Playing with language….with a footballing connection

Sharing a joke with a class is one of the best parts of education.  It’s a potentially fun and entertaining moment and it does wonders for the relationship that you as a teacher have with a group.  If it can also include a kind of educational dimension then you have a perhaps unusual but also very valuable combination.

I’ve posted before about the difficult and rather unique place in language acquisition that proverbs and sayings in communication.

Lost Consonants, sayings and proverbs

They are a difficult part to grasp and to dare to use. I like to use them in my teaching as an art teacher in bilingual education. I often find myself pausing to explain what exactly I mean when I use such a phrase or proverb.  Understanding, and daring to use a phrase like ‘that’s a different kettle of fish’ is difficult, but knowing when to use it enriches communication and brings a new level to expression through language.

There is also a kind of flip side to this, and also one that I occasionally encounter in the classroom. A pupil tries to use a translated version of a Dutch proverb.  The translated version can at times sound very odd, bewildering or just plain funny.

It is normally only a diversion at the end of a lesson, but throwing translations of Dutch proverbs, (translated literally and into perfect English of course) can become so entertaining, at home in our bilingual household we do it as well. Someone who complains a lot is a ‘moan sock’, a direct translation from the Dutch ‘zeurkous’.

Or try ‘ik schrik me een hoedje’, it is used when you are very shocked or have someone made you jump. It means, literally translated ‘I shocked myself a hat’!

Or ‘you’re standing with your mouth full of teeth’…you just don’t know what to say, ‘met de mond vol tanden staan’ in Dutch.

Or ‘make someone happy with a dead sparrow’….trying to impress someone with something that is actually pretty valueless, ‘iemand blij maken met een dode mus’ in Dutch.

The comedians in the class seem to like the challenge of trying to have mock conversations that include direct English translations or Dutch sayings.  I’m not sure if this whole exercise has any real language value. Other than encouraging the pupils to play and explore language in unusual and fun ways.  I would hope that it does teach them at least how careful you need to be if to are tempted to try and translate and use a proverb from your own language. It can leave you looking  well, a little daft, which is where the football connection comes in. The current coach (Louis van Gaal) of Manchester United also at times runs into problems in this area as the following two videos show:

If anyone has any examples of strange translations of sayings and proverbs into English I’d be interested to hear them.

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Lost Consonants, sayings and proverbs – Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)

A couple of weeks ago I published a post called One Letter Switch that involved a small switch of one letter in the title of an existing film to produce a new and very different movie name. I mentioned in the post that I would also explain a second variation that in some ways follows similar lines.

I should start by underlining that this idea has its root in the extremely quirky “Lost Consonants” images that artist and writer Graham Rawle published in the Guardian newspaper a number of years ago. Rawle’s work was published in the newspaper for its entertainment value and its humour with both a visual and a text-based edge.

Each image was created in a similar way. He took a sentence, like for example, “Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started barking”. He then altered the sentence by removing one single consonant from somewhere in the sentence. So the sentence could become, “Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started baking”. This new variation of the text would then be placed underneath a collage that Rawle made by cutting up magazine images and illustrating the new, mostly somewhat sillier version of the phrase………..

graham-rawle

How exactly to apply the core of this idea to the classroom was the first issue. It occurred to me that potentially any sort of sentence could be used. Because of this it also seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to shine a light on one particularly troublesome area of language acquisition. Sayings, proverbs and other ‘wise’ sayings have their place in all languages. When you stop to consider them carefully it becomes only too clear just how often they are used. They enrich a language, they give it a more playful complexity, they are also quite difficult to learn.  I know this last point from my own experience of learning Dutch. They are some similarities and even some sayings that are essentially the same. There are others that simply have no comparison and if you stop to translate them literally into a second language you often see just how odd they are, a fact that makes you very nervous about daring to use them!

I decided to apply the ‘Lost Consonants’ approach to sayings and proverbs in my lesson. The aim was essentially three-fold:

  1. To get my pupils reading English proverbs and sayings on websites that also provide an explanation of what they mean and how they should be used.
  2. The get the class playing with the language and interpretation possibilities if just one letter was dropped from the proverb. The new version needed to have a linguistic logic, even (and hopefully) if the result was actually a rather crazy literal meaning.
  3. The new version had to work in such a way that it could result in an entertaining and engaging photographic collage put together from diverse sources (it is, after all an art lesson!)

Providing pupils with examples of sayings to look through was easy enough, there are plenty of sites available that offer lists:

www.phrasemix.com

www.smart-words.org

www.knowyourphrase.com

www.englishclub.com

Then the word game starts of experimenting with the possibilities. Just one consonant to be removed, no other possibilities allowed. Some of the sayings offer little or no options for adjustment, but there are plenty that do. Having experimented with this assignment with a couple of classes in the last week, I think it is also important to get the pupils sharing not only their new variations with each other but also the original version and explaining the contexts to one another when it might be used.

