Monday, October 18, 2010

"Pen-friends", PO-lice, and puke

I haven't really written about any of my classes yet, so I thought I'd shed some light on what exactly I am getting paid the princely sum of 20,000 roubles (not dollars...sigh) a month for. I have five classes: a group of advanced teens (who are not actually advanced), upper-intermediate adults, intermediate teens, and two private lessons - one with an upper-intermediate 15-year old and the other with a 7-year old beginner (who I haven't met yet...we start this Thursday).

I meet with each of these classes twice a week, for a total of three hours each. Most of my classes are in the afternoon and evening, and I am done teaching every night by 9pm, which is great. Generally speaking, I love all my students (with one exception; a girl with the ironic moniker of Nastya. Ironic because the first five letters of her name truly describe her personality). For the most part, they're all interesting, witty, enthusiastic, and intelligent people, and I find that I'm learning just as much from them as they are (hopefully) from me!

When I was studying French and Russian in university, I constantly worried that my professors were secretly laughing at me whenever I'd attempt a difficult-to-pronounce word or a complex grammar structure (or, sometimes, not-so-secret laughter: on one memorable occasion in Russian class, I accidentally told my male professor that I "wanted" him...his eyes bugged out a bit first before he started laughing uproariously at me. I still want to sink into the ground whenever I think about that, but at least I never made the same grammar mistake again!)

Well, it turns out my language profs probably were laughing at me, but maybe not quite in the sadistic way I feared. I DO secretly laugh at my students sometimes, but its in a very loving, not pitying, manner, more along the lines of "that's so cute!" then "what an idiot." Last week, I played a game called "Fax machine" with one of my classes, where everyone has to think of five questions and five answers for "Who, what, where, when, and why." One of the questions a student came up with was "Who is your penfriend?"

It actually took me a second to realize that she meant "penPAL," and then even after I told her the correct word, she was still confused. "But pal is the same as friend. So why can't we say penfriend?" she asked. "Umm...because you just can't. It doesn't sound right." I replied lamely (does anyone have a better explanation for this one? Help!) It was really cute though, and I could see how easy of a mistake that would be for a non-native English speaker to make.

A common pronunciation error I've come across is with the word "police." Today I drilled that word about fifty times with one of my students, who insists on pronouncing it "PO-lice." "pah-LEES," I say. "PO-lice," he answers. Arghhhh!!!

And then, to finish off my Monday classes, I spent a considerable amount of time tonight explaining different slang words for "vomit." (Hey, I'm just happy everyone already understood the meaning of the word "diarrhea" so I didn't have to spend too much time on that vocab word!)

I mean, who actually uses the word "vomit," right? Nobody says, "I vomited." The book instructs students to use the phrasal verb "to be sick," but again, nobody says "He's being sick" in lieu of "He's throwing up." And so, since teaching colloquial English is an important part of Language Link's philosophy, I did a whole mini-lesson on synonyms - puke, barf, throw up - and in what context to use them. Needless to say, I was relieved that I hadn't had time to eat dinner before the class!!


  1. LOL sounds like you had quite a day, but i though it would be pronounced, po-leese? not pah-leese which sounds like saying please with an attitude :P umm i think pen-friend is an actual word even tho ppl dont use it as much...but again teaching english is ur forte

  2. Katie,
    I think the word "penpal" came into use due to its alliteration. Just makes it more catchy. And you must not have had friends at Western from small rural communities to the southwest of London. They said PO-lice. And they went to the HO-tel on Friday nights too. Keep blogging! Mum

  3. It's a collocation. Duh.

    It's also kind of slangy to say po-lice. Or "po po." Maybe this kid just listens to a lot of hip hop?

    Now, stop distracting me from going to work with your blog posts.

  4. Maybe he is just pronouncing it how the 'da dogs in da hood' pronounce it, simply giving it a clever accent?

    Wtf is a collocation?

    You know whats great? Downing a really nasty tasting protein shake and then reading a bunch of stuff about puke, SO great :)

    Noun 1. pen-friend - a person you come to know by frequent friendly correspondence
    pen pal
    correspondent, letter writer - someone who communicates by means of letters

    Your mom is right, penpal just flows (alliterates) better, but it shouldn't seem odd for it to be taught in Europe as penfriend. The 'proper' British English taught in Europe can have a fair few differences. Its what happened when we moved to Canada. Mom had a lot of trouble at first understanding English even though she was an English teacher in Russia.