Language students who fight

Have you ever figured out language students who fight with their native-speaking language teachers? Have you ever taught one or been one?

At one German company I have to teach a secretary – low intermediate in English – who has been playing a constant game of “Gotcha!” with me to try to prove that my English isn’t correct and that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to grammar, vocabulary, etc.

Today I used the word “clothing”, and she thought she had me! She said that word was wrong, and that the correct word is “closes”. I told her that “closes” means “schliesst” in her language. I said the word she meant was “clothes”, but that the TH and S right together are too hard for us to pronounce, so we pronounce the word like “close”. She insisted I was completely wrong, and that her teacher in Germany had told her the correct word is “closes”. Of course, her teacher may have said that, but it’s not right.

An early intermediate student of a teacher I know in the Czech Republic argued with her because he insisted the English word novel meant “novela” in his language and not “roman”. Of course he was wrong, and just looking in a dictionary would have proven it very quickly, but he kept insisting.

I have heard of many such stories, and I can’t figure out what these students are all about. Does anyone have any idea why these people do this?


Jamie said:

I’m slightly confused that you say too hard for us to pronounce. I would say it required some precision but not too hard, surely? - making it sound like close.?

Hi Alan

I can verify the fact that the typical pronunciation for “clothes” in the US is basically exactly the same as “close” (as in ‘to shut’). If forced into correct pronunciation, of course, it’s not too hard for an American to say this word correctly. It’s just that nobody ever really does. :wink:

What Jamie mentioned regarding non-native speakers turning “clothes” into a two-syllable word is well-known to me. I would say the majority of German speakers of English do this. I suspect they may have even been taught to pronounce “clothes” this way — possibly by non-native speaker teachers — who probably also find the word difficult to pronounce. Or maybe when their earlier teacher(s) stressed the ‘th’ followed by the ‘s’, it ended up sounding like two syllables. So, the two-syllable pronunciation gets perpetuated one way or another here in Germany.

You’ve got to admit, though, saying the word “clothes” properly is a bit of a tongue twister.

Hi Jamie

Yes, I encounter this little problem from time to time (students insisting that something is right when it’s clearly wrong). But I think there must be a variety of reasons.

I once had a course with a guy who was a fairly high-level manager and he just refused to believe that “I’m looking forward to seeing you” was correct. He insisted that “seeing” was wrong and “see” was correct. He informed me he had never, ever seen or heard this expression “my way”. That was probably true to at least a certain extent. He works in an international company and therefore has to read a lot of things in English. And a lot of what he reads in English is written by non-native speakers who make exactly the same mistake.

I think the resistance you mention can often simply reflect a person’s personality. Or if the person normally only hears a particular word used (“clothes” rather than “clothing”, for example), they might resist the “new” word simply because they unconsciously feel that learning the less common word is completely unnecessary. It’s “wrong” to them simply because they’ve never encountered it before and maybe because it’s much too similar to the word they already know to possibly be “correct”.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts. Fortunately this type of resistance seems to be more the exception than the rule.


I see. So how do you pronounce writhes?


A Czech man I know was excited when he got a job offer from Nokia, because English is that company’s operating language. Unfortunately, when he got there he found out that the language was not real English, but some simplified form of the language that included no complex sentences, a minimal vocabulary and the mistakes of many nations. Even if a native speaker works in such an environment his English can be affected. I met a woman from England who had worked for the UN in Geneva for many years. She would say things like, “Is there still enough place for me on the bus?”

Some students do all kinds of things to minimize the vocabulary load they will learn. One of my favorite stategies is, “If it is in language X and language Y, it must be in all languages.” So, because the word “friseur” is in French, German and his own language, a student will insist on using it in English, and refuses to believe that he won’t be understood.

Yes, that’s right. Thanks for your thoughts, Amy.

Hi Alan

Thankfully, I don’t often have to actually say the word “writhes”. :wink:

But, to answer your question, I think most people would probably manage to say that word correctly, should the need arise.

Just one more thought: Wouldn’t having/needing to say “writhing” be more probable than “writhes” anyway? “He’s writhing in pain, but at least my pronunciation problem has been alleviated.:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


Talking about the ‘th’ sound. In some American songs, I’ve noticed that the word ‘without’, for example, is pronounced with a theta sound as in ‘thunder’. Perhaps it’s just a regional characteristic.

It’s an unusual word in that form, and we’d probably pronounce both the interdental and the alveolar fricative. It’s not that we can’t pronounce the two together, but in everyday words we often don’t, and I believe many of the British don’t either. Actually, I would bet that instead of writhes, many people would say “is always writhing” or something like that.

People pronounce it both ways, and I don’t think regional distribution is the main factor. I pronounce it voiced in the ordinary flow of speech, and often voiceless when I want to stress the word.

I belong to students how “fight” just to have pleasure of being involved in some mess.
And of course fight doesn’t mean to fight for lost case , but if I am sure myself about something I like quarrel to the danger “total confrontation” point.
I know I am now talking to the teachers society
Then it may be interesting well I think the relation without trust and exchange of thoughts is poor poetry song
and good teacher never will get involved in any “fight”
he may easy dumb the silly attack by buying a student with words.
on other hand ,I have many times really right and also , many times I have seen teachers making silly attempts to rescue their reputation almost by force.
I remember one English Teacher telling me about science degree of UK and how important for everybody worldwide it is to know it.
I tried to explain her ,then in Japan or Germany and so on… education systems may use slightly different names and different educations system give different qualification etc…
at the end she was crying and out of control talking something that nobody heard so stupid ideas.
your sincerely

Jan, it’s one thing to argue with the teacher when you’re right. It’s something completely different for a student to argue with a teacher when the student has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s even stranger when the student continues to argue even after he has been proven wrong. It’s that last type of student I’m talking about, more or less.

