Rifling through some blog ideas, I found a dog-eared page recording hilarious moments with my adult ESL students. I decided to focus on this subject, most of all because I need a break from the relentless bureaucratic red tape that I currently find myself stuck in. More on that later.
I’ll preface this post by saying that I adore working with adult ESL learners. Perhaps because I also started learning Spanish at an older age, I have admiration and empathy for adult students. I also find it easier to relate to older students than to malicious tiny tots. Simon Says, nursery rhymes, and coloring pages? Pass. In my book, holding a conversation, discussing current events, and debating views wins out any day.
People are accustomed to children spewing funny sayings. When a fully formed human makes an error, however, the result can be hilarious in its incongruousness. Other times the student and I have a laugh because of cultural differences between Spain and the US. Below are some of my most memorable moments from working with adults–enjoy!
Will travel for underwear
My very first adult student was eager to start honing what she called “travel English.” I showed up to the class armed with travel-related vocab, and for our first activity suggested that we role-play checking in for a flight. She had other ideas.
“How do you say ropa interior?” she suddenly interrupted.
“Um…underwear” I answered, wondering where this was headed.
“Let’s practice going to an underwear shop!” she squealed. Then came the backstory. It turns out that this student had such sensitive skin that it drives her to search for undergarments in foreign lands. The UK has some terrific stores specializing in delicates, she informed me. Because of this, she loves visiting London. Thus, her desire to learn English sprang from the need to expand her underwear collection.
Suffice it to say, our next few classes did not involve anything remotely travel-related.
English, the language of love
A 40-year-old student of mine was actually an elementary English teacher herself. She lived at home with her parents, and was planning her first flight from the nest. In fact, the real reason she wanted to sharpen her language skills was because she had rekindled a romance with an old flame.
22 years ago, she had met a Moroccan man while on vacation in Paris. As if summarizing a chick flick, she told me of their glorious 24 hours together. Earlier this year she had traced him on Facebook, and the two had struck up an old romance. Mr. Dashing now lived in the United States, outside of Atlanta to be precise. Her dream was now to reunite with someone she had known in person for barely 24 hours. And find a job. In suburban America. (“Do you have a driver’s license?” I asked her later. “No–do you think I need one?” was her response.)
If this plan weren’t zany enough, she had some news for me at the end of our final class. “I hope you don’t mind, Cassandra, but I told my parents I was staying with a friend of yours. They would be horrified by my plan–they don’t know about my boyfriend. I know that this is crazy, but I have to try this. I have to do it for love.”
An explanation for brown eyes
Summer break was particularly unkind to one of my adult male students. He used any excuse he could to cancel class–the heat, the AC, a trip to the beach. By the time we met back up in September, all of the progress he had made had withered like fruit in the August heat.
We were discussing traffic, and he asked how to say ‘start the car.’ “Isn’t there a different way to say it?” he queried.
“Well, you could also say ‘to turn on the car,'”I offered.
This student was a huge fan of repeating a phrase, of rolling it over until it clicked. “Turn on the car,” he repeated. “Turn on, turn on, turn on. I turn on the car. I turn it on. It’s turned on!”
He almost sounded like a car himself, one stuck in first gear and trying desperately to shift. We were in a cafe, and people were starting to stare.
Resuming our conversation, we can across a word my student didn’t know–‘steering wheel.’
“Can you spread it?” my student ever so politely requested.
Fighting down a laugh, I corrected him. “SPELL it. Can you spell it?”
Coupled with the previous “turned on” incident, I couldn’t suppress a smile for long.
Hermits and virgins
Of course, there’s a flip side to these humorous moments. Every time my students make a mistake, I can’t help but wonder how silly I must sound in my second language. I may grin at the things my students say, but I know that I also make hilarious mistakes in Spanish…
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