English is Weird Reprise

I can’t believe that I left out one of the weirdest things about English in my English is Weird post! So here is a little addition.

Phrasal verbs!!

Did you know that in English we have these things called phrasal verbs? Phrasal verbs are made when you take a normal verb, add a small word behind it, and BAM!, it takes on a whole different meaning. These are super hard for English learners; even advanced students hit a wall with them. Also they can’t avoid phrasal verbs because they are so common. Sometimes the thesaurus equivalent sounds too formal when used in everyday speech.

Here are some examples with get:

Get along (with) To be on good terms; work well:  It’s important to get along with your mother in law.
Get at To imply: What are you getting at? Do you think it’s my fault?
Get out of To avoid doing something: Brian’s trying to get out of working tomorrow.
Get over To recover from (illness, disappointment): Has she gotten over her cold yet?
Get rid of To eliminate: Please get rid of your attitude. It’s bringing everyone else down!


And then there are many phrasal verbs with more than one meaning…




Those poor English learners!!


English is Weird

This post is all about things I didn’t realize about my mother tongue until I started teaching it as a second language.

English is actually really weird. Sometimes I feel like I need to apologize to my students for how strange English is, almost like she is a crazy old great aunt.
‘I am sorry, I don’t know why she does that. You’ll just have to get used to it, because she isn’t changing!’

1. -ED Magic

When you add ed to make a verb past tense it can make three different sounds:
Looked and laughed sound like they end with a t.
Peeled and honored sound like they end with a d, but the e isn’t pronounced.
Added and exited actually sound like they end in ed.
Many of my students want to say ‘I look-ed at her!’

2. Prepositions

Prepositions are basically assigned randomly. They may make sense to you when you read them but that is because you are brainwashed:)

On a bus
In a car
At school
On the playground
On the weekend (at the weekend if you are British-weirdos!)
In an hour
On Friday
In the afternoon
At night
Travel to
Arrive at the restaurant
Arrive in France


3. To do or to make, that is the question! 

Make vs do is not not easy!

In French they only have one word which encompasses make and do: faire. So even asking them to split up faire into two different concepts in their minds is difficult. My students always mess this up.

Normally make is for producing, constructing, creating or building something new.

Do is for tasks and jobs.

But there are so many expressions that don’t follow these simple rules, especially with make

you do the dishes but you make the bed
make money
make friends
do exercises
make up your mind
make a face
make a bet
make an escape
make a decision

If you want to check it out on this grammar website it is actually uber confusing: http://www.vocabulary.cl/Intermediate/Do_Make.htm



4. Conditionals

When making one type of conditional sentence, you use simple past tense for the if clause.

If I won a million dollars, I would buy a house.
If I was president, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
If all the zoo animals escaped, there would be chaos.

This is hard for English learners to wrap their heads around because why would you use the past tense to talk about something that has not happened and probably never will?

4. Spelling

Some words have random silent letters that I never noticed before. I only realize they are silent when my students mess up the words as they are reading aloud.


Ocean… Why is it spelled like that and pronounced like oshun?

The gh combo can make the f sound, as in tough, or it can be silent as in through.

There are the double oo’s and the craziness that is ou.

Blood and flood
Food and mood

None of these ou’s makes the same sounds

thought, through, thorough, tough
My students generally stumble when reading those words. Sometimes it isn’t even close at all!


5. Infinitives and gerunds

Infinitives and gerunds after other verbs- really confusing.

Just a review, (hang with me here) infinitives are to +verb as in to go, to play, to work, to live.

Gerunds are verb +ing as in going, playing, working, living.

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive but it changes the meaning of the sentence.

Ann remembered bringing her wallet to the beach
Ann remembered to bring her wallet to the beach.

He stopped smoking.
He stopped to smoke. (As in he stopped what he was doing and took a smoke break)

Not the same thing!!

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive and it doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence.

I like to play basketball.
I like playing basketball.

-There are many verbs that can only be followed by a gerund or infinitive and they are mostly assigned randomly.


