Practical ESL-EFL Topics. 1

For students of English as a Second Language.

(Dutch, German, Scandinavian and Danish students are not likely to need these examples but they may still derive some amusement from the material.)

As you know, English is not an easy Second Language. Some of its more difficult aspects are its figurative uses and its (non-literal) humour, greatly facilitated by its large store of ‘punnable’ homonyms. The challenge of both of the short exercises below is for ESL students to fully understand the meaning and origin of a number of idiosyncratic language samples. Some of you may have to look up one or two words in a (reliable?) dictionary, but that is always an enlightening experience for all of us.


What is wrong (and possibly amusing) with the following examples of mistranslations of tourist notices from European languages into English?

(Merci de votre visite) Tank for your visit.

Your opinion is a great to us.

For any problems, decomposition or disturb, call desk immediately. (Mexican hotel)

Ring the Bell. Is open. (Shop in Granada, Spain)

Fallow the arrow. (Mexico – mainly for Americans?)

It is prohibited to bring the alcoholics beverages. (Mexican beach)

You have to do it walking. It is necessary to follow the signs road. (Spain)

Listen to the singing of the famous Escolanía, a children’s choir, considered to be the eldest in Europe.

Laundry returned in the 24 hours will be extracharged.

We are not responsibles of discolouring or shinkage.


Lobster per kg (to ask before please).

Eggs caramel cream (maked the house)

Srambelt eggs (?Peru)

Fried pork’s legs

Spanish brochures some years ago:

… church of the Holy Family (master piece of the brilliant archited Gaudí)

Passed Nerja and near Maro, these formations run into the sea very roughly, in high steepy rocks.

In the ten years that these famous performances have been passing, the fame of the Cave has run alongside with that of the artists.

Freeway/Motorway travel in Spain:

Do never change the sense of your driving.

Please do not screw or tear up your transit ticket.

Tarragona: Stretching out on a hill and leaning over the sea, the above Mediterranean town is standing up.

Cambrils: It is a picturesque town of a strong fishing flavour.

Oropesa: All this shall help us get into the sober and rustic beauty of such internal villages as Morella, …

Valencia: The fruit-tree orchards which are so affectionately and meticulously cared of, actually compete with the authentic flower gardens which are so prodigue …

Alicante: A coastal stretchline …


Separate the notices, signs, advertisements (ads) and slogans below into two groups: a) clever or b) clumsy.

An optional extra is for you to account for the deliberate cleverness or the inadvertent clumsiness which has produced these statements. A suggestion: look especially for puns, double entendres, homonyms, paradoxes and ambiguity, as well as errors in English vocabulary choice, expression, spelling, pronunciation, or even punctuation. The simplest element can often make a big semantic difference.

(The first group of examples below are selected from one long page of a huge collection of excellent English material available at:

At a car dealership: The best way to get back on your feet? Miss a car payment.

At a Music Store: Out to lunch. Bach at 12:30. Offenbach sooner.

On the door of a Music Library: Bach in a min-u-et.

At a pizza shop: 7 days without pizza makes one weak.

At a U.S. tire (UK: tyre) shop: Invite us to your next blowout.
At an optometrist’s office:

If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.
Billboard on the side of the road:

Keep your eyes on the road and stop reading these signs.

Church sign: To remove worry wrinkles, get your faith lifted.
In a counselor’s [UK: counsellor’s] office:

Growing old is mandatory, growing wise is optional.

In a department store: Bargain Basement Upstairs.
In a Los Angeles clothing store:

Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks.
In a New York restaurant:

Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.
In a Pennsylvania cemetery:

Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.
In a restaurant window:

Don’t stand there and be hungry, come in and get fed up.

In a safari park: Elephants please stay in your car
In an office:

After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board.
In an office:

Would the person who took the step ladder yesterday kindly bring it back or further steps will be taken.
In the window of a Kentucky appliance store:

Don’t kill your wife. Let our washing machine do the dirty work.
Notice in a field:

The farmer allows walkers to cross the field for free, but the bull charges.

On a fence: Salesmen welcome. Dog food is expensive.
On the wall of a Baltimore estate:

Trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. – (Sisters of Mercy)
In a Maine shop:

Our motto is to give our customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship.
On a repair shop door:

We can repair anything. (Please knock hard — bell out of order.)
On a Tennessee highway:

Take notice: when this sign is under water, this road is impassable.

Sign on a psychic’s Hotline: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Others from UK and Australia:

Caption to a picture of a smiling fishmonger: If you ask him nicely he’ll cut your head off.

A brand of lemonade: Every bubble’s passed its fizzical.

Car sticker: Jesus Saves. He couldn’t manage it on my salary.

Pub notice:

Our bank has promised not to serve BEER if we don’t cash cheques.

Bank: Losing interest in your current account?

Transport ad with exotic photograph: You can see the Rhine Valley [or Paris] from Victoria Station (London).

You can have anything you like with just a little application. [Lloyds Bank, Access Card]

Duty-Free shop: It’s enough to make you leave the country.

Automatic Teller Machine – ATM: Pop into the Bank when it’s shut.

Caption on a gory but effective road safety sign for cyclists: Dont hit the road without a bike helmet.


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