Interesting Misunderstandings

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Feb 5, 2018 03:05
My English teacher M has come back from the US. Today he taught us some hotel expressions at the city library and I found them very useful.

The students were of various ages. Some were high school students, some were young adults, and others were elderly. Most students were at a pre-intermediate English level, so many misunderstandings arose during class. Some students didn’t understand parts of M’s speech, and M misunderstood what some students said. The most interesting thing was that when these students made mistakes, I could easily figure out what they actually meant, while M seemed so confused and couldn't understand them.

For instance, M asked a high school student what he’d learned from this class. The student replied with a stern face, “I think your class is ridiculous!”

Hearing this, M became very surprised and embarrassed. I couldn’t help but laugh, because I knew that this student had wanted to say “interesting” rather than “ludicrous,” because the direct Chinese translation of “ridiculous” is “laugh+able.” The student thought that “ridiculous” only meant “funny,” but wasn’t aware that its literal meaning was “worthy of ridicule.” This student apparently studied English by memorizing vocabulary lists with the help of Chinese translations. Also, I knew that some Chinese students get nervous while speaking English, because their minds are racing and they are struggling to look for the appropriate words and form sentences, hence their emotionless faces.

Another example was when M asked a lady what her hobby was. She replied that she loved “doing yogar,” with an extra “r” sound at the end of the word. I instantly realized that she meant “yoga” because some Chinese people tend to add this unnecessary “r” sound while pronouncing some words such as “Chinar.”

The word “yogar” piqued M’s interest, so he asked that lady how she made “yogurt” at home. That lady replied that she didn’t do it at home, so M looked even more interested as if he’d encountered an amazing chef. This misunderstanding went on for a while until the lady got frustrated and explained, “It’s a sport[sic], from India.” At this point M finally caught on, and taught her how to get rid of that “r” sound, but she was still unable to pronounce it well.

Then, M asked an elderly lady what she usually did in her free time. She replied that her hobby was “square dancing*.” Hearing this, I expected M to misunderstand again, but surprisingly, after only a short pause, M figured out what the lady meant, and carried on the conversation following the “mistake.” After all, correcting her might have just caused more confusion.

*The “square dance” that lady referred to is a type of group dance practiced by senior citizens (mainly female) in open areas in Chinese urban regions. If you visit China, you’ll spot ladies dancing in squares at night on nearly every corner of every city.



比如,M让一个高中生总结课上学到了什么,那个学生一脸严肃,回答道:"I think your class is ridiculous!" 听到这里,M大吃一惊,很尴尬。我不禁笑了起来,因为我知道这个高中生想说的是 “interesting” 而不是 “ludicrous.” 因为ridiculous的中文直译是“可笑的”,他很明显学习英语是靠背英语单词的中文释义。而且,一些中国学生说英语的时候很紧张,脑子在飞速旋转,努力找到合适的单词来造句,所以当然就面无表情,略带严肃了。


“yogar”这个单词引起了M的兴趣,问她在家里怎么做 “yogurt” 。然后那个美女说她不在家里做 “yogar” ,然后M就更感兴趣了,好像找到了一个大厨。这个误会持续了好一会儿,那位美女急了,解释说,“It’s a sport, from India”,M这才恍然大悟,然后教那位美女去掉r音,但那位美女仍不能正确发音。

接着,M问一个老太太,问她平时做什么,老太太答:“square dance”。听到这里,我觉得M又要误解了,但很奇怪的是,停顿了几秒后,M知道了老太太的意思,顺着把话接了下来,并没有更正她,说来也是,如果要更正,恐怕只会引起更多的误会。