You may or may not know that the word ‘moo’ means ‘pork’ in Thai. For an English speaking person, this can cause confusion due to the fact that English-speaking children associate the word ‘moo’ with a cow. During a class with 8-year old Thai children with limited English speaking ability, I witnessed a trainee teacher holding up a flashcard with the picture of a cow. In an attempt to prompt them to say the word he was looking for – cow – he chose to add some sound effects, in the form of ‘mooo, mooo’. This teacher was new to Thailand, and had no idea that this meant pork in Thai. The look on the children’s faces was priceless. I could see there minds ticking over and thinking to themselves, ‘That is NOT a pig... stupid teacher!)
On another occasion at the same school, but this time with 10-year olds, the teacher was organising the children, about 25 of them, in order to do an activity. Her instructions were, ‘All the girls this side of the classroom, and all the boys that side please.’ The children shuffled about, chattering away as children do, and eventually ended up in their two groups. However, one child stayed slap bang in the middle of the room. This is the conversation that followed:
Teacher: Why are you not going to your group?
Child: I lady boy, where you want me go?
The teacher at first was completely stumped and had no idea what to say, just standing staring at the child with a dropped jaw, while the other kids laughed. Eventually the teacher composed herself, and told him/her to go to whichever side they wanted, which ended up to be with the girls.
Once a rooky teacher was giving class to 8-year olds when one held up her hand and said, ‘ Teacher, toilet?’ The teacher obliged and let the child go. The next thing, a second child made the same request, followed by another, and then another. Within 2 minutes, the teacher was standing alone in class, going down from 34 students to none. This is an old trick to play on a new teacher, and she fell for it. Anxiously looking at me, she asked me what she should do. ‘Find them’, I replied. As a teacher the first time in a school, recognising your Thai students when you have not become familiar with them can be a little tricky. All the girls have their hair cut in bobs for school, and all the boys sport the same hairstyle – short sides, and brush-cut on top. It’s not as if she could look out for a blonde girl with long hair, and a red-head with curly hair and green eyes, followed by a dark-haired boy with hazel eyes. Without knowing the features of these kids, they blended into the rest of the school of a few hundred students. Needless to say, once she had managed to track some down, the bell rang and class was over, with not a single English word learnt for the day.
Teaching at a local spa, the ladies once asked a male teacher what to say when they had a customer asking for a ‘special massage’ halfway during the treatment. This particular spa did not offer this type of service, and the conservative and shy staff were constantly put on the spot, not knowing how to deal with the situation in English. The teacher presented them with some tactful lines to use in such a situation, but not before first discovering where the problem lay, and why they were being asked for such services. Hearing Thai people speak, you may have realised that they have a problem pronouncing their ‘Rs’ which often come out like an ‘L’. So when the therapists where asking their customers, ‘Would you like some more PRESSURE’ it was coming out as, ‘Would you like some more PLEASURE’, which is what was leading to uncomfortable situations where some male customers thought it was their lucky day.
All the teachers mentioned above are now teaching in Thailand, and enjoying their new challenge. I’m sure that they think back on these first encounters with students, and hopefully now laugh about them, as I do - all in a day’s work as they say.