Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Screen English

Every three months as the middle school students are forced to study ridiculous amounts (I’ll write another blog on that soon), I have the fantastic opportunity to teach different and unique classes with my elementary students.  Many of these classes I have disliked, however this month I have had the fantastic opportunity to teach Screen English.  And I use the term “teach” incredibly loosely. 

Basically for seventy minutes, twice a week, for four weeks, I have around twelve students (4th-6th grade) and we watch a different American movie each week. We usually watch around 50 minutes of the video a day so one easily stretches out for both class periods. Their comprehension levels vary greatly so I tried to get movies that would appeal to all levels.

The first week I tried to be creative and get one of those terribly annoying children’s movies that they would love. Judy Moody and the Not So Bummer Summer
This movie was awful. Terrible.  Painful to watch. The only redeeming point was that Steve Urkel was in it.  My students liked it alright but no, never again.

Week two I wanted to get creative and share (and relive) my childhood so I downloaded episodes of Family Matters, Saved By The Bell, and Are You Afraid of the Dark. (I also strongly contemplated Full House and Hey Dude!) $40 to iTunes later, none of them had subtitles and they were useless.  With about 5 minutes to spare, I remember that I had the movie Big  in my laptop.  (I always have a plan B.)
I watched that movie as a kid all the time.  It’s perfectly appropriate, right? WRONG.  What Korea allows on television is very different than what America allows on television.  For starters, every show is given a rating by age – All, 7, 12, 15 and 19.  Sex and the City is 19 (and unedited).  America’s Next Top Model is 15.  Those are about the only shows I’ve watched on TV in the last 15 months.  Anyhow, if something is rated 15 then there can be no smoking, drinking, drugs, kissing and definitely no bra shots. Nor can there even be references to any of those behaviors.  Well, that pretty much knocks out all the movies from the 80s.  And my students are more in the 7-10 age range so whatever those stipulations are have to be crazy restrictive.

While Big is rated PG, I had no idea what I was in for.  The smoking, the drinking, the sexual innuendos. (Thankfully those were all way over most of my students heads.) Add in the incredible foul mouths, including several b****, GD’s, and an f-bomb.  While I was able to filter out the one boob grab that I remembered, there was no way I could filter out all of the cursing AND adult Tom Hanks jumping around in his skivvies. Oh my.  I can only imagine what these children went home and told their parents I let them watch.

At one point in the movie when Josh and Billy first get to NYC and they are searching for a hotel, they pass a prostitute and a crazy homeless man on the street.  The homeless man repeats the phrase, “I’m gonna kill the b****. I’m gonna kill her with a knife.”  At the end of class one of my favorite students, one that is so wonderful I would actually adopt him if I could, came up to me with a smirkish grin.  “I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a knife.”

Oh my God. What have I done?

This week, to err on the side of extreme caution, I was debating between Tangled, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (a personal favorite!), and Labyrinth.  How cool would Labyrinth be?!?!  I’ve been really opposed to showing Disney movies because it just seems to obvious.  I wanted to offer them something that showed a little more culture or something that they haven’t seen already in Korea. After weighing heavily between Roger Rabbit and Labyrinth, I decided that unfortunately Roger Rabbit probably held a lot of the same bad qualities that Big did and I chose the Labyrinth.  I thought the lack of human characters and actual talking would be helpful to them. And who doesn’t love David Bowie?

This is a long blog. I apologize.

I downloaded Labyrinth and it didn’t work so last minute I went with Tangled. (Told you…I always have a plan B.)
Holy crap, Batman! They loved it! I should have just shut up and done this one from the start.  Granted this is probably the best Disney movie of the last decade, but not once did I have to tell someone to put their phone away.  They laughed the whole way through, even grasping a good handful of the jokes.  I overheard several of them repeating different lines to themselves throughout the movie, which is awesome. Normally I stop the video with about 7 minutes to spare so we can "talk" about the movie (meaning I bribe them with candy) but this time I let it run straight up to the last minute of class.  And when I did hit "stop", I got yelled at.  Fantastic! 

I think it helped that many of them were familiar with the movie ahead of time so they kind of understood what was being said, but I was amazed by how even with a language that they barely understand, they were captivated the whole time.

Who knew?!?!

Oh, and I need suggestions for next week.  Any ideas?


  1. I wish I could show more movies. The only movies I've shown my kids are The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Miss Congeniality (this one with the middle schoolers).

  2. One thing that I've used quite a bit here in South Korea is The Amazing Race Asia (two seasons had South Korean competitors and one season had two legs here). It also helps that the seasons that I have all have Korean subtitles.

    Besides being exciting, it shows people whose first language is not English communicating entirely in English. The globe trotting also opens up the world to the kids in ways they have never imagined and plants a few seeds about maybe doing some of the same things in their futures.

  3. if it's available anywhere, how about one of the Muppets movies?