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Chinese kid laughingAs ESL teachers, more often than not, there are numerous cultural and linguistic gaps between us and our students. During our classroom interactions, misinterpretation and confusion is sometimes simply unavoidable. We can either choose to be disappointed or amused when these situations happen. Well, we’ve chosen the latter so we asked other ESL teachers to share some of their funny or interesting experiences inside the classroom.

1. Edgar Montoya (ESL & Spanish Teacher)

I asked a young Japanese man in one of my classes, a college graduate, what he had majored in. He was a very low-level English student. He simply said to me, “Finish.” I replied, “I know you finished. What was your MAJOR?” He replied once again, “Finish.” I tried a third time. “Yes, I know you graduated from college. I understand that you are done with college. What did you STUDY when you WERE in college?!” Now he shouts at me, “FINISH!” Then it hits me. “Ohhhhhh, you mean your major was FINNISH, the language of Finland!?” He nodded yes. We both got a good chuckle out of that one. I had and still have never heard of anyone else to this day who majored in Finnish!

2. Paul Pyrce (Former EFL Teacher)

“I had a large intermediate class and someone at the far end of the room asked me if I could speak higher. I said ‘Yes, OK’ in a very high-pitched voice. It took another 10 minutes before they, or I could do anything other than laugh!!”

3. Bee Bee Sng (Associate Lecturer)

One of my Chinese students wrote in her essay that she likes eating snakes. Since I know snake is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, I asked her if that was really what she meant. She nodded her head and said “yes”. I drew a snake on a paper and asked her “snake?” She looked puzzled and shook her head. Finally, I wrote in the paper and asked her “Snack?” She nodded her head in agreement. I supposed she also pronounced both words “snack” and “snake” in the same way.

4. B.R. (ESL Teacher)

Student: “What is a potato clock?”
Me: “Umm, I really don’t know … I’ve never heard of potato clocks.”
Student: “Well, my roommate needs one.”
Me: “Really? What for?”
Student: I don’t know, but last night he said, “I’d better get to bed. I’ve got to get up at eight o’clock tomorrow.” (…a potato clock …)a potato clock

5. J. B. (Director of Studies)

During my class with adult students, we were discussing about hobbies and interests using a third person point of view. One student wanted to talk about his son’s interest in ball sports. He said, “My son likes playing with his balls.” It wasn’t easy holding my laughter.

6. Jude (ESL Teacher)

I had a class of 3-year old kids who were in school for the first time. It was just the second day of class. One student (a girl), was playing with her shoes, so in order to get her attention, I knocked on the floor. She responded… “Do you want to build a snowman?”

7. Lisa Attias (Cross-cultural communications and freelance writer.)

I taught English in the Middle East to a class of 10-year olds. One day, I was telling them a story about a little boy called Peter, who lived on a farm, helped his parents on the farm when he came back from school etc. The whole class fell about laughing. It took me some time to realize that they thought it hysterically funny that I was telling a story about a young kid called ‘Pitta’ (bread).

8. Cici Tang (IELTS Teacher)

Once, my student asked me to help correct his IELTS writing. He wrote “This raises pubic attention.” I knew he meant PUBLIC attention. A lot of students also wrongly said hand job when they wanted to say something is handmade.

9. Alice C. (ESL Teacher)

Me: What do you like to do?
Student: I like to ride a whore.
Me: Do you mean horse?
Student: Yes! Whore!


One afternoon, after explaining all about taste buds, and sweet, sour, salty, bitter, I asked if anyone could offer some things our taste buds sense. The reply was, “Bud Light, Bud Draft, Bud Dry and Bud Extra.”

We all have experienced something funny while teaching. Surely, there are a lot of teachers out there who have a good sense of humor. Feel free to share your stories and share the laughter with others.

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