Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Unreal TV

Hat tip: Upworthy

These ads, which have been recorded for a fundraising campaign for public TV in the U.S., mock reality TV and may serve as a springboard for debate in the English language classroom.

For more commercials like these, go to the campaign website

 If you want to use them in a conversation class, here are a few suggestions:
  • Lead-in:
    • Pair Ss up to talk about the questions:
      a) What are your favorite TV shows? Why do you like them? (If you don't like TV, why don't you?)
      b) How do you (or people you know) choose new TV shows to watch? 
    • Give each S 3 blank slips of paper. On each slip they will write a name of a TV show. One of the slips will have the name of their favorite TV show; the other will be the name of a TV show they can't stand and the last one the name of a TV show they like but can live without.
    • Pair Ss up. Ss will have to read the 3 slips their partner wrote and find out which is which (which is their partner's favorite, which is the one they can't stand, etc). But they can't ask that straight ahead of course! They have to ask other questions to try and suss it out. 
    • Ask Ss to write the names of their 2 favorite TV shows and 2 TV shows they can't stand.
    • Ss mingle to find someone who is very similar to them and sit next to their "TV soulmates".
  • Listening/Viewing for gist: 
    • Tell Ss they are going to see two TV commercials to identify what they are advertising and what they have in common.
    • Show two of the commercials and stop right before the white titles in the black background. Ask them to pair check and elicit their answers. (Key: Both advertise reality shows. There are a lot of things in common: both show recorded scenes of the program; both finish by saying the date and time of the show, etc.)
    • Ss chat in pairs: Would you like to watch those shows? Why (not)? Do you think these shows would be successful in your country? Why (not)?"
  • Reading/Viewing for inference: 
    • Show the end of the commercials. With a new partner, Ss have to come up with what they think these commercials were used for.
    • After you have collected a few ideas, tell Ss this is a fundraising campaign for public TV. Ask Ss if they think the campaign is going to be successful.
  • Debate: 
    • Preparation: Divide your class in 2 groups. Tell a group to list arguments in favor of reality shows, while the other group lists arguments against them. 
    • 1st round: Get 2 students from each group, making groups of 4 to discuss the future of reality TV. (If you have a strong group, you can spice things up by asking Ss to argue for the opposite position, not the one they prepared for.)
    • Collect and give feedback. 
    • 2nd round: Change groups. Ss will have to discuss again, now standing up for what they believe in. (You may want to ask Ss to sort themselves into people who are actually pro and against reality TV so you can mix them for this stage.)
  • Wrap-up:
    • Show the end of the commercial again and draw attention to the tag #TVgonewrong. Ask them if they agree with it.

  • Possible follow-ups:
    • In groups Ss come up with another reality show spoof and sell their idea to their classmates.
    • If they really got into the campaign, Ss can go online to find out how much money the campaign has raised so far and see the other ads.
    • Ask Ss if they believe reality shows are "really real". Refer Ss to this On the Media podcast about the subject.

Would you use these ads in class? How? :D

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Whose meaning is it anyway?

"What's the meaning of..." seems to be a perfectly innocent question. But language is never innocent, is it? 

I give you exhibit A: white-shoe

According to The American Heritage,
"white-shoe adj. Of or being a long-established business known for reputable service and a wealthy clientele: “took a job at... [a] pronouncedly white-shoe investment-banking firm” (Connie Bruck)"

 The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, however, defines it as:
"US denoting a company (esp. a law firm) owned and run by white upper-class Americans and typically regarded as cautious and conservative"

And now exhibit B: bleeding heart

The American Heritage considers a bleeding heart to be "a person who is considered excessively sympathetic toward those who claim to be underprivileged or exploited," while their counterpart to the North, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, glosses the expression as an informal term to "a person perceived as overly sentimental, esp. in regard to social problems."

My husband, who in my unbiased opinion just happens to be the best English-to-Portuguese translator in the world, was the one who brought these different definitions to my attention. To us, these are without a doubt blatant pieces of evidence of how ideology(ies) influence(s) the product of a reference work... And of ideology in language.

If languages are ideological, it follows that teaching one is necessarily so. That is why, of all the acronyms in TESOL, my least favorite one is certainly "PARSNIP". Each letter stands for an allegedly forbidden topic in the EFL classroom: politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms (e.g.: feminism, socialism), and pork. Of course there are topics wise and sensitive teachers would avoid for certain groups, but the idea that language teaching can be at all "neutral" or "sanitized" has always baffled me. It is language, after all. And it is teaching. Neutrality is the opposite of what we set out to do.

But perhaps this is just the opinion of a bleeding heart on white-shoe establishments.

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