Most pupils were quite easily able to come up with three or four possibilities.  Often though the final decision of which one to work with was simply down to which one would make the best Graham Rawle-like collage with the most surreal visual qualities. Below are a few examples from my third years (14-15 year olds).

missingconsonants2

If you would like to see more of Graham Rawle’s work in this area it can be found here:

www.grahamrawle.com

One letter switch – language and graphic design, a CLIL (content and language) assignment

Studying a little graphic design is part of the broad art and culture course that I teach my classes of fifteen and sixteen year olds. Their world is full of this type of visual material in the form of websites, magazines, posters, packaging and video.  However it never fails to surprise me just how little they have actually stopped to think about it and how good design can influence them.

With this in mind I have constructed a series of lessons that explore various forms of graphic design it features interviews with designers and analysis of their work. I like to support this sort of theoretical work with a practical assignment that encourages the pupils to try and get to grips with design issues themselves. It’s a kind of ‘doing is the best form of learning’ approach, a standpoint I am definitely a supporter of.

The assignment

I wanted to set the pupils the task of designing a movie poster. It’s an area of graphic design that they are all familiar with and one that by and large has a number of design elements that come back again and again, ones that they could also be applied in their design work.

The image part of the poster I decided to turn into a small photographic assignment. All photographic imagery had to be made by the pupils themselves, nothing was to be sourced from the Internet.

The language challenge

However before any photography or design work could be started the language element was going to be crucial in determining the direction that the final design would take. The rule I imposed for the fictitious film that they were to design a poster for was simple; they had to take the title of an existing film and then create a new, and completely different direction for it by switching just one letter in the title for a different letter. No other variations were allowed, it was just one for one.

brotherbearI gave a couple of examples to get the ball rolling a little, Pirates of the Caribbean  could become Pilates of the Caribbean or Saving Private Ryan could become Raving Private Ryan. One letter in each case, resulting in film titles that head off in completely new directions and would produce very different posters.

This sounds too simple to be much of a language challenge, but when I watched the class engage with the challenge it soon became clear that it offered more than I expected. The pupils searched through countless film titles on their phones seeking out word and letter switches that could work. It almost reminded me of a classroom of pupils trying to puzzle out crosswords as they juggled with letter and word combinations.

For most there seemed to be two pressing criteria that developed.  Firstly and perhaps most obviously, that the new title had to produce an idea that could also result in a photographic image that they felt that they could actually make, but also the presence of humour seemed important.

I realize now that in terms of creativity I should have shown them one of my favourite, crazy film related websites, Cardboard Box Office. It doesn’t exactly play along the same language related lines, but it is not far off.  In terms of taking a film related image and theme and twisting it in a wonderfully creative way there are few sites to beat it!  I think it would have almost certainly lead to greater creativity in arranging the photographic material. A note to self……next year make use of the cardboard box office!!

setpostersOn the level of extensive content and language integration (CLIL) this is a fairly modest language assignment. But it was a language element that was certainly enjoyed by the pupils. It engaged them and caused a form of creative play that was a positive diversion from the more standard report writing that they are more often involved with.

I’ll be posting a second assignment that continues, in a slightly more complex way , in this direction in a week or two, follow the blog if you’d like to hear about it.

Street art and birth control…..the connection

I do like a bit of good street art. You round a corner in an unfamiliar town or city to discover a permanent or temporary addition to the urban scene. Much of the temporary variety can be very sharp and engaging in its message, have a social or political point to make or simply be very funny. In comparison the permanent variety can often seem rather dull and unamusing, be it a statue of some local hero or oblique reference to the history of the area. Rarely does humour seem to have played a role in choosing the artwork to be displayed.

pill strip2The same can surely not do said of the newly unveiled public artwork in the Dutch town of Oss where I work. At least I assume that there must have been at least wry glint in the eyes of the commission who decided that this artwork should be placed between the railway station and the large chemical and pharmaceutical business on the other side. I had seen it being built for a week or two as I waited each day for my train to arrive. Initially I had assumed it was some sort of bicycle storage facility. But as the top section went on it became apparent that Oss too had made a piece of street art that celebrated a significant detail of local history.  But it was a rather unexpected reference, leaving me to suppress my laughter as I boarded my train.

The aforementioned pharmaceutical company used to be known as Organon and was a major producer of the contraceptive pill, and it was this part of local history that is being landmarked. What had been made was a fourteen by seven metre pill strip, complete with twenty one press out ‘bubbles’ for the tablets. It wasn’t until last week that I saw the piece in its full glory. For twenty one days the lights under one after the other of the bubbles is extinguished, thus counting the month away. Finally, after dark in the ‘fourth week’ all the lights burn red, subtle it certainly isn’t! The council had chosen for a giant, glow in the dark, animated pill strip!

pill strip

When seeing it all light up on a dark evening up you have to kind of admire the silliness of it. They can’t have been too serious about it…..can they?

Rather conveniently I am actually dealing with street art in all its forms in a series of lessons with some of my classes at the moment. We will undoubtedly be talking about the pill strip at some point. It ticks many street art boxes, sight specific, content and location connected, surprising, eye catching and funny….although I still have my doubts as to whether this was actually the intention.