Lost in translation ~ or the perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign language.

Lost in translation ~ perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign


As regular readers may have picked up, one of my jobs is as a teacher of
English as a foreign language; the summer school is rapidly draining
the life out of me as fast as a pint of Guiness on St Patrick’s day.
But the perils of the job are not always what you might think. I
mean, it’s hardly a dangerous sport, is it? The worst that can happen
is a student throws a board rubber at you#, or you catch chicken pox
or the ‘flu.

The perils are a great deal more subtle. For example, students do come to
you and ask you tough questions, or confide in you about something
that worries them.

Last summer, my colleague Dan* got faced with a real doozie of an issue.
He tends to teach the younger students, at pre-intermediate level, so
his students quite often have less vocabulary than the ones I teach.
At the end of a lesson, one kid came up and asked him if he would
explain a word he’d heard while in England and he couldn’t find in
the dictionary. Usually at this point, my heart sinks. During one
lesson on humour, a student told a joke using the phrase “blow-job”
and didn’t know what it meant; I chickened out and asked someone else
to explain. Another student gleefully explained, with actions. Total
incapacitation of entire class followed, from the hysterical laughter
than ensued.

Well, Dan manned up and asked what the word was.

Love-juice,” said the kid.

A few seconds of stunned silence while Dan desperately thought what he
should do and in the end, opted for the “I’m in loco parentis here
so I’d better explain” stance. So he started off:

When a man loves a woman……” and went on from there.

The student’s face got more and more puzzled and finally Dan asked if he

Not really,” the kid admitted.

Dan tried again, trying to make the language simpler.

Finally, he asked where the kid had heard the word, hoping that context might

I was watching Wimbledon with my host family,” the kid said. “And I
kept hearing Love Juice being said by the umpire. What is that to do
with sex, please, I don’t understand, sir?”

Dan slunk away red-faced.


#Yes it does happen, but so far not to me!

*names have been changed to protect the innocent**

** innocent? Yeah right!