Criticisms & Obversations, Thoughts & Musings

LOST IN TRANSLATION: PENNIES AND PENISES

When you come from a family of immigrants, its not surprising that you end up with a lot of friends that are also immigrants. It is also not any more surprising that those friends are often adept in many different languages.

While a lot of friends speak Creole, French, or Spanish, some are versed in even more distant languages such as Farsi, Arabic and Russian. The foreign brain, most likely as a need based defense mechanism, becomes incredibly apt at learning and processing new languages, new idioms. As a result, most of my non-American friends are at the least bi-lingual, speaking their native language in addition to English, as are most of my multi-lingual friends. A second, third or fourth language doesn’t come easily, so the more multilingual amongst us recognize the difficulty faced by new Americans.

As a result, I have several friends that serve as ESL teachers throughout the country. One in particular, who works at a children’s school in Orlando recently told me about a particularly interesting problem that she was faced with. I’ll let her explain:

“Bright and early in class a student started speaking incomprehensibly about penises. He was talking about all the penises he had collected, and how he was going to exchange them for actual dollars, that his favorite was the one from 2010 because it was extra shiny. I was clueless until another student said “Pennies?!” Imagine my surprise.”

Of course, in true ADD fashion, my thoughts went everywhere: What would’ve happened had that second student not been there? Why does it take another child to notice the innocence in a mistake like that? How did my friend have had to speak to this kid to explain to him that pennies and penises are not the same thing, at all?

It still baffles me. And it’s probably why I am not an ESL teacher.

Header image via Betanews