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English as a Foreign Language May 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Travel.
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I’d like to think I’ve got Culture – only it’s spelled with a “K.” So that’s how Lesley and I ended up having a posh lunch at The Swan in Southwold on the Suffolk coast.

The bartender explained that we could have a drink OR if we wanted to eat in the dining room, we could have two courses AND a drink for a bargain price.

Lesley literally sprinted to the dining room where I enjoyed gammon (think thick ham) and mash (as in potatoes) and a glass of wine. Everyone was wearing a suit and tie and looked frightfully proper. But when you’re wearing Converse aka Chucks in the UK, you can just pass yourself off as eccentric. We had the most lovely lunch and convinced the waitress (who confided her nickname was “The Rottweiler”) to take our picture.

Though we share a common language, I confess that when I’m in England I feel like I’m an English Language Learner. Just when I’d gotten used to “car park” and “pegging out the wash,” I was inundated with a barrage of new expressions that bear repeating.

Take “bovver boots.” While in Southwold, Lesley and I popped into Daddy Longlegs, where I sprang for a pair of red boots. There were Doc Martens on the shelf above, but I loved the cherry-stained color of the ones I bought. The clerk informed me they were handmade in Spain. (I asked if a man named Manuel had manually caressed them, and she rather fancied that idea.)

Back in Fram, I put them on to wear out to the pub. As we walked down the street, Lesley informed me I looked like a “bovver boy.”  Huh?  “They’re “bovver boots” she replied, and then seeing my blank stare, informed me that “bovver” is the working class equivalent of “bother.”

When we got home from the pub, us giggling Googlers found “bovver boots” and “bovver boy” in the Urban Dictionary. I learned that they (and yes, Doc Martens are the ultimate bovver boots) are worn by undesirables looking for trouble. Moi? I’m flattered, though to achieve the real bovver boy look, I’d need to shave my hair and wear braces (suspenders). There’s also a lot of saying “oi” involved, as it’s Cockney slang for “hey.” (Thanks again to the Urban Dictionary.)

I’ll leave you with a few English expressions that will add spice (and not just curry) to any conversation:

I’d like to p%ss on his chips!
I don’t know whether to take a p%ss or to comb my hair.
I don’t trust her.  She’s got one eye on the pot and the other up the chimney!


Acronyms Are Da Bomb October 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Teaching.
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I’ve recently rejoined the living after a 21-day Teacher Cold, so I’m tempted to say that ASAP stands for Antibiotics Sudafed And Prednisone, but that could be the meds talking. 

Forget Navajo code talk.  When I was growing up my father was a master of acronyms.  My brother and I often qualified as a PITA (Pain In The Ass), a distinction we still proudly claim.  So it’s only natural that I introduce my students, most of them English Language Learners (ELLs to civilians), to the English language’s many acronyms – some which are endemic to a certain third-grade classroom.  

When I first taught my students that FYI means For Your Information and ASAP means As Soon As Possible, you’d have thought they’d deciphered the Rosetta Stone.   My students know the difference between 12 o’clock noon and 12 o’clock midnight because at noon it turns to pizza munching time and Cinderella had to be home at midnight.  My personal favorite is XYZ, which I explain in a hushed tone of voice, means “eXamine Your Zipper.” The boys particularly appreciate this snide aside and quickly zip up.

This year we have a new math program that my students are less than enthusiastic about.  I got tired of their disgruntled mutterings every day when it was time to pull out the math book, so I christened it Da BOMB (The Big Old Math Book).  Now when I say it’s time for math, I simply tell them to take out Da BOMB. When we’re done with the lesson, they “diffuse” Da BOMB and put it back in their desk.  Hey, it keeps me entertained, and if the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

If you’ve got a problem with that, you need to MYOB (Mind Your Own Business).  When a student from two years ago came up to me the other day and discreetly whispered “XYZ,” I knew my work was done.  My kids might not be able to tell you what NCLB means, but even if their scores aren’t up, their zippers are.  Since they’re only in third grade, I spare them KISS and they can figure out IRS (or in some cases INS), when the time comes.  

