Sunday, October 11, 2009

Language Exercises for Students

During the last year in Spain, I’ve been making lots of use of teaching tools. Books, newspapers, videos, Internet pages; there are lots of possibilities. There is an amazing amount of video resources available on YouTube. Songs are good for the children. Bingo is a big hit (“There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name….”). Kindergarten games like Simon Says, more advanced games like Twenty Questions or Scrabble…all of these offer a teacher opportunities to make students learn without realizing that they’re learning.

The one seemingly obvious resource that I don’t like to use is Hollywood movies. From a technical standpoint, they use a lot of slang, and the actors don’t tend to speak very clearly. Students who try to watch American movies usually come away feeling discouraged when they can’t understand what they’re hearing. And as for the content….well, the next time you’re watching a Hollywood blockbuster, think about how it sounds to someone who is trying to learn English. If you want to learn how to swear, of course, they’re a great resource.

Recently one of my students watched the movie American Gangster (about black criminal gangs in New York City) and came back with lots of questions. Now, how do you explain a sentence like “Ain’t y’all n----rs never seen no hoochies before?” That led to an interesting discussion about inner-city language, and how there are some words that you just don’t use in America under any circumstances.

I do not propose censorship of movies. Still, I’m afraid that our movie industry isn’t doing us any favors in how America is viewed in other parts of the world.