Even Language Teachers Have Language Barriers

, , , , , | Learning | March 22, 2020

(I am working as an online English teacher for kids in China. Sometimes during a lesson, a kid might not understand what he is supposed to do. The most direct explanation would be to explain it in Chinese; however, there are three reasons why this is the last resort. The class is supposed to be immersive and the students should not hear or speak Chinese during the lessons. My Chinese is not good enough to carry on a conversation. Despite my best efforts, my accent confuses kids who have not had much English experience and they think my Chinese is just more English they do not understand. Here is an example of what can happen when I resort to Chinese.)

Me: *circling the fire truck on the screen* “What is this?”

Boy: “What… is this?”

Me: “No, no… What is this?”

Boy: “What is this?”

Me: “No…” *still circling the firetruck* “Zhege shi shenma?” *“This one is what?”*

Boy: “Zhega shi shenma…”

Father: *laughing and saying in Chinese* “No, the teacher is trying to speak to you in Chinese. He is asking you what this is.”

Boy: *sheepish chuckling* “Oh, oh, oh… It’s a firetruck.”

(The rest of the class proceeded much easier as he got better at recognizing the receptive language. It’s nice when there is an English-proficient parent around to bail me out.)

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Mum’s Not Just The Word; She’s So Many Words

, , , , | Related | March 21, 2020

(I am playing an online game with my boyfriend and his schoolmates. We’re using Skype to talk. Halfway through a level, his mom comes into the room. We can hear the entire conversation as he left his mic on.)

Mum: “Boy-boy. Mummy is back.”

Boyfriend: “Uh, hi, Mum.”

Us: *snickers*

Mum: “What game are you playing, ah? Looks very violent. Are you sure you’re old enough for this?”

(He’s seventeen and we’re playing “Left 4 Dead 2.” I know for a fact that he modded the zombies to look like stormtroopers and removed the blood spray for FPS purposes.)

Us: *snickers even louder*

(His tone gets more annoyed as he’s still wearing his headphones and can hear us.)

Boyfriend: “Mum. It’s okay. Don’t worry, all right?”

Mum: “Why can’t you go out and play outside more, ah? Keep playing video games in your room and you will forever never have friends.”

Boyfriend: “I’m playing with my friends now, Mum. We’re playing together online.”

Mum: “Which friends?”

Boyfriend: “[Friend #1], [Friend #2] and [My Name].”

Mum: *perks up* “[My Name]? Really? Last time I saw her she was still a little girl.”

Friends #1 & #2: *starts laughing*

Me: *starts dying of embarrassment*

Mum: “And didn’t she used to cry so much when you had to go home?”

Me: “Stop laughing, idiots! I was six when that happened!”

Friends #1 & #2: *laughs even louder*

Boyfriend: “Uh, Mum, that’s–”

Mum: *not listening* “I think I’ve got a picture of the two of you in the bathtub! Lemme go find it.”

Friends #1 & #2: *catcalling*

Me: *dies of embarrassment*

Boyfriend: *long sigh* “She’s gone now. And I’m locking my room.”

Me: *no-nonsense tone* “I am never inviting her to our wedding.”

Friends #1 & #2: “Ooooh.”

Boyfriend: *without hesitation* “Agreed.”

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Sometimes Nature Knows Best

, , , , | Related | March 19, 2020

I don’t remember this myself, but Mom used to tell me about it. It happened when my younger brother was a toddler, about thirty years ago.

For some reason, he was crying and Mom tried to comfort him by offering a biscuit but he refused to take it. Meanwhile, my older brother and I tried to sing lullabies to help. It didn’t work.

I can only imagine all the noise that must have caused, and it alarmed — and possibly annoyed — our fifth family member, our cat. She was like an extra mom to my younger brother and me. For example, she would carefully lie down above my head when Mom went out with me in a baby stroller, as if to keep me warm and safe.

Without Mom noticing it, the cat came into the room, jumped up in the crib, and carefully took a small bite of the biscuit. For some reason, that made my brother stop crying, as he then snatched it away, almost like “That’s mine!” In that moment, the cat calmly left the room, her mission completed.

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WE WILL NEVER SLEEEEEP

, , , , , | Related | March 19, 2020

(My little sister has a sleepover birthday party. We use an Echo Dot to play music for the party. It’s quite early the morning after and all of them stayed up until four in the morning before finally the last one passed out.)

Mom: “Can you go down to the basement and wake them all up for breakfast, please?”

Me: “Oh, sure.”

(I walk downstairs where all of them except for one are still asleep and I walk over to the Echo Dot still sitting on the table. The volume is still up quite loud from last night.)

Me: “Alexa, play ‘Diamonds Aren’t Forever’ by Bring Me the Horizon.”

Alexa: “Got it! Playing ‘Diamonds Aren’t Forever’ by Bring Me the Horizon.”

(I got yelled at by my mom, but it admittedly woke them all up pretty fast.)

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Brilliant Belching Baby Brothers

, , , , , | Related | March 18, 2020

Last century, my grandad was one of the first people to have a tracheotomy for throat cancer and survive. With it came speech therapy and an alternative way to speak, based on a technique of burping. He was ashamed to do his exercise but quickly found a way around it.

He was taking long walks with his then youngest grandchild, my brother, all the while practicing his speech. Nobody thought it strange as people make all sorts of sounds to babies. As my brother was between six months and a year old, he was at his most receptive for language development and was quick to pick up what my granddad was doing.

One night, in his crib, he was imitating the sounds my granddad made, sounding as if he was choking, scaring my mum and making her rush to him. It took a while before she made the connection and understood what the baby was doing.

And that is the story of how my brother learned to speak at an early age and how, to this day, he can belch upon request.

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