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Thursday, 14 January 2010

It's Forkin' Funny, But Could You Teach It?

Now here's an interesting one. The choice of suitable realia (in other words genuine, not-cringy-made-for-English-teaching materials) such as newspaper articles, songs and, well, dodgy You Tube videos is what we're going to discuss here.

In fact, I think I'll make it a regular feature, you know, I'll find a dubious vid, post it here and we'll say how we could use it with our students. Or not. Here's the first one.

And what a classic it is. Many people already seem to know all about The Italian Man Who Went To Malta, and with over 11 million views of just this particular version you can understand why.

So there we are, us teachers, tears running down our cheeks, and then we have a brainwave: We'll use it in our next English lesson! So we do. The lesson with all those nice retired bourgois ladies who so appreciate their weekly English lesson at the local town hall on a Friday afternoon with that nice English teacher which they squeeze in between a visit to the hairdresser and their pooch's regular pedicure...

And the result is... well, what do you think? Could we use this piece of juicy realia with our students, and if so how and if not why not?

This also brings up the whole question of do we 'do' swear words in our lessons. I remember a really contentious book from a few years ago which I loved called Taboos & Issues because it dared to offer a whole load of scary lesson plans on totally over the top topics like death and gays and drugs of which you could only ever do about a tenth of them in your average class but hats off to them - they went for it.

And swearing was exactly the sort of dangerous topic they covered. And naughty words like shit and fuck (and all its multivarious derivations) share the very interesting characteristic of being some of the most common words in the English language, uttered by many many native English speakers on a daily basis.

But should we encourage our learners to use them too? Or just to understand them... Or should we not even venture out onto that slippery slope (volunteers to explain 'I wanna fuck on the table' to the sweet retired ladies, anyone?) Or would they think it was the best English lesson they'd every had?!!

Well, I've said enough; have a look at the video and let us know what you think. Look forward to reading you all.
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO


Larry said...

I think that at a certain level of competency, it would not be inappropriate to inform students of commonly used vulgarities in order to raise their awareness of them and their capacity for understanding them. For example, "fuckin'" used as an adjective or adverb or as a particle of emphasis (as in "un-fuckin-believable"... do they say that in England?) is rarely, if ever, used to mean "copulate". It is therefore important to understand that it is a simple vulgarism, relatively free of salaciousness.

These kinds of words are used with appalling regularity in daily speech (including, I'm afraid, my very own) and should be understood for what they are, which is, essentially, nothing much. They also appear in most movies, many TV shows, and books.

And even most little old ladies, while pretending to be horrified, are, I think, mildly amused by being let into the "inner secrets" of their target language.

That said, I think it is extremely important to advise people who speak with anything other than absolute fluency in a foreign language to avoid these kinds of words at all times, even when they would seem to be appropriate among native speakers.

For what it's worth, the official policy of the institute where I took a month of French classes in Montpellier was to avoid teaching about vulgarities, and indeed one of my instructors avoided them, even when asked about them. The other one didn't avoid them at all. Guess whose contract wasn't renewed.

As for this particular video clip, while it is amusing I would not use such a clip because it seems to be disrespectful to the hoteliers and restaurateurs of Malta.

The treatment of controversial or politically or religiously sensitive topics,is something that may not be appropriate in all cultures. For example, a discussion on a political topic such as gay marriage or the wearing of burqas could be dangerous in many places, and certainly could have unforeseen consequences.

And even at best, it could lead a class off topic or tempt them to use their native language rather than English.

Sab Will said...

There's a classic old (humorous) recording singing the praises of the F-word (which is the only word in English to be referred to as such) including the fact that it can be used as practically all parts of speech and more besides, as you say!

Another interesting fact is that for many learners, foreign swear words are one of the most interesting aspects of the language. Maybe for the same reason little kids look up naughty words in dictionaries to be sure just how rude they are being when they say them (or at least I did).

As to actually 'teaching' them in lessons, it's a very dodgy area, and all depends on your personal teaching circumstances and judgement. I guess if there is any doubt, then leave it alone. And as to using this video, as you say Larry, it's not just about the bad words; there are also issues of upsetting or at least insulting certain people by the implication that this video is actually funny.

Judgement, judgement, judgement - one of the most important parts of our jobs probably!

Nicko the Naughty Cusser said...

Personally, I think students should understand enough swear word vocab to be able to judge the severity of any insults they might receive. I do not recommend however that they attempt to ‘return fire’ in a foreign language. In my experience of hearing foreigners swearing in my mother tongue, I find it quaint and funny, not really that insulting or that sensational as the speaker may intend it to be. Therefore, I would advise to not to swear in anything but your mother tongue. Besides, if someone really had annoyed and you impulsively answered back, would it really be in their language? Half of the pleasure (if indeed it is that) of swearing is the gratification you receive by simply uttering those taboo words. They are as much a release for you as a message for someone else. Just think, if you were to bash your hand against something, would you feel better saying ‘ah m**d*’ or ‘ah s**t’? I know my answer.

Sab Will said...

I agree Nick. Although I've been in France so long that I actually DO come out spontaneously with French swear words, the funny thing is that when I hear a French person swearing in English I'm actually quite shocked/borderline offended in a way I would never be if it had been said by a native speaker.

It seems that native speakers kind of 'own' their swear words in a way that doesn't apply to other words and there's actually quite a lot of emotional attachment to them. It almost seems that foreigners don't 'have the right' to use them (any foreigners I mean) and may risk unforseen circumstances (such as people taking real offence) if they do.

So my recommendation is to play safe, and to learn and possibly teach the 'biggies' but not to suggest they actually use them; passive recognition is probably enough!


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