Try not to smile when an ESL student uses memes as writing prompts

try not to smile when an esl student uses memes as writing prompts pony and a tumblr

Learning English as a second language can often be an adventure in malapropisms and misunderstandings, partially because our grammar rules make no sense. One enterprising ESL teacher, Henry Davis, has devised a fun way to help one of his students compose sentences: he sends her pictures of popular Internet memes and asks her to write a description.

Davis, who goes by the name Pony, conducts lessons over Skype. His student, “A,” hails from Japan and relishes this visual exercise. “I usually try to pick photos with an unusual element so that A has to stretch her vocabulary more to describe them,” Pony says. “However, it seems like our fans also enjoy animal photos a lot, so sometimes I’ll make an exception for a cute animal photo. It continues to impress me how A puts an unusual spin on whatever photo she’s given.” Pony and A have been working together since they met on a language website three years ago, so A has become a master at capping memetic photographs with blunt, funny descriptions. 

Pony and “A” document their lessons on a Tumblr called “Pony and ‘A’ Take Over The World” and also have a Facebook page chronicling the lessons that began in 2011. Here are some of the best memes and photos turned into English lessons: 

A dire tale developed from adults posing with the Easter Bunny:Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.34.45 PM

“We were trapped by the rabbit.  The rabbit offered a chance of making money.  The rabbit pointed a gun when we walked in this room.  The rabbit got us to call on the phone to demand $1,000,000 as ransom.” 

The drawing-on-babies meme gets a practical twist: Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.35.53 PM

“I put stickers to our baby to make sure which parents he looks like.  The result was our baby is similar to my husband, especially his eyes.  They are almost the same.” 

Yoga Bear’s inner monologue, imagined (this is one of A’s favorites): Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.36.58 PM

“Hello, I’m a bear who live in a zoo.  I like to sit in the sun in the fall because I feel good.  In nature I have to prepare for hibernation like eating much, but I don’t need to do it because I live in the zoo.  I couldn’t be better!” 

Adding narrative to nonsense: Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.40.19 PM

“I am shy and I was a astronaut.  NASA offered me displaying my snapshot, but I allowed the offer with a condition that was my face would be changed into pancakes.  I brought the sample, but they dismissed me outright.” 

Well, now I wish “Olympic husband hammer” was a real thing:
Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.41.30 PM

“This is the newest Olympic game which is called Olympic husband hammer. The rule is very simple, you just throw your husband as far as possible with screaming. You can get rid of stress, and get a fame and a shame.” 

Impressive word choice: Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.56.08 PM

“He is a sommelier. He can select the best wine without a taste because his nose is so sensitive. He found a job at a three-star restaurant.” 

A cautionary tale of pizza and woe: Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 3.58.11 PM

“I was in desperation because I thought that we are all going to die sooner or later, so I would rather to eat and drink as much as I want to.  As a result, I gained weight and a doctor said if I kept this lifestyle, I was going to die in three months.  I quit the lifestyle immidiately [sic] and I started being a vegie [sic].”

[All images from

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