Learning a language is a funny thing – you can get a word right in the sense that it is correct, but in the context of a specific culture it can mean something so different than you intended. Before moving to Germany I had never really thought about the words I use in different situations and how they could translate into other cultures. When practicing my German with a local friend, I said ‘ich habe eier’ and she burst out laughing because apparently eggs in this country can also mean balls and I just said that I had some.
Equally, finding out that the German equivalent of the English word for intercourse – Geschlechtsverkehr – literally means ‘gender traffic’ made for a particularly interesting German class a few weeks ago.
I never set out to be a language teacher myself, but the more I teach the more I enjoy it, and the subtle confusions over translations are definitely part of the fun side of learning a new language. Here’s some recent moments that have made my classes a lot more interesting:
- Applying for a job as a scent tester (students had to pick the worst job in the world): a student wrote ‘I like to go to the gym and smell the fat boys and girls when they exercise.’
- The same student confused ‘how to get over a cold’ with ‘how to get a cold’ – his advice for getting over it? ‘I take off my clothes and throw them in the box, then I run in my street naked in winter.’ It took us a minute to work out he got it wrong and didn’t have a weird method of dealing with sickness.
- A student trying to politely start a meeting when everyone is talking. His attempt – ‘let’s get it on’. Er… not appropriate in that situation.
- The constant use of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when Germans are speaking about friends. It made me laugh for the first time when my actual boyfriend asked how dinner with my other boyfriend was. Today another student, who has a wife, told me about his holiday with his boyfriend.
- A student telling me his colleague couldn’t come to class because he was working on an erection for the day. The erection of a building, obviously.
- Trying to explain to students that winky-smileys are not ok to send to people you’re not dating.
- Of my 10 groups of students, at least 8 found it hilarious that to iron means getting the creases out of your clothes. Why? Because Iron Man. Yes he saves the world, but he does it with a perfectly pressed suit for a reason!
- I just had a student tell me he wants to go to Australia to make some dirty parties. He meant he wanted to go to some cool parties… I wonder if someone said dirty to him one day and he asked what it meant, and they just responded with ‘it’s something cool’.
- A week before the World Cup final my students had to say 5 defining years in their lives. One student had every year related to Germany’s World Cup triumphs apart from his marriage (which was down the bottom), and made sure he included 2014 as he was so sure they’d win it again.
- I was teaching superlatives and asked a student who the most attractive person he had ever seen was. I was expecting a celebrity but instead he said, ‘you, (the other girls in the room) and my girlfriend are all the best’. He got some serious brownie points that day!