Friday, March 09, 2007

Phrases we used to learn in language class

My previous post includes a link to Eddie Izzard's hilarious routine about French phrases he had to memorize in French class that ended up being extremely difficult to work into everyday conversation:

"The mouse is under the table."

"The cat is on the chair."

"The monkey is on the branch."

I still remember the junior high dialogues that the kids in French classes had to memorize .... and I didn't even take French! It's funny, but I just wrote about this in the paper that my friend Liz and I are preparing for the NYU "Beyond Borders" conference on multiculturalism and international education (yes, our abstract was accepted!). And then I opened up my daily digest email from the FL TEACH Foreign Language Teaching Listserve, and found many, many language teachers reminiscing about exactly this same thing: the silly phrases they had to memorize, which got stuck in their heads. Some of them were useful:

"Ojalá que se mejore pronto." (I hope he gets better soon.)

Some were less so ....

... the German equivalent of "I have a plaid bathing suit with a zipper."

... the Hebrew version of "Mother, the cheese is bad."

But I have to say that my favorite phrases from any language book are the ones from the book "Hindi Made Easy", that was given to my father when our family spent a year and a half in India in 1961-62. (He was sent by Columbia Teachers College and USAID to work on a nonformal education project there.) I believe this book was the one given to British soldiers stationed in India.

The two phrases that we will all always remember are:

"Let us set fire to the village."


"That man is a horse thief."

(I wish I were kidding about this, but I'm not!)

By the way, if you want to see pictures of a 3-year-old me in India .... click here. The white outfits and colored paints and powders are from the holiday Holi, when everyone dresses up in white and throws paint, colored water, and colored powder on everyone else. As a kid, this was just about the most fun I could ever imagine having! Seeing the Taj Mahal was amazing, too. I was so young at the time (3 and 4), but I definitely remember my friends, the people who worked in our house, my British nursery school, Claridge's swimming pool (where my brother fell in before he knew how to swim, and one of his teachers jumped in, in full sari, to get him out), and the elephant I refused to ride on (much to my father's dismay, since he wanted to get a picture, but I had just seen the elephant eat an entire banana WITHOUT PEELING IT, and that just freaked me out .... ). And I remember - and will never forget - the incredible poverty that was around us every day.

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