Saturday, December 05, 2009

Slip me some skin...

Following on from last week’s post, my singing voice has been severely tested this week, as I inflicted Little Boxes on every class from Tuesday to Friday, with generally pleasing results. I think if we do this as a warm-up exercise at the beginning of every class, it will have the desired effect i.e. to get the students more in tune with the cadence of the English language. I have been scouring the WWW for suitable song lyrics and will introduce one every month till the time comes around for the TOEIC torture-chamber again. However, if my notion is correct, I expect it will be less of a torture-chamber in 2010. As we only have a couple of weeks left before the end of this term, and Christmas is coming, Felix Bernard’s 1934 Winter Wonderland will get an airing next before we call it a day for 2009.

Another thing I tried this week was watching a VHS video movie clip, with Japanese subtitles, to see if there was good correlation between what was said on screen and what appeared at the foot of the screen. It turned out that there was, after a fashion, in that the students could understand what was going on on screen but they were generally unable to catch what the English words were, even after several repetitions. This seems to be because of elision, or syllable omission, which native speakers do as a matter of course when speaking naturally.

The clip I chose was from the 1987 movie Good morning Viet Nam, which made Robin Williams into a star. This movie is set in Saigon in 1965 just as the Viet Nam ‘police action’ is about to escalate into a full-blown conflict. At about 1.17 the main character (Adrian Cronauer) first tells an outrageous falsehood, then resorts to bribery in order to persuade the Army EFL teacher to allow him to take over the class, so he can get a chance at dating the Vietnamese girl in white. In Japanese subtitles the soldier’s response is gojiyuu ni, which means ‘feel free’ or something like that. However, what he actually says is “ ’sallyurrs – yuugaddit” (It’s all yours, you’ve got it). The rest of the clip shows how the new ‘teacher’ is then hopelessly out of his depth as he has no idea how to proceed. He eventually has to confess that he is not a real teacher but achieves a measure of success, and popularity with the students by teaching them Harlem street slang. As he says, in the real world this is probably somewhat more useful to them than the hackneyed phrases the ‘real’ teacher was trying to teach, even though they were grammatically perfect.

I think it is unlikely that the TOEIC test is ever going to test for knowledge of phrases like ‘slip me some skin’ or ‘groovy’, but it does use lots of natural spoken English in its listening sections. There are a lot of examples of elision in this short clip, which I was able to exploit and I hope will be useful to my students, especially for TOEIC.

Full marks to those who noticed the subtitles are in Chinese not Japanese, but I’m sure my main assertion holds true.