Number one for English language teachers

Anecdote: I am hard

Type: Anecdote

Willow Vanderbosch gives us an anecdote about an a Chinese student with an unfortunate English name.

This happened when I was teaching English in New Zealand. My students were primarily Chinese and most had chosen an English name, some with more success than others.

One day I had a new student come in. His name was Xiou. When asked if he had an English name he replied,

'I am Hard.'

My eyes flew open as I swallowed hard and bit my tongue and choked,

'Excuse me??!'

He repeated, "Hard. You know, I work very hard. I study hard. Hard. I am Hard.'

I bit my lip, tried to breathe and turned red from trying not to laugh and finally gave in with tears in my eyes. My students were amazed and all trying to guess what the matter was. I said,

'I'm sorry. I can't call you that. Umm...it's a uhh…sexual reference to say 'I am hard' in English. Um...(laughter) umm... would you like another English name?'

He looked sulky and hurt.

'Like what?'

All English names flew out of my head in the face of Hard.

'...ummm...like uh...erm…uh…You know, I can call you by your Chinese name. It's perfectly fine.'

He acquiesced although he looked a bit confused and potentially hurt. Although I felt terrible about it, it took me another several minutes to be able to compose myself completely.

The following day at the break, the students gathered near my desk with their backs turned as everyone actively 'didn’t listen,' as he asked me about it. They were mystified and fascinated and definitely wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery. I'm usually willing to talk about anything including sex and bad language if they have questions. To see me effectively lose it for about five minutes and then periodically throughout the lesson was a very strange experience warranting further investigation.

'Excuse me, Miss Willow, what’s wrong with my English name?' he queried.

'Well, first, did anyone help you choose that name?' I asked. 'No? That’s good.' Then I explained that saying, 'I am hard ' in English has a sexual meaning and I gestured with my hands (vaguely) while adding words like erection and sexually excited, with my hand movements getting more animated and my face getting more exacerbated as everyone only looked more confused by the minute.

Suddenly, the oldest male student got it, laughed and explained to Xiou in Chinese. Xiou turned red. You could almost see him thinking back to how many people he had said, 'Hello, I am Hard' to. After thinking for a while he thanked me for letting him know. Apparently I was the first to mention it. He swore off English names after that.

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