|Oops! Embarassing bloopers are all part of learning.|
I've been blogging as a Brit in Bavaria for over five years, and covered many typical expat experiences, from embarrassing myself in a brass band to unashamedly cheating in a cyling competition. But I notice that I've hardly ever discussed what I do almost every day: Teaching.
A good starting point is "bloopers". Also known as "howlers". When you mean to say one thing but say something totally different. If this were a feature film it might be called "For They Know Not What They Say". Teachers are not exempt from blooping, of course. My own biggest blooper was on my first school trip to Germany, when I met my exchange partner’s mother, shook hands and announced “Ich bin sehr erregt”. I meant to say I was nervously excited (“aufgeregt”), but had confused it with the word for naughtily excited. No wonder she raised a quizzical eyebrow.
Laughing together with your students about embarrassing "faux pas" like this is a great way of bringing light relief into the classroom. Besides, when students slap their forehead and say “Ah so!” you can bet they won’t make the same mistake again.
The other day a student announced her friend was no longer coming to class because she was “becoming a baby”. When I gave her a surprised look she corrected herself: “Sorry, I mean she’s getting a baby”. “Oh”, I replied, playing along, “is she adopting, buying it online?” It’s one of the most common bloopers you’ll hear from German speakers in English. A tell-tell sign of how arbitrary language can be. Does saying “having a baby” really make any more sense than “getting a baby”?
Roleplays produce hilarious bloopers too. A student was recently welcoming a guest to her company. Shaking hands with her male counterpart she wanted to say “Ich möchte, dass sie sich zu Hause fühlen“. It came out as “I‘d like to feel you at home”.
In another roleplay I asked a student to react to the statement “May I smoke here?” Thinking it might make her cough, she obviously had the German word “sensibel” (= sensitive) in mind. The response came out as “Please don’t smoke, I’m sensible.”
But beware serial bloopers. Especially when they lead to misunderstandings. I was invigilating an oral exam in which students had to negotiate the sale of a consignment of jumpers. Yet instead of jumpers the seller kept talking about “journeys”. Her partner clearly had the correct word on their role card too, yet at no point did she say “Oh, don’t you mean jumpers?” She ended up buying 2,000 journeys. Destination unknown.
If only I could have a Euro each time students have inadvertently flirted on the phone by asking callers “Can I give her a massage?”. Better still – creepy creepy – when asking to speak to the “Chief Execution Officer”.
I encourage students to note “minimal pairs”, which look similar but are pronounced differently. There's a clear-cut difference between "end" and "and", for example. Like that 1980s group Cool and the Gang, who German radio presenters still announce as "Kool end ze Geng".
Practising word pairs like this can help students sound less like Lothar Matthais and more like Daniel Radcliffe.
It should also save them from embarrassment in front of their friends too. My all-time favourite blooper came in a class discussion on hobbies, when a student announced he liked to “play sex at the weekend”. The room went all quiet and I noticed some of the girls gag a giggle. My gut reaction was to gracefully ignore the comment. But seeing he was totally serious I had to giggle too. He was simply talking about that musical instrument, the sax.