Saturday, 17 January 2009

English Broken Here

Yesterday was rainy day and I have sick, writes Asya. But I also have test and must come school. But I forgot purse and my room friends has no money, so I cannot eat to lunch. I feel very soreful.

I smile. Soreful -- what a great word. So what if it isn't necessarily in the Oxford English Dictionary?

But the next student's essay on her family has me stumped.

My sister does not like she's mother-in-love. I have no idea what in the world this means, but I press on. She's mother-in-love house too clean. She's mother-in-love hobby is for make she's house clean.

Okay, now I've got it: she's must mean her (remind me to review possessive pronouns), and does mother-in-love mean mother-in-law?

My sister says her husband that she has got job like she's husband. So she cannot clean house all day as she's mother-in-love.

Bingo! Mother-in-law it is. But I much prefer the term mother-in-love, and maybe we'd all love our own more if we called her something so nice...

Thank you for letter. I hope come your hotel two week time. I need single room with good view, writes Seda, a shy 17-year-old girl. So far so good, but the next line has me in tears: I hope you pleasure me. (How can I possibly tell her?)

"Sorry for late, service did not come again!" Kemal tells me breathlessly, shutting the classroom door behind him.

All I can do is shake my head in bewilderment. "Service?"

Kemal stops to catch his breath. "I wait too long time -- and Mustafa and Yonca from next class is waiting too -- but the service too long time come. Also very crowdy so we cannot sit."

Hooray, I've got it now: service has to mean bus.

"Yesterday," Ibrahim burbles eagerly, "I did auto-stop and I met U.K. woman. I could understand everything she said, thanks to you, teecha! Everything! "

Ibrahim, one of my best students, has excellent English and I understood the last highly gratifying part, but what in the world is auto-stop? "Could you repeat that?" I ask, and he does.

Nope, I still don't get it. "So, auto-stop -- where is it?" It's got to be a coffee shop.

Ibrahim flashes me an incredulous look. "Tee-cha, you know auto-stop, it is everywhere!"

I frown. "But I mean specifically. Is it downtown, near the harbor?"

By now, Ibrahim looks as bewildered as I am. "It is everywhere, when you need it."

"Auto-stop very convenient!" agrees Cenk, his companion.

"Is it expensive?"

Ibrahim laughs. "It is free!" He sticks out his thumb, giving me a duh look. "Auto-stop!"

Oh for God's sake... "You mean hitch-hiking," I tell them, feeling foolish. (This is my native language we're speaking here, isn't it?)

"Tee-cha," says Ahmet admiringly, as I open my roll book and take out a pen. "Today you are very elegant."

"Why thank you," I murmur, preening. I'll have to let my daughters straighten my hair more often!

Ahmet licks his lips and leans forward, his eyes bright with curiosity. "How old are you?"

"Ahmet, you know better than to ask that question!" He really does, too -- I've had to tell him this half a dozen times. I don't so much mind telling them how old I am, but I'm not big on the idea of them thinking this is an okay question to ask mature women.

"Okay, okay." He regards me for a moment. "Teecha, may I ask you question -- frank question?"

"Of course." Though I may not answer it.

"How much money you make?"

Siiigh... sometimes not understanding is better.


Kim Ayres said...

Superb, Mary! I love it :)

Anonymous said...

You almost make me miss my university students in Nouakchott!

Eryl Shields said...

Brilliant! I love the auto-stop: 'everywhere', 'free', and 'very convenient'. We need more things like that.

Having had a rather indulgent brunch I'm feeling pretty soreful myself at the moment.

Gaining Back My Life said...

Kids....never afraid to ask an honest, jaw-dropping question.

And you tell it so eloquently.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- Thank you! I only wish I had you around to help me out with the marking. Believe me, it's a scream.

PN -- I like the sound of Nouakchott. Sometimes I can't wait 'til the day I miss my own students...

Eryl -- I think 'auto-stop' makes a lot more sense than 'hitch-hike'. And my students are so proud that they taught me an English term. They think I'm pretty daft.

We're on finals right now. One or two of my guys are going to feel pretty soreful when they get their results back -- though not Ibrahim. He's a real star.

GBML -- That is sweet of you to say.

I think there is something about learning a foreign language that releases inhibitions. When I ask the kids I teach if it is okay to ask a grown woman her age in Turkish, they all admit that it is not. The salary thing is easy. My stock answer is "Not enough."

Charles Gramlich said...

LOL. SOme fascinating English revisionism there.

Robin said...

So hilarious! I refuse to call Adam's mother my "mother-in-love", but maybe if I did she'd rise to the occasion.

Let's never teach them the word "menses", kay?

Jacqui said...

I adore "mother-in-love."

Charlie said...

