Jaime, a new immigrant, was attending his daughter's first performance in a school play. His daughter, Carol, was five years old. She was a kindergarten student at the local public school. Carol did not have a very big role in the school play. She was playing a rain cloud in a play about the drought in California. Carol had one line. Her line was, "I am sad enough to cry about how dry the state is."
Jaime and his wife made sure to arrive early so that they could get a good seat in the auditorium. They secured seats in the front row. Before the show began, the school principal made an introductory speech. The speech was about how hard the students and teachers worked together to make the play possible. At the end of the speech, the principal said, "Let's give the school staff a hand".
Jaime, whose English was not very good, stood up when the principal said this. He knew that when people said "to give someone a hand" they meant they needed help. Jaime always wanted to help, especially at his daughter's school. Jaime thought maybe they needed help backstage.
Jaime's wife put her arm in front of her husband. "Where are you going?" she whispered. "They need a hand," Jaime whispered back. His wife explained that "to give someone a hand" could also mean to applaud someone. "They don't need help. They just want us to clap," Jaime's wife said. Jaime felt a little embarrassed. He sat back down and began clapping along with the rest of the audience.
Jaime thought to himself that someone needed to give the English language a hand. How could one phrase mean two different things? He meant the English language needed help.