I’ve been involved in English proficiency testing for a few years, and in that time I’ve come across some unintentionally humorous answers from students and test-takers. When I say ‘humorous’, I don’t mean to make fun of anyone. On the contrary, I admire the effort these people put in to learn a second language, often as adults when it is more difficult. They really are doing their best to communicate, but when you read their answers as a native speaker of English you can’t help but smile.
I’ve obviously made the responses anonymous, and in some cases I’ve slightly edited the original so that it’s more clear. A number of these answers are linguistically very interesting, and I hope to eventually post about some of these in more detail. For now, here’s a short list of some of my favourites.
It is nice to take your family to the restaurant, so you can eat your family
It turns out to be pretty common that ESL students want to eat their friends and family.
Let’s have a potlock. I want to taste all my classmates.
They also enjoy other unusual foods:
I like to order the Caesar salad, with the special soap
I’ve heard that “commas save lives” but I’m not sure that punctuation can help in this case:
The boy is cooking a hot dog and his brother
Some ESL students are capable of time travel:
Hello, I am calling because I left my wallet on your bus tomorrow
Here are a few examples where it’s just a matter of picking the wrong word:
John came home and there was blood in the basement
Should be “a flood”. This test-taker had difficulty distinguishing between the labial sounds in English ([p], [b], [f], and [v]).
I like to do some medication the park. I feel very relaxed after the medication.
This is a swap of the sound [t] for [k], and the intended word is “meditation”. The second sentence oddly works regardless of which word you pick.
Next you can be professional and learn about some incontinent stuff
The test-taker intended to say “accountant stuff”, and this was not a single slip-of-the-tongue. She made the same mistake the whole way through the test.
Dear teacher. Please stop giving my son so much housework.
This is a tricky pair I’d never noticed before. The words “house” and “home” are extremely similar in meaning, but add them to “work” and you get something very different.
The genital is mopping up his mess.
The intended word here is “janitor”, and what an unfortunate context to get this mixed up.
Here the person has misunderstood a key word in the question:
Question: If you had $1000 for charity, what would you do?
Answer: I would probably buy a sofa. Or maybe a La-Z-Boy. Something comfortable like that
Then some that I just can’t explain:
I prefer to donate the money to the old age home hostages. It will be really helpful to them because they are in need.
There are many students. They are sharing pants. Uh…. There are many students. I think they are learning segregation.
Hello I’d like buy a broken leg
It was my first time being a front desk
He [speaker’s husband] has taught me many interesting things I didn’t know, because when I met him I was actually insane.
The old women cannot smell the cigarette smoke. Because they are already diseased. Like, 90 years old and stuff like that.