You know, if all your experiences and what you have learned from them were in a book, I betcha I could read it. You are a born storyteller, Mary; are you of Irish ancestry?

Angela said...

I swear, your posts leave me in stitches! Thank you so much for sharing your slice of the world.

I hope you pleasure me.


Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- Marking students' papers and encountering some of their better errors is a HUGE perk of the job. It's one of the things about EFL I've always enjoyed.

Robin -- No way am I going to teach them 'menses', but never mind -- even if I did, they'd never learn it.

My daughter and I once made 'cock-o-leekie' on TV in Japan. The Japanese have a special knack for fracturing English and I lived in fear of what they might do with that one, on camera.

Jacqui -- I'm glad you do; it's entered into my lexicon now and there it will stay. Hope it catches on other places, too.

Charlie -- Thank you for saying that -- I know how discriminating you are when it comes to books, so it means a lot to me.

It's the 'what I've learned from them' part that worries me. I certainly have learned from my experiences, but I'm not sure that what I've learned is book-worthy.

Yes, I've got plenty of Irish in me -- along with lots of just about everything else, too.

Angela -- I cracked up over that myself. The girl who wrote it is just as sweet and shy as can be; no way could I ever tell her what it means.

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks this stuff is funny.

Kappa no He said...

This post made my day, my week! I like Ahmet licking his lips. Ha! And auto stop, hey, that's actually a better word than hitch hiking, no? Although, mother-in-love will never do.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I'll trade you students. The essays I get are atrocious.

C.R. Evers said...

LOL! The "I hope you pleasure me" tickled my funny bone! LOL!


marshymallow said...

"Soreful" is a very expressive word - i love it.

The poor girl! But i know (from my vast experience - don't ask) that it's difficult to always speak in such a way that one's words can't be misconstrued to have a more vulgar meaning, even if you have grown up speaking English. Do you think the plethora of euphamisms is a quality peculiar to English? Or do most languages have all sorts of these double entendres?

Christy said...

How old are these kids, Mary? Sometimes I imagine high schoolers but other times they seem much older.

Mary Witzl said...

Kappa -- 'Auto stop' makes more sense than 'hitch hike', doesn't it? And yes, I appreciate that mother-in-love is sometimes a little contradictory...

JRT -- Too bad we can't do an exchange; I just marked over 50 essays by beginning students, and not a matching subject/verb combination or appropriate tense in sight. I need aspirin.

CRE -- It made me laugh too. I think I need to post about my own language-learning mistakes, just to even things out. I'm beginning to feel a little guilty about my students.

MM -- My family is sold on 'soreful' now too.

English has loads of euphemisms, but so does Japanese. Learning how to use them is crucial if you don't want to insult the tender sensibilities of your interlocutors. Next, I think I'll need to post something about the stupid things I've said in Japanese...

Christy -- They are all out of high school, though in some cases, you would never guess. My youngest student is 16, but there are a handful of mature students too. I love the mature students -- they tend to know what they want and how to get it.

Marcia said...

LOL. I love "mother-in-love." And soreful. Like they say, you can't make this stuff up.

Anne Spollen said...

Soreful - wonderful. It makes you think about the margins in language, doesn't it?

Mary Witzl said...

Marcia -- I'm starting to keep all the great things the kids say in a little book. I feel like a mother recording her toddlers' first speech.

Anne -- Yes. There is nothing really wrong with 'soreful', 'auto-stop', or 'mother-in-love'. Of course, I tell my students that they aren't used in English, but I always feel a little wistful: why shouldn't they be? It's just convention.

Susie said...

This made me think of my father-in-law. He's always called me his daughter-in-love. Has a nice tone to it and he's right about the being in love with his son bit :)

Mary Witzl said...

Susie -- I love it that you've heard of this one too, and maybe it is more common than I thought. When I first saw it, I had no idea what it meant, but now I use it all the time. Maybe we can start a trend?

I still love my mother-in-love's son too, and he generally always reciprocates. Long may this last for all of us!

Hannah said...

Oh man, your experience in Japan reminds me so much of Belgium - I walk up to the counter, politely try to order something in French... And the girl's lip twitches and she speaks back in perfect English.
Okay, maybe a little different, but still. It reminded me, okay!

Barbara Martin said...

The experiences you have with teaching remind me of my mother's stories. It must provide moments of relief when their English improves, both in speaking, writing and listening.

Mary Witzl said...

Hannah -- I'll bet that did wonders for your motivation, right?

Barbara -- When I see obvious improvement in a student's performance, I feel like I've won the lottery. Did your mother teach EFL as well?

Katie Alender said...

It does seem like progress is being made, doesn't it?

"Mother-in-love"--ha ha ha ha ha ha. Sometimes I wouldn't even use the term "husband-in-love."

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