Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trash and Taboo

I embarrassed one of my students to near humiliation the other day. Oops.

Here's what happened, in the present progressive: So I'm telling one of my second-year classes about their speech tests, which is visibly boring them. I think to myself: well, they have a worksheet with good directions on it, and they've done this before, so let's just speed through the rest of this stupid lecture and play a game. (It's also been kind of an off week for me, since my teaching schedule was changed, again... with any prior notice, again...)

So I whip out the deck of Taboo cards that I brought from home but have never used in class before (shoutout to Jen, Rebekah, and Irene for helping me choose the most ESL-friendly!) and make up a sort of charades-Taboo-mashup game right on the spot. Some of my students have fairly low vocabularies, so I allow them to act out the words on the cards as well as use language -- English only -- to describe them.

The first few rounds go by just fine, and the class is finally beginning to wake up, thanks to their ever-competitive spirits. And then it's MC's turn. He's generally quiet in class, but I know he's not shy, because he's pretty boisterous when it's just him and friends, no intimidating foreign English teacher in sight. MC's been getting into the game and goes up for his turn with confidence.

I show the representatives of both teams the card: "trash". As it's a Taboo card, there are other words below it, but we ignore these. MC looks at it and nods, and his competitor from the other team immediately starts miming crumpling up paper and tossing it, or something like that.

MC decides to go verbal. He uses his hands to mimic a pile of something, and calls out, "Ga-bee-jee".

My ears perk up. What was... did he just say galbi jjim (갈비찜, steamed short ribs)?

"No Korean!" I warn him.

In an instant, the entire classroom has erupted in laughter. I'm confused for just a moment, and then I lock eyes with MC, who looks completely stupefied, and realize... Oh. He meant to say "garbage".

Moments later, the opposing team gets the word and the point. MC walks dejectedly back to his seat, but the class is still giggling uncontrollably and it actually takes a minute to get them settled again. I apologize profusely before turning to the board and writing "GARBAGE" in big letters. Anything can be turned into a lesson: time for some pronunciation practice, class!

P.S. So-called "proper" English pronunciation is a tricky subject, one that I don't think I'll delve into much, but I'm not the only Fulbright teacher whose misadventures with misunderstood words has turned into a teaching moment. I present to you: Samantha Teacher, whose blog you should read because it's great!