If you are new to my blog/social media, you may not know that I wasn’t born and raised in America. I came to the states when I was 33 years old. Being an ESL (English as Second Language) person, there have been so many funny moments caused by the language barrier that I still can’t stop laughing at myself about. 🙂
My late husband was American with almost no Chinese language knowledge, and I was Chinese with almost no English when we first met in Shanghai. Body language and a language dictionary were things that helped us communicate. Other girls carry their makeup essentials when they go on a date. I carried my dictionary. LOL. I was at the beginning of learning English, and I was quite confused with some very similar words. One day, before we headed out, I said, “Don’t forget your cat!” He was very confused and looked around his hotel room, then asked, “Why?” I said, “Because it is cold outside.” He suddenly just cracked up. “I think you meant hat, not cat.” LOL!
One time when we were at our favorite restaurant in Shanghai, there was a band singing some happy American songs. We were dancing along with others on the floor. Then the singer asked, “Are you happy?” Everyone answers, “Yes!” “Are you full?” “Yes!” I was yelling with others. “Are you horny?” “YES!” For some reason, I was the only one who answered, and everyone else was just smiling at me. My late husband was laughing so hard. Later he explained horny to me, and I was like, “Oops!”
Later, my late husband went back to America. We chatted twice every day on Skype. He was pretty much my language teacher and often taught me some slang without my knowledge. One day when I turned on my Skype, he was already waiting there, along with his daughter. We had never met, and that was the first time we ever saw each other. I don’t really remember what we were talking about, but I did remember that his adult daughter (now my step-daughter) suddenly laughed so hard when I said I was going to “kick your ass” to him. Later I learned that I could just say “kick your butt” for the same effect. I’m quite lucky that this impression didn’t ruin the relationship between my step-daughter and me.
Other than learning from my late husband, after I moved to America, watching TV was another way I learned English. About three years after living in America, I got my teaching certificate and became a teacher. At that time, I was still struggling with the huge differences between school cultures. I knew there were a few eighth-grade boys who disliked me when I was being very strict. So, one day I said in front of the class, “I know you think I am a bitch, but…” Suddenly the class was dead quiet, and I could tell they were trying hard to not laugh out loud. I was like, “Oops, did I say something wrong?” Sure enough, that afternoon I got called to my principal’s office. She said, “Grace, I know you are a very proper and professional person. Can you tell me why you said “bitch” today?” I answered, “I learned from TV that every time when others dislike a woman, they call her bitch. Now I think I know it is a bad word based on my students’ reaction.”
I am a very lucky person that most people have treated me with patience and respect, even when they were confused with what I said. Are you a second language learner? What are your funny stories about learning a new language?
Photo credit: Grace Liang/@anstam
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