The kids are so cute when they venture an answer that is complete nonsense or accidentally a different word. One time when going over colors, I showed a kid pink and he exclaimed ‘Pig, pig, pig!’
In one class we were going over commands and body parts with commands like put your hand up, sit down, touch your knees, nod your head. At one point, the teacher mimed out actions for the kids to guess. She sat down, and the kids guessed, ‘Sit down!’ then she mimed, ‘Nod your head’ and one kid shouted out, ‘Yes! Yes!’
One girl kept saying, ‘Put your hands up!’ She has either listened to too much pop music or seen too many police shows.
I play bingo a lot with the kids. They adore it even though it isn’t real bingo with a card and everything. If we are working on numbers, they choose 3 or 4 numbers to write down on their white board and the first one to get all the numbers checked off gets to yell ‘bingo!’. But I use it for a lot of vocabulary, like weather and emotions and colors.
One of youngest classes is much more immature than the rest. They simply cannot grasp the concept of bingo. I tell them to to write down 3 different numbers on their personal white boards, which they do, but then when I start calling out the numbers, they erase what they have written and put the numbers that I have called.
This same class is also very talkative and hyperactive. One time they were being so naughty that I abruptly stopped the game we were playing and the teacher took over to talk to them very seriously about how unacceptable their behavior was, and how lucky they were to have me and how if they couldn’t behave they wouldn’t have English lessons anymore (a little bit of a hollow threat, but hey whatever works). She asked them, ‘Why is it important to listen and be quiet when the teacher is talking?‘ A kid raised his hand, ‘So that we don’t get punished?‘ ‘No!‘ She said exasperatingly, ‘It is so that you guys learn! That is what you are here for!‘
The next week this class was super well behaved. Even when I turned my back to draw pictures for the vocabulary on the board, they were quiet. Afterwards I remarked to the teacher, ‘Wow, they listened so well today!‘ She smiled, ‘Yeah I reiterated the threat that you would leave forever and they wouldn’t be able to learn English. Because they really adore when you come and they love English. Everyday they ask, ‘can we do English today?!?!’ And I say, ‘well it depends on how good you are…”
In some of my classes, we went over the vocabulary words big and little. In two separate classes, someone raised their hand and said excitedly, ‘Oh! Like Big Momma!’ That is the French title of the American movie trilogy ‘Big Momma’s House.’ French people watch a lot of American movies, including the stupid ones apparently.
We are working on the days of the week and I taught the kids this chant:
School day, school day
Monday is a school day
Still at school
The same rule
I love you
We went over what it meant and the days of the week, and I asked them, ‘What does I love you mean? A kid raised his hand and told me the translation, ‘Je t’aime‘ but halfway through he turned red and whispered the second word, mortified that he was in the process of telling me that he loved me.
I have taught all my classes the question ‘How are you?’ and responses like ‘I am happy/sad/cold/thirsty/sick etc. Happy is super easy for them to remember for some reason so most of the kids like to answer ‘I am happy!’. The kids also love saying angry, because I taught them to say it while miming anger. They say it with their hands on their hips, half growling. One kid is proud of himself for remembering the word thirsty, so every single time he is asked how he is he replies ‘I am firsty!’
In one of my 6 year old classes I had the kids practice in pairs.
In one pair, boy 1 asked ‘How are you?
Boy 2 replied, ‘I am happy, how are you?’
Boy 1 replied, ‘myy…naaame… iiis ha-.’
I stopped him. ‘No, it’s I…am…happy’
He tried again ‘my…name…is…Ha-.’
‘Nope! Repeat, I…am…happy’
‘My…naaame…is…I am Ha-.’
I stopped him again, ‘Wait, listen and repeat. My name is, Dangit!’
The teacher and I laughed. In the end he prevailed and got me to repeat after him.
Even during the next two weeks he answered the same way! ‘Myy… Naaame…. Is….’
