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My Students Say the Darnedest Things in English Class

Between the language gap and their cleverness, the French students in my English classes lend yet more proof to the expression: “Kids say the darnedest things.” Here are a few recent instances.

The popular medical drama “Dr. Maison”

In one of my fifth grade classes,* I was teaching the kids how to say “I live in a house.” One student raised her hand. (At least, I think she raised her hand. There’s also a good chance she just called the answer out, even though I’m always telling them to raise their hands).

“‘House’ means ‘maison’?” she asked, saying the French word for “house.”

“Yes,” I said.

“‘Dr. House’ is ‘Dr. Maison!’” she exclaimed.

I had to crack up at that. And let’s just say I was glad “house” doesn’t mean something more vulgar.

(Fun fact: “House” has been very successful internationally and was the most-watched TV show in 2008).

The quiet before the storm: setting up a lesson of weekdays and colors before my third grade students arrived

The quiet before the storm: setting up a lesson of weekdays and colors before my third grade students arrived

Oh, sheet!

Speaking of vulgar, I guess this one had to happen eventually! In one of my other fifth grade classes, I was holding up a worksheet I’d given the students at the end of class and sternly telling them to quiet down and put it away in their English notebooks. Several of them started looking at each other and laughing.

I realized what I’d done. Yes, to them, because of French pronunciation, the word “sheet” sounds like “shit.” (And there, I’m sure, lies the birth of many a common English teacher-French student misunderstanding).

I almost started to explain to the students that “sheet” was a prime example of what I tell them periodically—that despite the many similarities in our two languages’ vocabularies, our pronunciations are vastly different. But I realized it would be hopeless. I just laughed and decided I’d be using the word “exercise” instead of “sheet” going forward.

What the kids doodle in English

I first discovered one of my students is a consummate drawer when I saw toward the end of my lesson on Thanksgiving that she had doodled a bunch of pictures relating to the lesson, including a turkey leg; a balloon representing the Macy’s Day Parade, from which I’d showed some video; and a soccer ball because I’d told them about the tradition of American football games on Thanksgiving Day, and we’d discussed the difference between football in the U.S. and what the rest of the world calls football.

A couple classes later, when we were doing a lesson in which the kids learned how to ask and answer the question “where are you from?” I got even more great doodles from the girl who had drawn the Thanksgiving sketches and a set of doodles from her neighbor including her very sweet note: “I love you English avec (with in English) Heilen (an understandable French misspelling of my name).”

To my great delight, this student also wrote “I am hungry, I am angry,” as I’m always emphasizing the difference in pronunciation between the two words. The students tend to pronounce them both in a similar manner that can come out sounding like “hangry.”

Scroll through the gallery to see the three white boards. I whited the names of the kids out for privacy.

‘I like school—mais pas trop

In one of my second grade classes, I asked the kids to tell me what their favorite day of the week was in English and why in French (because their English is not advanced enough…yet :) ). The kids in every class I teach loved this question. Practically all of them raised their hands.

One boy eagerly threw out that his favorite day is Wednesday. In France, public schools end at 12 pm on Wednesday, and in the afternoon, kids often do an activity.

When I asked him why Wednesday, he said: “J’aime l’école—mais pas trop.” In English that means: “I like school—but not too much.” At this, the teacher, the special ed assistant teacher who sits in on the class, and I all cracked up. I wanted to say “well played,” but I realized no one in the room would probably understand this idiom.

My American name is Stephen Curry

In one of my classes, I let the students choose “American names” and asked them to write them on name cards that I’d use to learn their names. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived in that class to see that one boy had written himself a new name card with a new American name: Stephen Curry.

A list of the American girls’ names from among which I let my French students choose

A list of the American girls’ names from among which I let my French students choose

Hola! hello!

When I see my students around the halls at school, they usually yell “hell-o!” at me. But every so often, one of them will let out a big, exuberant “hola!” Many of the kids are also learning Spanish along with English, and their Spanish teacher is none other than my roommate, Brenda, so it’s an understandable mix-up. But I was extra impressed when the other day Brenda, I, and our other roommate were walking in the town center and saw one of our students (the author of the “I love English avec Heilen” in fact) and she quickly said “Hola! Hello!” to Brenda and I in quick succession.

Again, well played.

  • I’ve translated all grade levels to their American equivalents, but for anyone who is curious, CM2 is fifth grade, CM1 is fourth grade, CE2 is third grade, CE1 is second grade, and CP is first grade.