If you’d like to decipher cryptic text messages, or catch a glimpse of the English Language which is evolving as I write this, you can go to the Urban Dictionary and find more information than you ever wanted or needed to know.  WTF?  But that’s IMO.

Why I Blog August 24, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Blogging.
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“Enough of your BS!” is my husband’s way of telling me he’s tired of hearing updates on my blog stats.  It’s bad enough that when I turn on my computer, he announces, “That’s Jan booting up.”  When I pop open my breakfast Classic Coke (children, do as I say, not as I do), he announces, “There’s the second sound that tells me Jan is alive.”

When my friend Lesley was visiting from England, she grabbed her camera and snapped pictures of me, so as to capture, “the blogger in her natural habitat!” Every time I was having a creative surge, she or her daughter, Lucy, would circle me like naturalists, and in that oh-so-charming English accent, narrate their observations on the strange habits of the “lesser blogger.”

As you can see, I have to put up with a lot from these malcontents, who envy both my passion and keyboarding skills.  These incursions into my creative space are what I call blogus interruptus.

Before I started blogging, I often worked as a writer for hire. I was good at it and paid well.  But I can’t say I enjoyed it (other than cashing the checks). Writing screenplays is like being an architect who designs buildings that are never made, or building the best sand castle ever – just before high tide.

So, why do I blog?  I blog because words ricochet around inside my head 24/7, and blogging provides an exit wound.  Words are my best friends. They’re the friends who always want to play and never save a seat on the bus so I can’t sit there.  I like to play fast and loose with words, spinning them like gunslingers twirl six-shooters. Sometimes I shoot myself in the foot, but the more I blog, the better my aim has become. Life is funny like that.

I also blog because I’m an artist. Sometimes I work with paint, but increasingly, I like to paint pictures with words, and I like to use LOTS of color!  I’m a Fauvist sitting at a keyboard trying to get the colors just so. (It’s so true – it’s all in the rewrite!)

I blog because I know I’m not just talking to myself. I like having an audience. I like it when people comment or I find they’ve linked my blog to theirs. And when all eyes are me, I don’t want to disappoint. Writers don’t have a right to bore people. I know a thing or two, and like to share my experiences and observations. Humor is my Trojan Horse. It allows me to get inside the gate so I can be heard.

As a third-grade teacher, I have a built-in audience, and although I have way too much fun with my students, they’re not my demographic. When a student told me he wasn’t coming to school on Halloween because it’s the devil’s birthday, I blurted out, “But my birthday is in April!” He walked away with a quizzical look on his face. But you got it, didn’t you?

Finally, when I’m sitting at my keyboard and writing, I feel like all is well with the world. I think about my audience – family, friends, and all of the amazing people I never would have “bumped into” in cyberspace had it not been for my blog. This brings a smile to my face. Then, I begin to write.

The “S” Word August 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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You obviously have a dirty mind.  I’m a teacher so don’t even get me started. Teachers don’t even THINK of using bad language.  We’re role models 24/7 so that might explain why so many teachers burn out before they hit the five-year mark.  I’d like to hear you say, “Darn it!” when you slam your finger in a door.  Say it for five years and with feeling, darn it!

When people swear, it’s because they have a poor vocabulary and can’t think of a more appropriate word to use.  If you buy that line, then have I got a real estate deal for you.

It’s bad enough that some of my students have a chronic case of potty mouth.  “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” I ask, feigning disbelief. Then there are the students who tattle on someone because they said the dreaded “S” word.  

When I was a newbie, I naively asked, “Does the “S” word rhyme with ‘it’?” The kid stood there and I could tell he was going through the entire alphabet in his head – bit, cit, dit, fit…  After what seemed like an eternity, he said, “No, it rhymes with ‘upid,'”  Oh yeah, THAT “S” word.  I thought he meant…. But then I obviously have a dirty mind.

I don’t swear like a sailor, but being in a classroom and being a Role Model presents challenges.  Sometimes THOSE words just slip out. But, I’ve found ways to minimize the damage (for the sake of students and my career).  So if one of THOSE words slips out, here’s how to turn that lemon into lemonade. Drink up.