I knew,but have you asked yourself why somebody may be doing such strange thing like being involved in confrontation and taking a risk to loose the face?
Probably in his mind he is somehow still strong connected to " his right version " and if it is already out of date,
he is not able to trust you and unable to understand or don’t want to understand.
My older colleague native English speaker was reading in my presence manual about personal radio beacon transmitter, and the way, how it should be kept on board causes some doubts.
His comments “we ask for trouble when it is in stand by mode outside on water” have just provoked me and I tried to humiliate him have said something funny , his reaction was just stubborn and aggressive (covered in words) and step by step more serious full conflict situation.
I have prov-en at list ten times my point of view.
He has somehow convinced to his idea some people,but
official support system has reacted immediately and order has been out send something like Standby Mode on Water add to Checklist.
Strange obvious thing clear simply languages many stuff to read about but no will to solve the situation just no will.
Some of company policies are(quite high in rang) you never make somebody to loose his face when you deal business on behalf of us .
I don’t think they made it because they were so clever it was they experience expensive,experience probably.

Hi Amy,

You are right, your manager obviously had read too many texts that had been written by non-native speakers. That’s how he got used to accepting the expression I’m looking forward to see you and started thinking that this the correct way of saying it. It simply didn’t occur to him that this phrase might be incorrect. When you pointed it out to him, he was not ready to accept that he had used an incorrect phrase. After all, he is a successful and ‘important’ manager who makes decisions for a lot of people. So, if you play the vanity game with him, that is, if you ask him some questions about his responsibilities and how he uses his English language skills in his job, he eventually will be listening to you. Saying this, I just realize that I might come across as trying to tell you something you arleady know. I’m sure you know very well how to handle this type of students and I just wanted to add some of my thoughts.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: Welcoming a new business executive[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Torsten,

Talking about those who refuse to accept that what you say as the answer is right reminds me of a subscriber to one of the forums some time ago (name and origin left unsaid). This gentleman kept on saying: You never say that in English each time I gave a correct explanation. He maintained repeatedly that he was right and I was wrong. I patiently pointed out that English was my native tongue that I had been speaking it for some 70 years apart from the gurgling and babbling I’d indulged in in the intial years and I could claim to have had a reasonable education. Back came the answer: You never say that in English I vented my irritation on the keyboard but resisted the temptation to write something I’d regret later and in the end I just stopped trying to explain that he’d got it wrong. Then to my surprise I received a private message in which he said how he’d thoroughly enjoyed our debate?? and it recalled to him his student days when he’d argued with his professors.

I have never heard from him again but sometimes I feel he’s surfing the forums ready to pounce. Can you pounce on a forum? No, you never say that in English.


I find that one of the most common reasons they fight with you is that they are thinking this: “If this teacher is right, and I have been saying things the wrong way, then I must have embarrassed myself countless times in front of other people!” Their arguing is an attempt to save face.

A good number of my students from Germany resist grammar practice and correction, and they even resist learning idioms. Because of this resistance, a half-hour exercise might take an hour and a half to complete. One day I realized that most of the resistance stemmed from fear that using English the wrong way might make them look stupid in front of people. I found that if I preface the lesson with an assurance that the grammatical structure and idioms it presents are completely normal, and that using them will not result in humiliation, they cooperate better. I never have that problem with anyone but Germans. I’d say about 20 percent of them behave this way. People usually think of the Japanese and Chinese as being people who need to “save face” all the time, but in my lessons with Asians it’s never an issue.

Hi Alan,

I vividly remember the conversations you had with that particular gentleman. I think he wanted some an outlet, some type of playground where he can challenge others without revealing his true identity so he can retreat any time he wants. You often can find this type of behaviour in small children who love to tease adults without running the risk of having to take responsibility for their actions. If somebody makes a wild claim such as You never say that in English it’s good to simply ask them questions such as How do you know? How often to speak English and whom do you speak to? It’s all too often that we confuse opinion with facts. A forum like ours is a bit like a stage in a theatre or a stadium: There are actors who engage in a discussion and there is the audience who silently watch the show and decide who (at least in their opinion) is right and who is wrong…[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: A baseball player talks about his career prospects[YSaerTTEW443543]

What a funny way of putting it! Ever so creative and lyrical, Alan!

I want to write like the bunch of you when I grow up…

Far Easterners have always struck me as being rather the opposite, in that they come across to me as humble and self-effacing. At the same time, I have a feeling that they consider Westerners barbaric. By the way, I wonder if the Chinese still call us big feet and/or big noses, as I once read somewhere. I admit to being quite ignorant of some Asian cultures, so I, for one, would definitely be among the barbarians :oops: .

In my experience, East Asian men can be quite boisterous and very funny. The women are also usually quite funny (at least around me), but they also have a very sweet, caring side that wants to help people, especially the Chinese.

I’ve never seen that. If anything, they tend to like us and look up to us. After all, the Japanese had freedom and democracy forced on them, and now they like it. The mainland Chinese haven’t succeed in establishing them permanently yet. A lot of Asian development over the past century is largely thanks to Western technology and management concepts, so most of them still think the West is a really good place.

I have only heard this used when an Asian girl wants to marry one of us. :smiley: