Thursday, May 24, 2012

Will Miss #451 - bizarrely inappropriate English lessons

An infamous video lesson teaching people the phrase "I've got a bad case of diarrhea". 

One of the textbooks that I used to teach from had a lesson about slicing cheese. A waggish teacher crossed out "slicing" and changed it to "cutting". When the students did the pattern practice, they would mechanically talk about cutting the cheese as the teachers sat by and tried not to laugh. The thing is that this sort of strange English lesson wasn't confined to teachers altering the contents of low level English lessons. The Japanese distributors tend to include all sorts of weird English phrasing based on what they perceive to be important things to say and they do so without consideration for the cultural context of the cultures in which English is spoken. As I've said before, the Japanese can be refreshingly candid and open about bodily functions, but this can make for some pretty peculiar phrase practice when the origin of the textbooks or lessons is from Japanese distributors.

I'll miss these innocently funny and bizarrely inappropriate English lessons.


  1. Oh this reminds me of the time I had a 12 year old Japanese student who had her first period while staying with me. Oh my lord, it took quite sometime to figure out what was wrong. I went through a list of ailments related to the bathroom. I even asked if the toilet had stopped functioning. Finally she typed 'physiology' and pointed to her lower abdomen. Eureka! Phew... don't even get me started on the trip to the store for her hygiene products.

  2. I have found that women will mention their periods openly and freely even when they don't know you very well (at least to me, as a female teacher). One of the things I was told and didn't understand at first was that it was difficult for one of my students to buy napkins after the earthquake. I wondered why she needed napkins so badly and soon realized that she mean "sanitary napkins" for menstruation. It took me longer to figure it out than it might both because of the awkward translation and the fact that it wasn't the sort of thing I expected to have someone mention to me. It wasn't a problem, however. I'm not squeamish about it, but it did point out how blase are about this and how it can catch foreigners off guard.

  3. Hmm, this would probably be categorized in my "Won't miss" section. It was so strange for some teachers to hear me say that their government textbooks were wrong. Or that they were taught wrong when they were in school. Those were some awkward lessons.

  4. A friend of mine was teaching French and most of the students are women and he was having a very hard time teaching them words gender which is a pain. He told me once that he asked a student "What did you do this week-end?" and she answered "I played with my she-cat." She was careful to use the correct gender of the word cat but she didn't know that in French it basically was "I played with my pussy." He also tried very hard to stay serious and professional and explained that, although perfectly correct, that sentence should not be used again.

  5. That video! It's Zuiikin English! I love those. So funny. :)

  6. This clip will keep my kids entertained for about two weeks. Thanks!

  7. That clip is hilarious indeed! Where do you find these things?? I love the "cut the cheese" line as well - we don't use that here, but I know it from the movie American Graffitti.

    When I was on holiday in Japan recently, I noticed my friend Nori had a habit of asking me at regular intervals if I wanted to go to the toilet. You'd never ask a British woman this, and he explained that it was because Japanese women are too shy to spend a penny when they're out with a man, so it's gentlemanly to ask. When I asked why a woman wouldn't just say "Excuse me" and pop off, Nori said it would be strange to leave the man on his own with no explanation.

    An Italian friend, a man, once asked me why I'd come back from the bar with no drink, concluding that I must've been to the bathroom. he thought it was very strange that I didn't explain that was where I was going in the first place. But of course, where I come from, you shy from telling a guy these things unless you knew him much better. And speaking of Italians, my Scottish friends and I were on the way to the beach, in Greece, when we bumped into an Italian woman we hardly knew who explained she wouldn't be swimming as she was "menstruating". All said in front of our Italian menfolk in their own language.

    Language-wise, while I was teaching in Japan one of my students told me he'd really like to 'go on a cruise'. I advised him that he may end up in a gay club if he said that in London, which he was quite amused about. A business language student told my co-worker that he really wanted to "do the business" in London (in case you're wondering, that's Brit for have sex) while another student explained that his first work after leaving college was less corporate, and that he's really enjoyed his "hand job".


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