Funny English Mistakes from my summer camps
Just an example of the breadth and depth of English that Jordanian village girls possess:
At a summer English camp in Aqaba, run by AmidEast and Peace Corps volunteers:
During the drama workshop, one of the activities was to role-play a career, such as builder, baker, or police officer, by miming the actions. The audience guessed the occupation of the actress.
As an example, the counselors demonstrated several careers, starting off with easy ones such as pilot and teacher. Our last example was veterinarian, and the actress role-played taking care of a sick animal. The 18 students wore blank faces, but eventually, some started shouting, "Dok-tor Hie-wan (Animal Doctor)!" Us Peace Corps counselors paused our skit, gave the campers a stern look of disapproval, and yelled, "English! Speak English!"
The girls went quiet, and discussed amongst themselves how to translate dok-tor hie-wan to English. "Doctor Animal! Doctor Animal!" Their beaming and proud faces glowed up at us.
Counselors: "There's another name for an animal doctor in English. Does anyone know what it is?"
Blank faces waited for us to give them the answer, and it turned into a staring match between four Peace Corps counselors on stage and 18 Jordanian students huddled in plastic chairs.
Counselor: "What is she doing? (pointed to actress on stage, still role-playing) What is her job in English?"
"Yes, but another word."
The girls settled back into their chairs, challenging our patience level.
The counselors exchanged tired glances, and gave each other nods.
"It starts with a V..."
One student leapt out of her chair, thrust her arm up, and shouted, "VIRUS!"
"No..." We turned to each other, laughing at one another's confused glances, and quickly recovered. "Not a virus...she's a...V...V?"
Finally, one of the academically stronger girls yelled, "Vetranane!"
Good enough for me. Us Peace Corps counselors congratulated her on correctly identifying the job, corrected her pronunciation, and rewarded her by bringing her up on stage to role-play the next career.
At the same Aqaba camp, in the Environmental English workshop:
Counselor: "I want you to pretend you are here (points to drawing of an island with a coconut tree and an emaciated stick figure holding his hands out). Let's pretend you are going to an island that doesn't have electricity or homes. This island is very basic. You will have to survive on this island. In your teams (each group was separated into teams of 5), I want you to decide what 5 things you will bring with you to this island. 5 things. How many? FIVE! And discuss why you chose each item. After 10 minutes, we'll discuss it as a group. Five things. Ten minutes."
The first week, during which all the campers were girls, the answers were practical and straightforward. But during the boys' week, the answers were quite hilarious:
Student: "I would bring a robot."
"Because I would bring a robot because it's use."
"How is it useful?"
"It do things that man don't do."
Student 2: "I would bring a TV and satellite."
"So I can watch it."
"But there is no electricity!"
"Oh...hmmm...then I use it as boat."
"Then I sit on my TV and I use it as boat and go to another safer island."
During the same Aqaba camp, one of the activities that we did was a mock interview:
Five professionals, all Jordanian, were brought in, and the campers were separated into groups of 5. Each group's task was to interview one guest and then present their guest to the entire camp. The counselors helped them to prepare questions such as, "Where did you go to university? Why did you choose your job? How do you help the environment?"
However, as I quickly learned two years ago when I stepped off that plane and onto Jordanian soil, things never turn out as expected. Inevitably, there are misunderstandings, delays, tea that needs to be sipped, and always at least one girl who doesn't understand what's going on.
A clip of the interview conducted by the team that I was assigned to - keep in mind that we had prepared questions beforehand and all the girls had a list of 4 unique questions in hand to ask the interviewee...
Student: "What's your job?"
Interviewee: "I work with USAID as a translator."
Student 2: "Where did you study?"
Interviewee: "At Jordan University."
Student 3: "Do you like long hair or short hair?"
Interviewee pauses, a confused look creeping across her face. When she realizes that the innocent faces staring back at her aren't laughing, she honestly answers the question. "Well, I have long hair, so I like long hair, but short hair is pretty, too."
The questions continue, and the students quiz her about education, her family, and the importance of environmental awareness. However, Student 3 soon asks a second question, which is not even on the radar of the types of questions we've encouraged the girls to ask.
Student 3: "Do you know how to swim?"
Interviewee pauses, the same look of 'where did that come from?' glazing over her face. She politely answers, "Yes, I learned to swim when I was very young. Now, I love to go to the beach in the summer."
The questions resume, and I sigh with relief as the other 4 girls ask practical interview questions, such as "How did you learn English to be so well? What is your hopes for the future for the environment? Do you recycle? How do you recycle? Do you know recycle means reuse? Have you traveled outside of The Jordan?" I'm proud of them for asking some questions that clearly have come from their own critical thinking, such as "What do you think of how clean we are keeping our camp? What is some advice you would give to young girls like us so that we can be like you?"
Out of the corner of my eye, though, I can see Student 3 itching to ask another question. So can the interviewee. Hesitatingly, she asks student 3 if she has a question.
"Yes, I do. What is your favorite color?"
This time, the interviewee isn't even surprised by the randomness of the question, and honestly, neither am I. She smoothly answers, "Orange." And moves on to the next question.
From Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World):
After finishing an outdoors activity, 26 GLOW campers and 9 counselors were walking back to the university dorms. One student in particular had exceptional vocal cords and loved to lead cheers or songs whenever possible. This particular night, she chose one reminiscent of a bad and basic high school cheer.
"Jordan, Jordan, Jordan!"
Us counselors listened and led the way as the 26 girls repeated this cheer 4 times. We laughed at their enthusiasm, but each time the leader shouted 'Gimme G!', I cringed. I turned towards her, and gently told her that there was a slight error in her cheer. She grinned goofily back at me. I asked her what the difference is between g and j. The same grin swept across her face.
"OK, tell me if you can hear the difference. Game. Job. Game. Job. What's the difference in the first sound of these 2 words?"
"They sound different."
"Good! Which one sounds like Jordan?"
Her grin widens.
"What letter does job start with?"
"Yes, and so does Jordan! Now, can you tell me how you can correct your cheer?"
"Great job, Majd!"
The next night, she was again leading the same cheer (Jordanian girls rarely tire of anything that is either loud and enthusiastic or colorful and gawdy):
I smiled at her and nodded approvingly.