“But Teacher, no intiendo”. This is one of the most common expressions I hear in my classroom. I completely understand their frustration as I am struggling to learn Spanish. “Oso” is a bear. So how can the expression “Que oso” possibly mean I have done something rather ridiculous?
“Pan comida?” Not really. Learning any new language, especially for an adult, is not easy. But I would like to reflect on some of the more memorable idioms and words that have puzzled my students here in Mexico.
“Sick and tired” –Now this is an expression that I accidentally used one day in class when I had taught a grammar point giving numerous explanations and examples, and was totally exasperated as the students just didn’t seem to grasp it. I was immediately bombarded with advice ranging from I should be at home if I’m sick to I should get more sleep so I wouldn’t be tired.
“broke”–What did you break so that you have no money? One student even stated that it would be hard to break money because pesos are very hard.
“white lie”–If you don’t like your friend’s new sweater, why don’t you just tell them? You shouldn’t lie about anything.
“pretty picture”–Pretty is supposed to mean beautiful, not ugly.
“hit and run”–You crashed the car and drove away in the car, not by walking
“give me a ride” –This constantly baffles students as it doesn’t exist in Spanish.
“skeleton in the closet”–Most of my students do not even know what a closet is. And when I explain it, then they tell me that if it’s for storage, why do you say a skeleton is hidden in the closet. Isn’t that where it should be?
There are numerous idioms involving body parts that students find very confusing.
“bite your tongue” — Teacher, won’t it hurt if I bite my tongue? No, it means that you should not say something rude. Keep the words to yourself.
“break a leg” — One of my students is an actor and a dancer, and was absolutely horrified the first time she heard this expression. Once I explained that this is a way to say “buena suerte” I was rewarded with a big grin.
“get cold feet” — Your feet do not necessarily get cold, but you may be nervous about doing something and feel scared.
“costs an arm and a leg”– Teacher, you don’t buy arms and legs. They are already on your body. You don’t buy them for money. You don’t sell them to buy something.
Then we have some common English expressions that Mexicans use that differ from the meaning a native speaker would expect.
“invite me”–If you want to have coffee together, you should invite me, not ask me. In English we tend to use the word ‘invite’ for occasions such as parties.
“reunion”–This is what a Mexican calls a meeting, whether it’s for coffee or business. My students were rather perplexed when I informed them that in English this means an event where people get together when they haven’t seen each other in a long time.
“in this moment”–I hear this often instead of ‘at this time’ or ‘right now’.
“go walking”– This is commonly used in ‘go walking across the border’. In other words, you cross by land and not by air.