Teaching English can sometimes highlight odd assumptions we have and don’t usually think about.

One day I was chatting in class with Mati, a woman I’ve been teaching for a couple of years. She’s a sweet middle-aged woman who grew up in our little town and we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well.

I’ve found that teachers can be like lawyers in the sense that a teacher should know the answer to every question that’s asked of the students. I knew Mati is a mom and I even know one of her kids. In the course of our conversation I asked her how many children she has.

After I asked if she has children she calmly gazed back at me and stated that she didn’t have any children. I thought maybe she was a poker player and making a joke with a straight face.

But it turned out not to be a joke. In Spanish, children only refers to kids who’re prepubescent and younger. In English, children refers to a son or daughter of any age, right?

Mati’s kids are all young adults. So in Mati’s mind, she didn’t have any children. She would have responded better to “Do you have any sons?” At the intermediate level English, it took a while to sort out who was talking about what. But we eventually figured out the cultural and linguistic confusions. She was surprised to learn that in English she’s the child of her parents and they’re the children of… and so on.

This situation turned out to be a fun serendipitous learning moment for both of us. Cross cultural assumptions sometimes lead to misunderstandings. And it’s compounded especially when you don’t know – what you don’t know.