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A Silly Joke

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Here’s a silly old language-related joke, which I suppose many younger students wouldn’t even get (not that I’ve ever sent a telegram):

A dog goes to a telegraph office and dictates the following message to the clerk: “Woof woof woof woof woof woof woof.”
“That’s seven words,” says the clerk. “You get eight for the same price, so do you want to add another ‘woof’?”
“Certainly not,” says the dog “Then it wouldn’t make any sense!”

Ha, ha … well, this is funny (marginally) because it gets at certain sociolinguistic realities: behaving as though an unfamiliar language is nonsense, not realizing that an unfamiliar language may carry meaning in an unfamiliar encoding (like tones in Chinese), offering help that isn’t actually helpful due to intercultural ignorance, etc.

Simpsons Linguistics

Sometimes a single-link post is worth it: Over at HeiDeas, “Beyond beyond beyond beyond ‘Beyond embiggens and cromulent’” is Heidi Harley’s fifth annual collection of linguistics jokes culled from The Simpsons, TV’s richest trove of wordplay and jokes about language! (well, other than QI, I suppose, and more prolific anyway.) The best part of these posts is that she identifies the linguistic topic with which the writers are playing, whether it’s “semantic bleaching” or “locative denominal verbs with telic particles” (errrr…). Yes, in googling what’s going on here, you’re probably going to increase your linguistic chops as well. I know I have some reading to do. Conveniently, the post contains links to the four previous editions.

English with “Father Ted”

Since my current work is entirely one-on-one tutoring, I get to try crazy things because I only have to deal with one student. It’s pretty easy for me to judge the student’s receptiveness to whatever unusual approach in mind, especially once I know the student well. This is a lot harder to do in a class. As a bonus, I don’t have to worry about whether the administration feels something is inappropriate for the classroom. If I think it’s okay and my client thinks it’s okay, then anything goes!

I’ve been using Clear Speech with a couple of different clients from Japan. Chapter 5 includes a bit on “off-glide” sounds that often appear when there are vowel sounds at touching word boundaries, such as “my eye” or “she isn’t.” An example in the text was “go on,” which is pronounced something like /gowan/.

If you’re a fan of British comedies, as I’ve become since meeting my partner, you may have immediately thought of the same episode of “Father Ted” as I did. “Father Ted” is a well-known comedy about the misadventures of three bumbling Irish priests (including Father Ted), their crazed and put-upon housekeeper (Mrs. Doyle), and other oddball characters. In this episode, the housekeeper and Father Ted attempt to convince a reluctant guest to take a drink of sherry (a very bad idea for everyone concerned). You can clearly hear the /w/ sound in her repeated exhortations to “Go on, go on, go on!” and take a sip of sherry.

The introductory part was too hard to understand for one of my clients, and about 50% comprehensible for the other, but the “Go on!” bit made both of them laugh fairly hard. I’m pretty sure they’ll remember that glide for a while! Ah, I really love the freedom of being a private instructor sometimes.

(Remind me to tell you about our use of LOLcats for vocabulary later on.)

What kind of unconventional tactics have you used successfully? (Or, for that matter, unsuccessfully!)

English-Teaching Zombies

No, no, not me and my mentor-teacher after we graded a stack of 30 multi-draft essays–we’re talking about a videogame. English of the Dead is not a joke, but an honest-to-goodness game produced in Japan for all those gamers who would like to work on their English and destroy a few zombies.

You can even try out the demo yourself: Flash demo of English of the Dead! Wait for it to load. If you want to hear sound, click on the “No” symbol labeled “ON” in the upper right corner (how nice that it defaults to silent, if you’re in the office!). Then click on the bottom of the two screens displayed on the DS. When the zombies pop up, click on the correct English word to fill in the gap. Unfortunately, you may be at a disadvantage–my Flash doesn’t display the Japanese translation correctly, so I missed one due to two possible answers.

This probably isn’t the most pedagogically sound piece of software in the world, but if it’s entertaining and keeps a user interested in learning English, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. At the very least, it gave me a laugh, and I hope it amused you, too.

Japan is actually pretty serious about educational games. The DS is a perfect platform for this, because it’s very portable, has both button and stylus input, and is popular with people who’d otherwise be considered non-gamers. (It’s also relatively inexpensive, and I actually really recommend the DS Lite for English teachers who need to blow off some steam, particularly those who commute on public transportation. More on this later–and no, Nintendo’s not paying me! I spent my own money on that Wii.)

If you are dying (HA!) to know more, DS Fanboy has all of the relevant posts collected under a tag.

(N. B.: A quirk of DS Fanboy–besides the noninclusive blog name, darn them–is that links to external sites that are the main point of a post are hidden under the “Read” link at the bottom of the post.)