Avoid: He avoided going to school. (He avoided to go to school)
Imagine: Helen imagines working there one day. (Helen imagines to work there one day)


Agree: James agreed to lower the price (James agreed lowering the price)
Decide: We decided to stay home during the holidays. (We decided staying home during the holidays)

Imagine learning English as a second language and coming across this fun brain twister. The right answer for the gerund vs infinitive rule seems obvious to us but it is actually super hard!

6. Live and read
Then there are read and live which can be pronounced two different ways depending on the context.
I live in boulogne-Billancourt
This broadcast is being brought to you live from New York!
Have you read this book?
Read this book!

7. The THE enigma

There are some many different rules!! This little tidbit is just talking about proper names.

You wouldn’t say, ‘At the Panama beach on Pacific coast in the California, we could dip our toes in Pacific ocean while looking at sun.’ *Cringe!*

Rather you would say, ‘At Panama beach on the Pacific Coast in California, we could dip our toes into the Pacific ocean while looking at the sun.’

Use THE with the names of:

collections of lakes (such as the Great Lakes)
mountain chains
references on the globe (such as the Equator, the North Pole)
geographic regions (such as the Northwest, the Middle East)
bridges (except Tower Bridge)
the Sun, the Moon
extraordinary works of art or architecture (such as the Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal)

But do not use THE with:

individual lakes
individual islands
individual mountains (except the Matterhorn)
canyons (except the Grand Canyon)
people’s first names
streets (except the High Street)
public squares
HOWEVER: There are additional exceptions to some of the above categories. For example, THE is often used in the pattern “the … of …”.


The University of Colorado
The Temple of Ranakpur
The Cathedral of Siena

This is just a small exert taken from a large article on when and when not to use the/a/an (http://www.englishpage.com/articles/advanced-articles.htm)

8. Adjective order

And finally, there is this!


The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth


And we can read this sign the wrong way because of this rule:)

At the end of the day, it is amazing to think about how we native speakers internalize all of these rules and use them effortlessly and without thinking.

Let us observe a moment of silence for the poor souls who are trying to learn our language…

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

You asked for it and here it is! Another edition of funny quotes from my students!!

I renewed my contract with TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) again for this year with the same district and same three schools as last year. I have most of the same teachers and a few new ones as well. For the most part my classes are shorter so I have more. For the young kids it is mostly a half an hour and for the older ones it is 45 min instead of one hour; I prefer this because when lessons are too long it is hard to keep them motivated and attentive! The kids are adorable, as usual. This year half of my students are the same as last year, which is great because there is some continuity. 

My French is much better than it was when I started the program last year but this year I am really trying to speak absolutely no French at all to the kids, except if we talk about culture. It’s an adventure to be sure. 

** Quotations in Italics were spoken in French

When I went back to my schools for the first time, a seven year old with the biggest doe eyes raised his hand, ‘You left before the end of the school year last year. You aren’t going to do that again, are you?’ And I told him, ‘I am sorry but my contract doesn’t last the whole school year, I can’t stay all the way until July.’ Then he asked me, ‘And next year, are you going to leave early too?’ He melted my heart!  The kid thought I was a fixture of his school because last year was his first there. But there isn’t going to be a next year. Even if I wasn’t planning on going grad school next fall, one can only do the program for 2 years max.  

In another class when I visited for the first time a six-year-old girl raised her hand and said, ‘Sometimes I speak English with my sister…even though I don’t speak English.’ ???? A little while later she started singing. The teacher asked, ‘What are you singing?’
A song in English.’
Well then sing a little louder so we can all hear.’
The song was to the tune of the abc song.  I listened super hard to try to make out the words. The teacher laughed and asked me, ‘That doesn’t mean anything does it?…’
Nope, not at all!’

I talked about Halloween in a lot of my classes. We went over some fun vocab like ghost and witch and pumpkin. For the 8-year-olds I found a small text online in French explaining Halloween origins, including the legend of miserly, selfish Jack, who had even gone so far as to trick the devil so he was doomed to wander forever with his lantern between heaven and hell.
A girl in the back raised her hand, ‘What is hell?’

