Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tinseltown talk

There was a story a while ago about a Russian who arrived in Britain, and after interrogation by immigration officials, was almost immediately sent packing on the next flight home. The reason she was deported was that the officials refused to believe her story, that she had come here to learn English in Glasgow. They simply couldn't believe that anyone would want to learn this variety of English.

This issue of which variety of a language we (a) want to learn and (b) get to learn has cropped up in the papers again today. News in the New York Times today of a TV programme in China that is gaining cult status by teaching people the language they really want to learn. Not phrasebook English in which we're apparently always enquiring after each other's health, and making salient comments about the weather, but "movie English". The show runs nightly and features a word/phrase from a movie clip, explaining what it means and how it is used both in this context and more widely. Naturally, much of it is slang/vernacular forms. Great idea!

This gives us plenty of food for thought about the prestige of language varieties. The cult show is a hit because it draws on the covert prestige of contemporary American popular culture: learning this language might not help you get a job, but it sure is cool. Or at least perceived by its audience to be cool (you won't catch me using the phrase 'walking felony'!...)

Of course, it's also quite interesting if you've started wondering what to do when you've finished your AS/A2 English Language. Trip to China to teach English, anyone? Now that's cool...

And one final word about phrasebooks. Here's your mission: go into a bookshop; pick up any serious phrasebook; find the most ridiculous thing you are instructed to say, that you would never ever say in English let alone in a foreign language. Beat these (all genuine):
  • can you repair my dentures?
  • would you give me a discount?
  • do we need snow chains?

Movie English as a Third Language

English Learner Movie Guides


At 9:36 am, Blogger Her Holiness said...

From a Greek phrasebook:
"Is there a floor show?"
"Is there a discotheque anywhere here?"
And, from the how to date people who don't speak your language section: "You've dropped your handkerchief"

At 7:15 pm, Blogger E-Julie said...

I love that about the handkerchief - how cheesy would that be as a pick-up line, even if anyone in the world still owned handkerchieves!

At 8:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Are you a fish"???
"To be taken internally"
"would you trim my beard, please?"
"I couldn't give a cucumber"

At 11:37 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever since I finished school I didn’t think I would want to have anymore lessons ever again, however recently I have wanted to learn a language, maybe become fluent in one and basic in a couple of others. I did a bit of research and found there were loads of different packages available I went with one that claims you teach yourself Spanish and I was impressed it was a computer program that helped with pronunciation and speaks back to you so you can hear it too.


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