Good morning Teachers!
Today we will continue to learn about creating a blended learning lesson, yet today we will do so through a lesson on idioms.
Overview | What do idioms and euphemisms tell us about our language and culture? What challenges do non-native English learners face as they try to master the English language? In this lesson, students consider the difficulties that English presents for the language learner. They then interview non-native English-language learners to learn about these struggles and to develop a deeper notion of their own linguistic challenges and how culture infuses language.
Materials | Computers with Internet connection, projector, slips of paper with idioms (see below), audio/video taping equipment (optional).
- Collect an idiom on a piece of paper from your teacher (Chris). Imagine you are teaching this idiom to your class and need to explain the meaning and common usage of it in an understandable way. (you might also include a drawing.)
Here is a list of many common idioms, some of which we will review today:
- a fish out of water
- a fresh pair of eyes
- a piece of cake
- a chip on your shoulder
- all your eggs in one basket
- the ball’s in your court
- beat around the bush
- between a rock and a hard place
- air your dirty laundry
- cut me some slack
- dead as a doornail
- fat chance
- fight tooth and nail
- hard of hearing
- have your cake and eat it, too
- heads will roll
- jump the gun
- just in time
- make a killing
- make a living
- mean business
- not all there
- pay attention
- pay your dues
- shoot the breeze
- shoot from the hip
- take a stand
- take it easy
- under pressure
- up for sale
- virtual reality
- wait for the other shoe to drop
- watch your language
- X marks the spot
- you’re on
- your turn
2. When you are finished writing your short explanation of your idiom, go around the room and share your expression and meaning with other classmates.
3. Quick discussion: Imagine that you were learning English for the first time. Would these expressions be challenging? Why? What do these expressions tell us about culture? Why might it be hard to comprehend these expressions for students from another culture?
4. After you have discussed the challenges, take a look at this slide show: “A Sampling of Chinglish.”
Then answer these questions:
-Why do you think these specific mistakes in translation were made?
-Have you ever made a mistake while studying or speaking a foreign language?
Reading | In the article “Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish,” the author Andrew Jacobs writes about the effort that Shanghai has made to eradicate public signage that misuses the English language:
For English speakers with subpar Chinese skills, daily life in China offers a confounding array of choices. At banks, there are machines for “cash withdrawing” and “cash recycling.” The menus of local restaurants might present such delectables as “fried enema,” “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as “The Jew’s Ear Juice.”
Those who have had a bit too much monolithic tree mushroom stem squid could find themselves requiring roomier attire: extra-large sizes sometimes come in “fatso” or “lard bucket” categories. These and other fashions can be had at the clothing chain known as Scat.
Go ahead and snicker, although by last Saturday’s opening of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, drawing more than 70 million visitors over its six-month run, these and other uniquely Chinese maladaptations of the English language were supposed to have been largely excised.
Read the entire article and answer the questions below.
Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:
- What has the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language tried to accomplish for the last two years, and why?
- Why does Oliver Lutz Radtke, a “Chinglish” expert, defend mangled Chinese-English translations?
- What is the believed causes of “Chinglish” malapropisms?
- According to Jeffrey Yao, a translator and teacher, what’s the difference between desirable, lyrical mistranslations and maddening ones?
- In what other languages have you observed similar translation errors?
Activity | In this activity, you will work with idioms and expressions that have given you trouble, and you can interview native speakers or more advanced English-language learners.
You will be asking questions to learn about the process of learning English and to reflect on the relationship between language and culture.
Instructions: Revisit the idiom you translated during the warm-up. What does that idiom say about our culture? You might also consult a resource that provides the origins of such sayings, like Expressions & Sayings, Idioms & Axioms Currently Used in America or Phrases.org. (You might even look into the origin of “malapropism.”)
Once you have processed the connection, imagine if they came from a place where sports like tennis were either unpopular or not played at all. How would this expression have any meaning? Choose a few more to discuss, or work with a partner to pull out cultural meanings yourselves.
Next, generate interview questions that you could ask someone who has learned or is in the process of learning English as a second or foreign language. The questions should be about difficulties and challenges, as well as how language acquisition has been a window into a new culture.
- Do you have any expressions in your language that a non-native speaker would have difficulty understanding due to a cultural difference?
When you are finished with your interview questions, you should conduct your interviews and tape or film them, if possible. Students should listen to or watch and transcribe the completed conversation, or edit it into a multimedia presentation.
Interviews should be shared in class, and students should compare the struggles and processes of the various people interviewed. To celebrate the connection made between the E.L.L. program or community language school, turn the sharing into a celebration where the groups can come together.
Going Further | Watch this slide show “For Students Learning English, a World Apart.”
After the slide show, have a discussion about its relevance to your school. Is the E.L.L. program “a world apart”? Is there interaction between students in the E.L.L. program and in the rest of the school? If your school does not have an E.L.L. program, then tap into your community resources and find an organization where non-native English speakers are learning English and would be willing to do a community project with your classroom. See also our related lesson plan, Assimilate or Segregate?
Students might also create a “welcome kit” for the school E.L.L. program, including a list of anticipated linguistic difficulties as well as a list of common, school-specific phrases and words with simple explanations.
For more reading about the relationship between language and culture, assign students one of the following Times articles to read and reflect on:
After you have read the article, respond to the following questions: Why would a nation or a people want to preserve its language(s)? How is language connected to culture? How does language connect or divide people?