“Shit….arsky!”  – If the kids look at you oddly, explain that you religiously watch Starsky and Hutch in reruns and sometimes they’re collectively referred to as “Shitarsky.”  All they’ll remember is that you do something “religiously.” Whew!  

A variation on the above is “Holy…moley, guacamole!”  This is my trademarked expression, so use this at your own risk.

“Hell…o operator!”  – I got this one from some incredibly INSERT “S” WORD HERE cheer that cheerleaders did at my high school.

“Jeez…Louise!” – Kids don’t even ask about this one as it naturally rolls off the tongue.  I had a little boy who blurted out “Jesus!” twice last year and I just took to raising my hands and shouting, “Hallelujah!” and moved on.

“Damn…atian, as in 101!” – Any reference to the movie 101 Dalmatians is a slam-dunk.  If you immediately begin humming Cruella de Vil, your students will most likely burst into song.  

“Crap…ola, Crayola!” – Tell kids to immediately get out their crayons as you’re going to do an impromptu art project.  They’ll be so excited about doing art, they’ll come to think of that as the brand of crayons they’re using. 

I can think of no substitute for the “F” word, but you could try F&*k…i-delic and tell students it’s similar to Funkadelic, which is a style of music.  If you smile and start dancing “funky-style” you might get away with this, but why risk it?  Don’t be INSERT “S” WORD HERE!

Also, never underestimate the power of the English language to confuse. When students tell me they “lost” their homework,” I’m in the habit of saying, “Bummer.” I say it like a surfer dude and then have them write their name under “Benched” on the board.  One year the mother of a Spanish-speaking student confessed that her daughter thought I was saying a bad word until a neighbor assured them it had nothing to do with your backside.  Ouch!   I apologized for the misunderstanding.  Now I explain what “bummer” means, but it would help if those Webster people put it in the dictionary.

If you follow these simple tips, you too can kiss your mother with that mouth – guilt-free.

It Did It on Accident! July 21, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Teaching.
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I’m not a card carrying member of the Grammar Police, but I do keep a badge in my top drawer.  Not that I haven’t made my own share of spelling and grammar gaffes along the way.  I once wrote eight thank you notes to my mother’s friends who’d hosted a wedding shower for me.  I thanked them profusely for the vacume cleaner they’d given me.  My mother was tempted to ask for a refund on my college tuition.  Third graders love to hear THAT story.

There are two things my students say that bug me to no end.  One is, “It’s mines!”  I realize that there is his and hers, but there’s no mines.  At least not in my universe.  Notice I didn’t include its because I know some adults who still mess that one up, at least in writing.  I gently remind my students that there are only two kinds of mines: 1. holes in the ground where people go to work if they don’t have an education, or 2. explosive devices that tend to leave small children, like themselves, limbless.  I figure this will make a lasting impression.

This said, within 20 minutes of the above gentle reminder, someone inevitably blurts out, “It’s mines!”  I must admit that last year I finally nipped that bad habit by taking a marble out of the coveted marble jar every time someone uttered mines.  Problem solved.

The other thing that bugs me is when kids say on accident instead of by accident.  I teach a cluster of English Language Learners (ELLs to you civilians) and originally thought this explained the mix-up.  After all, you do something on purpose, so it figures that children would think that the flip-side is on accident.  “I knocked out his front teeth on accident!”  “I peed my pants on accident!”  Again, I gently remind them that they peed themselves by accident, which probably explains how many were also conceived.

Imagine my horror then when I read that this line of logic is so old school, or should I say old skool?  I recently purchased Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty, which is a rolicking fun read.  She found an entire research paper on the by/on accident conundrum, published by Leslie Barratt, a linguistics professor at Indiana State University.  Barratt found that most people 40 and over use by accident.  For people between 10 and 35, it was a toss-up. and for those under 10, on accident is most prevalent.  The horror!  

Barrett goes on to say that most children don’t even realize that by accident is an option unless a caring teacher, like myself, points this out.  She takes it a step further and says eventually there won’t be enough of us around to set the under-10 demographic straight.  Now, I just need to tell my mother I misspelled vacuum on accident.