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By Thomas F. O'Neill

    Working as a teacher here in China, I noticed that there are linguistic gaps in my students understanding, especially, when it comes to the English language. In my classes there have been instances when my students misinterpreted the meaning of what I was saying, or they were confused by how I was trying to convey the meaning.

    When this occurs, the teacher can choose to either be disappointed or find humor in the situation. I choose the latter and I find that humor is the best approach, especially, when dealing with the confusion of the English language.

    The mispronunciation of words is a problem for most of my students and that can certainly create confusion in the classroom. One of my students spent time in Regina, Canada. I asked her to tell the class about her experiences in Canada. She told the class that “Vagina” is a beautiful place to visit. I tried not to laugh but that was to no avail. I told her the town is pronounced “Regina” not “Vagina.”

    I asked a young student in one of my classes, what he would like to study when he goes off to college. He was a very low-level English student. He simply said to me, “Finish.” I then replied, “finish what?. What would your MAJOR be in School?” He replied once again, “Finish.” So I tried a third time. “Yes, I know you would like to finish school. I understand that you would like to go to college and FINNISH... but what would you like to STUDY when you are in college?!” Now he shouts at me, “FINISH!” Then it hits me. “Ohhhhhh, you mean you would like your major to be FINNISH, the language of Finland!?” He nodded yes. We both got a good laugh out of that one. I had and still have never heard of anyone else to this day who would like to major in Finnish!

    One of my Chinese students wrote in her essay that she likes eating snakes. Since I know snake is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, I asked her if that was really what she meant. She nodded her head and said “yes”. I made a motion with my arm and hand as if it was a snake and asked her once again “snake?” She looked puzzled and shook her head no. Finally, I wrote on the blackboard and asked her “Snack?” She nodded her head in agreement. I supposed at that point that she pronounced both words “snack” and “snake” in the same way. That is a common mistake among Chinese students.

    In one of my classes I asked my students what sports they like? We were also discussing about hobbies and interests using a third person point of view. One student wanted to talk about his interest in ball sports. He said, “I like playing with my balls.” It wasn’t easy holding my laughter.

    Once, a student asked me to help correct his IELTS writing. He wrote “This raises pubic attention.” I knew he meant PUBLIC attention. A lot of students also wrongly said hand job when they wanted to say something is handmade. These type of mistakes is extremely difficult to explain to the student with a straight face.

    One day I asked my students to tell the class what their favorite hobby is. A student quickly responded, “I like to ride my whore.” I paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “do you mean you like to ride your horse?” The student with some frustration responded, “yes I like riding whores?”

    American idioms can create much laughter in my classes too like, “you have ants in your pants,” - “Top banana,” - “you have a bun in the oven,” – “I would like to be a fly on the wall,” and numerous other idioms can be fun to teach.

    I always experience something funny while teaching here in China. Surely, there are a lot of teachers out there who have a good sense of humor. I think to maintain a sense of humor is what makes the teaching experience richer and more fulfilling no matter where you reside.

    I had other jobs in the past like being a corrections officer, a Parole and Probation agent, and an Intensive Case Manager for mental health. But for the past nine years teaching here at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China has been the most rewarding experience for me.

    Always with love from Suzhou, China
    Thomas F O’Neill
    WeChat - Thomas_F_ONeill
    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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