I am a teacher; it’s what I do. For the past several years I have been involved with teaching those who speak English as a learned language. Some of those teaching experiences have been frustrating, some fruitful, but always interesting and many times entertaining!

Recently, in Nashville, I was working with two Middle Eastern ladies. The book we were using was focusing on foods, in particular, meats. These two ladies do not have exactly the same level of English so one was often stopping me so she could translate what I was saying into Arabic, so her friend could clearly understand. Let’s call these ladies “K” and “S” to protect identities as I go on.

So, we were looking at pictures in their books. The first picture of meats was three strips of bacon. I told them that this was meat from a pig and in their Islamic religion they do not eat this. I told them in America it is called bacon. They repeated bacon, they wrote bacon, and they understood it came from a pig—at which they grimaced. Next picture was something that looked like a steak. As the book instructed, I told them it was beef and that is comes from a cow. Some translating here. They both understood. They repeated beef, they wrote beef. The third picture was a whole roasted chicken. They recognized it, they knew it. Some translating. We all agreed it was chicken. Review: bacon is meat from a pig. Beef is meat from a cow. We simply call meat from a chicken, chicken. Going on…

The next picture was a hot dog.   I repeated hot dog. Student “K” looked at me with large, round, questioning eyes and said, “HOT DOG?” She repeated, “DOG”? I answered affirmatively. And then…lots of hurried, high-pitched Arabic conversation began. Both students were talking, using a tone of concern, and their faces were showing that concern as well.

Having lived in the Middle East myself, and knowing some about their culture, I quickly knew what was going on, even without understanding their Arabic. I clearly and firmly assured them that NO, hot dog is NOT meat from a dog. We talked for several minutes about this until I had them convinced that hot dog is only a name and that dog meat is not a part of the ingredients! Most Middle Easterners find dogs to be disgusting, dirty street mongrels! These 2 ladies could not imagine eating meat from a dog! This was quite humorous to me, but not so much to them.

We continued on to the last picture of meat on the page. I wasn’t even sure what the picture was myself. I had to consult the teacher book to be sure. Quickly, and with an amused look on her face, student “K” said, “I know this one!” I questioned her if she was sure (because the book was calling it pork and I know she does not even eat pork). She said excitedly, “Yes, yes, I know this one!”

I gave her the chance to answer. Here’s what she said:

“This one before was HOT DOG. This last one, it is COLD CAT!”

And she laughed and laughed. I could not help but laugh with her! It was so funny and so clever.

You know language learning is occurring when students of any age can make a joke in English!

~by Katrina Winchester

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