As a result I'll have to palm you off with an offering from several years back, which came to me by way of a friend of a friend of a ... well, get the picture? It concerns a newbie's 'induction' to a certain EFL school in Brighton, that ever-so sophisticated alternative hub of the UK Tefl Trade scene - otherwise known as Skidrow on Sea, of course. As you know, I've always been keen on laughing at students' mistakes, and the fertile field of piss-poor pronunciation has given me more laughs than I could ever remember.
I had only been given the briefest of introductions to the students' cafeteria, where we were apparently entitled to half-price grub, if we could stomach it, so when I got the chance to have a good nose round the place, I took it. Obviously designed and decorated in the early 1970s, and not touched since, it gave off the dispiriting air of an old British Rail station restaurant (pre-privatisation, of course). The colour scheme was a daring cocktail of tangerine and coffee (today’s special, dear?), and the tables were mostly enormous oval-shaped lumps of heavy wood, surrounded by fixed and uncomfortable padded benches.
And here I sat, after a heavy morning’s classes at some time in my first week, happily shoveling down an amazingly appetizing dish of undercooked cut-price chips, heavily anaesthetised with brown sauce, and sloppy tea. I noticed the presence of one of my students, a sporty Korean guy of mature years and an accent to spike worms with, with a few of his younger pals from Seoul, on the seats behind me. They appeared to be discussing musical matters, as from time to time I would hear a carefully created dissonance of some far-off top ten tune, followed by either grunts of recognition or syllables of baffled ignorance.
Then came a tap on the shoulder. “Mister Sandy” my little Korean clubber intoned, with a slight tinge of triumph in his voice, “my friends don’t know Crispy Rizlas!”. My look of extreme puzzlement was enough to oblige him to expand on his statement. “Great music – Crispy Rizlas!”. Just about here my brain began a panicky perusal of its musical memory box. Was it some American cult band of the late 60s, sharing the honours with Jefferson Airplane? Or an obscure but legendary English outfit of the early 70s, stagemates to Soft Machine, or Kevin Ayers?
“You don’t know famous song ‘Rung Once’?” he asked, shaking his little head incredulously. I began to sense I was on to a loser here, and decided to slurp up my tea and make up some feeble excuse, like needing to use the toilet urgently.
Perhaps reading my thoughts, he chose an exemplary path to enlightenment – he burst into song. I clocked the tune immediately – ‘The Young Ones’! Crispy Rizlas - Cliff Richards!! That musical and cultural icon of a most peculiar British type had crossed immense geographical and cultural barriers – to become a crispy rizla!
Sort of seemed about right, I reckoned.
PS: For the teacherly fools amongst you, don’t worry; I did make an immediate mental note to do some focused pronunciation work with the guy the following week.
'A visitor' left this comment on 28 Feb 05
Ha ha - very funny! But it's also quite embarrassing when that happens, isn't it? You don't want to destroy their confidence by not understanding, but if you can't understand them, there isn't anything you can do about it there and then, especially with other people around, other than smile and nod - hoping that by nodding you're not actually committing yourself to anything untoward - and then jump into 'escape' mode.