Melanie Gapany

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Lost in Translation: Pennies And Penises

Life 'Round Here

Lost in Translation: Pennies And Penises

When you come from a family of immigrants, it’s not surprising that you end up with a lot of friends that are also immigrants. It’s also no more surprising to find that those friends are often adept in other languages.

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 bilingual, speaking their native language in addition to English. While many of the people around me speak Creole, French, or Spanish, some are versed in languages considered to be even more distant, such as Farsi, Arabic, and Russian. A second, third or fourth language doesn’t come easily, so the more multilingual amongst us recognize the difficulty faced by new Americans, and we often find ourselves at the frontlines of linguistic educational efforts.

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.