H’s are silent in French, so it is strange for them to say words like happy and hot and how at first. One of the tricks I use to help them is I have them hold their hand about two inches in front of their mouths. They should feel the hot air on their palm when they say the H correctly. After they learn how to say the H they usually start overcompensating and put it in front of every word that starts with a vowel. I get a lot of ‘(H)I’m happy!’
It is also hard for the kids to say angry and hungry correctly. I get a lot of ‘hangry’ in my classes. I think the person who came up with the slang word hangry must have been an esl teacher.
The way Americans and the French count on their hands is different. We start with our index finger as #1 and end with our thumb as #5, while they start with their thumb as #1 and go straight down the line with their pinky finger as #5. A lot of my students remark on the difference. One time, I explained to my 6 year olds that we were going to play a bingo round and that they should choose three numbers. I held up three fingers for emphasis (my index, middle, and ring fingers). One of the little boys mimicked me with both hands, and then proceeded to pretend like he was a dinosaur with claws, in the semi distracted way that children do. (Btw, this particular kid is the cutest. If I could choose one to steal and take home it would be him.)
We were going over emotions in one class. The teacher asked, ‘What does angry mean?’ A boy answered, ‘Ooo oo! Oiseaux! (Bird!)’ Somebody has been playing Angry Birds! A lot of English words have been integrated into the French language, and the teachers use these words to help them the kids remember. ‘But you already know the word snow! Does anyone here snowboard?’ or ‘You guys already know the word foot, what is your favorite sport? But of course, football!
I asked a kid, ‘How are you today?’ He answered ‘I’m caterpillar!’ He meant to say ‘I’m hungry’.
The week before we had read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
At the beginning of February, I asked, ‘What’s the date today?’ A kid answered, ‘It is Tuesday, Strawberry the 2nd.’ This boy always volunteers to say the date and he always says it wrong!
We listened to a song with a lyric, ‘How are you, Sue?’ The kids already knew ‘How are you’ so the teacher asked, ‘What does Sue mean?’ One student hazarded a guess, ‘soûl?‘ (Pronounced the same way as Sue, but means drunk in French).
She laughed, ‘Haha, no, en fait, Sue is a girl’s name in English!‘
Some of the kids crumpled up their noses in disgust. ‘Gross! Why would you ever name your kid drunk??‘ A kid said in a sing-songy voice, ‘Sue is soûl!‘
I was teaching six year olds weather vocabulary and drew pictures on the board to explain, like clouds for ‘it’s cloudy,’ and snowflakes for ‘it’s snowy’. Just to get everyone on the same page I asked everybody what they thought each picture meant in French. When I pointed to a thermometer with a low temperature, the kids had way more complicated explanations than ‘it’s cold’.
‘It’s… it’s when the temperature keeps going lower and lower and lower!’
‘It’s when… In fact it is when it is so, so cold outside and everything freezes, and-!‘
‘Actually it is simply just ‘Il fait froid!‘
The kids are getting a little bit ahead of themselves there on vocabulary! Gotta start with the basics first!
Sometimes the kids associate the vocabulary with my drawings more than the actual thing they represent. For winter, I drew a snowman and for fall I drew leaves. When we played bingo with the season and weather vocabulary I had them draw the pictures on their white boards. Whenever I called, ‘Winter!’, one girl would say under her breath, ‘Which means… Snowman! Check!‘, even though I explained multiple times that the snowman was just symbolic of winter.
A teacher and I were testing the kids one by one. When we called the trilingual kid to the back, the teacher and I had a bit of fun with him because we knew that he knew it all already. (I mentioned him before; his mom is half Canadian, half Italian, and his dad is French.) In addition to the commands we learned in class, we added for him to act out, ‘spin around, touch the floor, jump!’ And quizzed him on some extra body vocabulary,
‘What are these?’
‘What’s this?’ I pointed to a picture of a fingernail.
He paused, ‘a claw?’ In his defense it was a long fingernail. He does has a few vocabulary gaps. I think it is because he only speaks English with his mother. But still, the kid is a boss. Already trilingual with the languages that I wanted to learn! This girl is jealous.
Stay tuned for my next edition of French Kids Say the Darnedest Things!