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					Lesson plan

General reflections

In recent years the concept of “intercultural learning” has become part of almost all
“Richtlinien” or “Lehrpläne” of all school forms and has been discussed in many different
contexts and with emphasis placed on varying aspects. The common denominator, however,
seems to be that in a closely connected world all of us should be able to act in “intercultural
contexts”, that is, he or she should be able to understand, tolerate and communicate with
people that come from a different cultural background. There seems to be little controversy
about the fact that in order to do so it is necessary to adopt someone else’s point of view, to
put oneself into his or her shoes, as it were. This should enable us to accept a different
opinion, to realize that any opinion depends on a subjective perception of the world, on beliefs
and traditions that have been determined by a certain cultural context, not necessarily our
own. Intercultural learning, therefore, needs different abilities and skills regarding linguistics,
factual knowledge, methodology and social competence. It is – in short – a complex task that
cannot be completely achieved at school because it is a continuous process of lifelong
learning. However, it is the task of us as teachers to initiate intercultural learning in the
classroom and to take it as far as possible.


Since the process of intercultural learning is so complex, initiating it is not an easy task,
especially because much communication at school is only “indirect”. However, the
technological advances of recent years have supplied us with new media that can be used
successfully here. I have found that authentic film can often motivate students more than a
written text – and for obvious reasons. Authentic language provides much information on
different levels; characters, content and setting convey vivid images of the society in question.
In short, the use of films makes encounters with the target language and culture more direct
than a text does. This fact no doubt also carries some dangers. An exaggerated or unreflecting
use of film in the classroom can easily demotivate students when they feel they cannot cope
with the (language) input or when they are allowed to become passive consumers. A careful
selection of suitable films, sequences and activities on the teacher’s part is necessary to avoid
that.


When it comes to describing what aspect of a culture might be suitable for intercultural
learning, much has been said about conflicts that arise when people from different cultural
backgrounds live together or come into close contact, about stereotypes, prejudices and
nationalism. These areas should no doubt be dealt with, but I feel that an important aspect
which says much about a culture is mostly left out: humour. What a society can laugh about
says much about its outlook on life and many intercultural misunderstandings arise because
we do not know enough about a “strange” sense of humour. What is more, laughs in class can
create a more relaxed atmosphere and give the concept of intercultural learning a lighter
touch.


Another area that often goes unnoticed where intercultural learning is concerned is a linguistic
one: prosody. With our usual concentration on content and structure of the language, prosody
is often neglected. This is the more surprising as it plays such an important role in any form of
communication, but especially in exchanges between speakers from different cultural
backgrounds. Students should therefore become aware not only of what is being said, but also
of how it is being said. Since body language is closely connected to prosody, it should also be
dealt with. Authentic film provides many examples that could be used to this end.




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SITCOMS IN THE CLASSROOM: EXPLORING LANGUAGE, CULTURE AND HUMOUR

Focus on language: prosody and body language (30’)
Focus on cultural aspects: “class” (26’)
Focus on comedy writing tools: techniques to create humour (32’)

1) Suitability of the material
In today’s seminar, we will have a look at a “classic” among British sitcoms: Fawlty Towers.
The series was first broadcast in 1975 and has since then enjoyed many reruns. Although it is
by now 30 years old it still seems suitable for the classroom because most German students
will be acquainted with John Cleese (Basil Fawlty), and will thus find it quite easy to get
involved in the action. What is more, Cleese embodies many traits that might be considered
“typically English”, some consciously exaggerated, others implicit, so that his character
provides ample room for discussions here. The fact that the main action takes place in
different rooms (lobby, office, dining room) and that there is normally a slight change in the
development of events whenever the room is changed, gives us as teachers the chance to pick
suitably short scenes that can be used on their own for specific purposes. Last but not least,
the comic talent of John Cleese makes watching Fawlty Towers always worthwhile.

