Hey, my friend

As I was packing up this morning, I overheard another professor in the hall tell a student  that she would deduct points for a late assignment. I smiled, not because of the familiarity of the event, but because of the way the professor addressed her student; “My friend.”

I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot this week. Then again, for the first time, I am listening for it.

At the start of the week I read the draft of a personal essay from one of my ESL students. He has been in the United States for a few years, so has some experience with the language and culture. He does now, anyway. He was relating an experience form his first few months at a Massachusetts High School. He forgot to hand in an assignment and asked his teacher if he could still get full credit. “Sorry, my friend, I have to deduct points for being late.”

The boy was confused. Was this man, at least twice his age, his friend? And, if so, why would he deduct points? He was so confused, he made an appointment with his guidance counselor for advice on how to handle the situation. He was relieved to find out that people use the phrase “my friend” to try to soften the blow of bad news and he should not expect an invitation to hang out with his teacher.

We throw language around as if everyone knows what we are talking about. I love these little reminders to slow down and think about the expressions I use that might not make sense to a newly arrived student, even to one who has good conversational skills.

What phrases have you confused newcomers with?

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