Got Misundertandings?

Level 7


Click on the students' names to read their stories

Hui Ling,   Yunita  and   Lisa
Mariela,   Trista  and   Jenny
Kwai  and  Wendy
Nancy and Annie
Vu,   Phillip  and   Mandy


** Vu

A Cucumber to Clean

      Before I came to the USA, I thought that I did not need to learn English in my country because someone told me that if I move to live in any country, it would be very easy to learn the language of that place.
       I have been studying English for almost one year in the USA. Yesterday, when I was cleaning up my dirty garage, my sister came.
        "Mai, can you help me?" I asked her.
        "Yes, what do you need?" she answered.
        "There are lots of dust here. Let's bring the CUCUMBER in the kitchen to me. Hurry up!" I added.
        "How many? she asked again.
         "My God, only one. Are you sure you are going to help me?" I asked and thought," Crazy! What a silly question. "
         Ten minutes after, she came and gave me two CUCUMBERS and she told me,"I don't think  one is enough so I brought two."
        "Ahhhhhhhhhhh......!" I shouted," I am cleaning up. I don't have any time to eat. Are you crazy?" Do you think that I can wipe this thick dust with two CUCUMBERS?" I was angry.
       She laughed and yelled, " VACUUM! not CUCUMBER all right?"...
       This funny situation made me think anf feel bad about my English. One year passed but my English did not improve. I wished I had learned more before I came here because you can not learn a second language in a short time.

**Hui Ling

Toast? Tool!

    Before I came to the USA, I studied English in a language school three times a week at night for a year. When I came to San Francisco, I stayed at home taking care of my two kids until my second child went to pre-kindergarten. I have been learning English at City College for about two years.

     One day, we ran out of toast. I was going to the bakery when the phone rang. My husband was calling me. I heard him saying, "I will go to buy toasts after work."

    Later, he got home. I asked him, "Let me put away the toasts."

    He answered, "What? Toasts? The tools were on sale today, so I got some."

    I knew I made a mistake, so I wanted to learn more English to better understand people. I hope someday I won't make any more mistakes.


A Coke or a Cone? 

     When I came to New York in summer for the first time, it was very hot. Accordingly, I needed to drink a cold beverage, but I couldn’t speak and understand in English very well. Therefore, I felt embarrassed by myself when I ordered a Coke at McDonald’s.

      When my turn came, my heart was beating quickly and my face turned red. I just ordered, “May I have a large coke?” The clerk with her strange face repeated, “A large cone?” but I thought that she had said "Coke," so I responded, “Yes.” I was surprised when I picked up my order, but I didn’t say anything. I only got it and left.

      After that, I was still thirsty and I had to find a place where water or cold beverages were sold. Finally, I bought two bottles of water, but at that time, I didn’t say any word, and I felt more comfortable.

     Now I know that there are many similar words, and it’s also important how to pronounce them correctly. By the time when I’m going to order a beverage from now on, I just say that I’d like a soda.



Restroom Means a Room to Rest

     Before I came to the USA, I studied English for 4 years. Mainly, I focused on grammar, but not on vocabulary. I realized that vocabulary was very important when I went to the Coit Tower with my friends.

      We were walking around when we needed to use the restroom.

One of my friends asked, “Do you know where the restroom is?”

      Someone saw a sign and said, “The restroom is over there.”

The sign read, “Restroom.” I said, “It isn’t a restroom. I thought ‘restroom’ is a room for rest.”

      My friend explained that “restroom” meant “bathroom,” and I finally understood.

       After that experience, I learned that vocabulary was important too. If I don’t know vocabulary, then I won’t know how to find many things. To be good at English, I need to know both grammar and vocabulary.



How Are You Doing? or What Are You Doing?

     Before I came to the USA, I had never spoken English. When I was in the USA that was the first time I went shopping at GAP.

     While I was walking into the store, I looked for some underwear. When I found them, I tried to touch them to see if the material was good or not. Suddenly, a salesperson walked behind me and said, "How are you doing?" I didn't say anything because I confused the question "How are you doing?" with "What are you doing?" I was unhappy because I thought, "She said 'What are you doing?' because I touched those clothing." So I quickily walked out of the store with anger.

     After I got home, I aksed my husband, "What is the difference between 'What are you doing?' to 'How are you doing?'" Then he explained all the wh-questions to me. At the end, I was happy and embarassed at the same time because the salesperson was just greeting the customers.

     At that moment, I realized how important English was. So I decided to take ESL classes.



A Small Shock

              I left my country before I was ready.  I didn’t have an option. I knew that I would be alone. I studied English for a period of time in a private school, but I had never practiced my English with anyone.

              I have been living in San Francisco since 2006, and at that time I started to work and needed to use my debit card, but I didn’t know how.

              One day, I was at the supermarket, and I bought vegetables, fruits and milk. But I waited a long time, until no one was in line.

              I decided to pay, and finally, I was ready to use my debit card, but how to do it?

              The cashier asked, “Cash back?”

              In a second I thought, “I need a bag? Who can help me, please?”

              My hands were sweating and I was very scared.

              Suddenly, I said, “Sorry?”

              “Cash back?” he spoke slowly and I had to take a guess.

              He was waiting for me and smiled.

              “No”, I told him, but I didn’t know why.          

              I thought that many people were looking at me, but I was alone.

After I left, I was confused and embarrassed, but I had learned to take the risk because it was the best way to improve my listening English skills.

              I understood that I needed to work in a place where people speak English, and that I should practice speaking English.



[‘ædres] and [e'dres]

    As we all know, there are some differences between British English and American English. Even though I always pay attention to that during my studies, I had a frustrating experience due to my being nervous.
    I went to City College of San Francisco for registration  as soon as I arrived in the USA.The clerk who worked in the registration wanted to make sure my information was correct, so she asked,  "What is your address [‘ædres]?" I said,
"[‘ædres]?" I was nervous. "What does [‘ædres] mean?" I asked myself.
"What is your [e'dres] ?"Another clerk asked me.Oh, I got it . "My address
is........," I responded.
    Actually,  I knew that the pronunciation of the word "address" in British English is [e'dres] while the American English is [‘ædres] when I learnt this word many years ago. However, at that moment, I was too nervous to consider everything I have learned before.
   I have realized that when I face misunderstandings, I have to calm myself down, so that I can do my best.



                                                      Hurry Up!
     As some of the beginning students of English, sometimes I only focus on the meaning , but neglect if I am polite or not .
     One day, in a narrow corridor, my coworker Theresia was carrying a case of water and walking slowly .
    I wanted to walk faster, because from that time to my work hour , I just had two minutes!
     So I told her," Hurry up!"
     She didn't have any reaction.
"Hurry up, Theresia!" I repeated.

     "Yes, boss !" she suddenly shouted at me.

      I was surprised at her reaction!
      Later, I understood why she got mad. If then I had said ,"Could you walk faster? I am in a hurry!" she might have not been so angry .
      What do you think ?


I Don't Know How to Explain

         Before I came to the USA, I was getting ready to go to a university. One day, I talked with my classmate on the phone. I told her that I didn't want to come to the USA. I said ,"You know, everything will change soon."  She said , "It's OK. I believe in you. You can do your best."
         One day, I went to Old Navy's with my grandma. We were walking there when one guy asked me, "Excuse me, do you know where the post office is?" 

          "I live in Chinatown. It's near Chinatown," I thought, but I didn't know how to explain. I answered, "I 'm sorry. I don't know." He said, "That's fine. Thanks, anyway.''
           When I got home, I was so upset. What an easy question! How come I didn't know how to explain? I decided to study hard from that moment on.


I Wanna Pee!

         After two months I came to the USA with my daughter, I took an ESL non- credit classes, and my daughter went to kindergarten. My daughter learnt English much faster and spoke more fluently than me. One day we went to Golden Gate Park with my nephew. He was three years old.

         After playing for one hour, he told me, "I wanna pee!" I didn't understand what he told me. He repeated four times and I was still confused. I thought he wanted me to play with him. But he continued telling me, "I wanna pee now. I can't hold out!"

         I panicked and then my daughter came around me. She told me that he wanted to go to the restroom in Chinese language. So I finally understood and took him to the restroom.

         When I drove my car back home, I realized something. I thought that kids were good English speakers to me. I learnt a new word from my nephew and also from my daughter. And my daughter was a good English speaker for me.


Driving and Dreaming

     When I came to the USA, I hadn't studied English for thirty years. Every time I went shopping, my daughter would follow me. Then, I went to an ESL school. My daughter encouraged me to speak out, but I was afraid of talking to people.

        One day, my daughter drove me to a super market. On the way, I heard her cell phone ringing. Her friend called her. I needed to respond. Then, I said, "She is driving. She will call back later." It was perfect, but I pronounced, "She is dreaming. She will call back later." So her friend asked, "What do you mean?" That was so embarrassed to me even though it was just through the phone.  

        I know studying English is very important but contacting with people is more useful than studying. I might have a few opportunities to speak with people. My daughter suggested me to read a book out loud everyday. I thought it was a good method. I wish I would do it.  


Thank you for these inspiring stories! 

Ana Wu 

May, 2008


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Last updated: 01/15/2011