My father was a fantastic Dutch speaker of English. We can all 'leather' from him. The thing is, where students very often seem to suffer from blind panic or disinterest whenever they write things like 'leather moment' when they mean something else, my father always seemed totally in control and pretended he knew what he was saying. He sounded more British than the queen herself when he spoke English. He never really learned it in school so he didn't have much to go on. But he made something of it.
His trick was that he simply kept repeating: "Oh, rather?!" with exactly the right intonation and aristocratic face. He acted the part of an English speaker even though these were the only words in his repertoire. He listened to my friends British uncle tell him something when we were at a campsite in France and all he did was nod and pull a "I know it all"-face. Every now and then he let drop his: "Oh, rather?!"
That's it! That's all it takes to get it right. Just pretend and pull a face! I am finding it helps a lot to think about what someone's mouth looks like when you try to imitate their accent. My father did this too. He probably thought all Brits deep down always pretended they were aristocrats. And he believed in himself. He knew he could even be famous, although not in Ireland. When he was in Dublin to visit me, he apparently walked around as if he was a local because someone asked him directions. He couldn't help them so he graciously said: "I am not well known here".
A student of mine once wrote in her reflective report that she had a few 'leather moments' to discuss. It took me a second to realise what she meant. I laughed and wrote it on my list of funny mistakes. After a while this became the title of the list I kept adding to. I think I even put it in a PowerPoint one lesson to show students what I find in their written work and to 'leather' them not to make that mistake again.
But while laughing I also get curious. What was she thinking?! Did she look up the word 'leer' in a dictionary? This was a young woman who had managed to pass at least her HAVO exam! Even if she couldn't come up with the right word in English (for what she was thinking in Dutch.. :( ....) she could have known this was not the right translation to use?!
I think this happens a lot to everyone who isn't a language lover and it is either blind panic or sheer disinterest. Disinterest in what you are writing and in who will have the bad luck to be obliged to read it.
I am generally inclined to think of my students as the first type rather than the latter.
Of course she was the panicky type! She must have been! You don't come up with something as brilliant as that when you don't care about what you are doing.
I now have this image of her in my head that won't go away. I don't remember her name or what class she was in or anything at all about her. In my mind she will forever be this girl sitting on the floor of her student flat in a teaching Buddha pose ( I know; teaching Buddha? Why would she do that? I don't know where that comes from... ).Her eyes are closed and she is wearing a leather cat suit. She is trying hard to think, to reflect. The leather is hard to have a good moment of reflexion in. It is too tight to get the pose right, it itches because she has started sweating. Her leather moment has become high standard torture. Poor girl!
I know there are books about funny mistakes Dutch people make when speaking or writing English. I promis this blog will be a little different and I won't steal any stories from others. I would, however, like contributions from others and hope to have a bit of fun discussing what we have 'leathered'.