For some vocabulary, the kids have a reference because of English words, brands, and characters that the French have borrowed, like ‘snow’board, Minny’mouse’, and angry birds.  However they frenchify the pronunciation a bit. Because of Spider-Man and Batman, spider and bat are easy words for them to remember, although they say ‘speeder’. It drives me nuts.
‘It’s Spiiiiider, children, spiiider! Now repeat!’
‘No! Spider!’

One kid did this on this review crossword puzzle. He was so proud of himself!!

Some kids are SO EXCITED to answer questions and participate- I love it! Some always keep their hand up even after they have answered a question such as ‘What’s your name’, because they want to answer it again. I ask, ‘Who hasn’t answered yet?’ And they wave their hands even more. I give them a look and say, ‘I know you have already answered!’ They smile guiltily but keep their hands raised. 

One day we were playing a ‘point to’ game where I would call kids up to the board and tell them a vocab word, like cat. When they would point to the right picture I would say ‘cat’ and have the class repeat. One time I forgot to do the repeat part and started to move on to the next word and one kid yelled out the first word all by himself. I had deprived him of that simple joy of repeating a vocab word, you know?

Eating with the teachers is hilarious because they love to gossip about their kids.

One day, two of the CP (1st grade) teachers were complaining, ‘This year, one of the kids doesn’t even know his days of the week…’ They used expressions like ‘They were rocked too close to the wall’ or Il a été fini au pipi’ This one is quite vulgar (hilarious but vulgar) so I won’t spell it out.

Also, two of the teachers confessed to me that they speak in English with their husbands when they don’t want their kids to understand what they are saying. Then one of them asked me wide-eyed as if she had just realized something mind-blowing, ‘What language do you speak when you don’t want the children to understand?’

It is interesting to see how the kids interact with each other during lessons. In the beginning in the seven-year-old class we learned, ‘Hello what’s your name?’ and ‘My name is ____’. For most of the kids it was a review. There was one little boy who had moved from another school and hadn’t learned English before. The first lesson he didn’t want to participate at all. He just crossed his arms and shook his head mutely. The other kids tried to encourage him, including this adorable, painfully shy girl. She told him, ‘I was scared at first too, but even I did it! Look at me now!’ She is the best, I love it when she volunteers to speak.

It is easy to see the different levels of maturity. In the six-year-old classes especially there are a lot of kids who giggle uncontrollably when I play them a song for the first time. It is hilarious because the few mature ones get pissed off at this and hiss at everyone, ‘Stop laughing, IT’S NOT FUNNY!’ The looks on their faces are a mixture of rage and exasperation.  I can tell that they are thinking, ‘I am surrounded by idiots.’ 

When drilling vocab with kids right after I teach them new vocab, kids often say mushy nonsense words. Sometimes they actually say a real English word by accident, just not the right one! I mimed ‘I’m tired’ and a girl raised her hand and answered ‘I’m dead!’ The teacher and I laughed, ‘Close, but not quite kid!’ 

One of my students is bilingual- his mother is Canadian. As I was leaving the lesson one day I heard him sing, ‘She was drinking…’ That stopped me in my tracks.
‘What are you singing???’
He smiled, ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer! I am singing it for my American school.’ And he started singing, ‘She was drinking too much eggnog…’
I joined in because hey, that is a great song:)

In one of my classes as we talked about thanksgiving, the teacher gave them a short text in French to read. At the end it says that every year, the American president chooses one turkey to pardon and it lives out its days on a farm, never to be eaten. The word pardon in French is gracie, which sounds a little like their word for fat, gras. When she asked them, ‘what does that mean?’, they could not get the word ‘fat’ out of their heads. 
The president puts fat into the sauce.’

No, it has nothing to do with fat.’

The president takes the fat out of the sauce?’

The president puts the fat into the turkey?’

No, no, no!’

Kids are like that though! Once you get an idea into their head they can’t let it go!

And last but not least-One day I asked the kids if they were going to dress up for Halloween and if so what they were going to be. Kids started volunteering their costumes,
A ghost!
A princess
Kylo Ren!
A vampire
another ‘Kylo Ren!
Then a kid raised his hand, ‘I am going to be Darth Vader!!
One of the Kylo Rens shot back at him, ‘You can’t be Darth Vader, he is dead!

I had to step in, ‘Ok children, Calm yourselves!’