2) Outline of the lesson

2.1) Focus on language
Since I do not know the students I have decided to start with an aspect of intercultural
learning that can be used universally: prosody. I will start with an exercise that should raise
their awareness regarding the importance of intonation. To that end I will give them several
short sentences that Basil Fawlty says in the first episode of Fawlty Towers, “A touch of
class”. (“Yes?” / “Have you booked?”/ “Could I have your name?” / “One second please.” /
“Could you fill it in, please?” / “Would you put both your names, please?”) I will ask them to
read them aloud and to say what the context could be (hotel, restaurant). Also, they should
characterise the speaker who makes these utterances (polite, helpful) and what are the typical
markers used here (“could”, “please”, questions). I will then give them a short written
introduction to the basic plot of Fawlty Towers and will play the first part of the scene where
Lord Melbury checks into the hotel. I will ask them to listen for the above sentences /
utterances. I will then ask them to state their impressions (expectations are disappointed:
rudeness and bad-temperedness instead of politeness) and to say what made the difference
(intonation, stress, how you say “please”, repetitions, facial expression, not keeping one’s
distance, etc.) If necessary, I will show the scene again. [OHP: fixation of results]. (~ 15’)


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In the following step the students will guess what happens next, that is, after Fawlty realizes
that he has been talking to a Lord. Their ideas will be noted down on the transparency. I will
then play the scene with the sound switched off and from Fawlty’s gestures / body language
they should be able to guess what he is doing (profuse apologizing / fawning). The students
then suggest what Fawlty might be saying and we compare the results after having listened to
the scene with the sound switched on. They should find emphatic elements like “so”, “I do
apologize”, stress on “please”. We will also have a look at Fawlty’s body language: he
changes to smiles, inviting gestures, and keeps his distance (→ respect). Interim result: It is
not only important what you say, but also how you say it. As speakers of a foreign language
we are often less sensitive than when using our mother tongue and so we have to make our
students aware of these aspects and practise them from time to time. (15’)
                                                                                              (30’)


2.2) Focus on cultural aspects: “class”
The next part of the seminar will be devoted to examining the representation of “class” in this
sequence. According to sociologists the notion of class is still the outstanding feature of
British society. In Germany, class distinctions and class consciousness are much less marked
and so German students might not know class-related aspects of life in Britain. This sequence
provides useful insights into that area of culture. We will watch the complete scene (2.5
minutes) and note down elements that are used to establish “class”. They can be linguistic
(Lord Melbury’s upper-class accent [only for very advanced students], Fawlty’s use of
French (“naturellement”) as an indicator of upper-class language) or external
characteristics (e.g. Lord Melbury’s clothes (white shirt, tie, black suit / coat, orderly
hairdo)). [OHP: fixation of results] (8’)


The students will then interpret Fawlty’s complete change of behaviour by adopting his point
of view the moment he realizes who he is talking to. They will write down the two main
thoughts going through his head. They should try to make them in keeping with what has
happened before and what comes afterwards. They will then present them to the whole group
and a short discussion will follow about what the results show (→ Fawlty has great respect for
the upper class and adapts his behaviour accordingly; he wants to seem better than he is) and
how useful such an exercise is for intercultural learning in class (change of perspective: tool
of understanding someone else’s behaviour; indirect interpretation: focus on the student)
(15’).

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                                                                                           (26’)

2.3) Focus on comedy writing tools: techniques used to create humour
In the last part of the seminar we will have a look at the comedy writing tools that have been
used in the scene under discussion. To this end, we will watch a larger part of the scene (7’),
this time concentrating on where the audience laughs. I will give the students a handout of the
transcript and while listening / reading they mark with dots the points where the audience
laughs. Varying intensities of laughter can be marked by using varying sizes of dots. I will
then give the students a list with the most common techniques used in sitcoms to create
humour and they identify the techniques used at the points with most laughter (allusion
[O’Reilly – potato famine], deadpan delivery of lines [“Yes, I should have guessed, Mr
O’Reilly, that and the potato famine I suppose.”], contrast [seemingly relaxed small talk
about the weather and the wheat – panic because Manuel is nowhere to be seen],
misunderstandings [Manuel], pun [“Go and wait in there! Go and be a waiter in there!”],
sight gags [Fawlty’s complete lack of reaction and abrupt change of attitude: “Go away.”;
also: contrast; Fawlty’s and Manuel’s exaggerated stoop when fighting about Melbury’s
suitcases]). (25’)
                                                                                           (32’)

                                                                                      total: (88’)




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