkletter made a fortune exploiting the word play of children in his “Kids Say the Darndest Things” syndicated show. Lo and behold, there’s a YouTube link:

    I appreciated the photo of the snails, Joseph! For the first time since I bought it in Cuba in 1999, my wood carving of the horse with the snail torso (and the wild girl rider) makes sense to me. Snails do look rather equine-like even though they are best known not for speed but for moving…at a snail’s pace!

    As tired as you are, your writing hasn’t lost its spontaneity and charm. I’ll let you use my computer to keep your blog postings updated while you’re home–and will still enjoy reading them when it’s my turn, haha!

    Only 12 more days!! WOW!!!

    Love, MOM

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