Wham! Varoom! And things that jet setters do…

No. I’m sorry. This is the last of my misleading blog titles. This is not a post about the me and my partner’s imaginary jet setting lifestyle. It’s a continuation of the saga about the use of music in my Advanced Class.


This is what happened next…

Part Five

The next day, the students were put in groups to recall what they had done the day before, and this naturally led to them discussing their interpretation of the Lady Gaga music video. We started to discuss the use of colours in the video and the parallels they could draw to Lichtenstein’s work, alongside those of his contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, all of which represented, albeit sometimes ironically, the pop icons and all that is wholesome and desired in the modern American world.

Some of the students had not just gone and researched Roy Lichtenstein, but had googled ‘Analysis of Lady Gaga’s Telephone’ and found other views on what they thought the video meant. Suggesting that ‘mind control’ could be a theme of the video, a student went on to explain the literal visual cues of Lady Gaga’s wearing of Coke cans and then a telephone on her head, and this bloomed into a discussion about the significance of the products placements featured in the video…

(There are so many! Here is a list: Virgin Mobile, LG – Mobile Phone, Coke and Diet Coke, Chanel – Sunglasses, Polaroid, Monster – Beats Headphones, Plenty of Fish – dating website, Miracle Whip – Mayonnaise, Wonder Bread…can you spot any more?)

We wondered whether the product placements were actually there to promote the products or as a tongue in cheek social commentary on the way our minds were controlled by advertising and marketing firms. One student then mentions the portrayal of food in the second half of the video. We discussed if it was Lady Gaga and Beyonce poisoning the people in the café, or if it was American food culture and eating habits that were doing the poisoning… Some thought that the use of the American flag colours in the Super Hero costumes Lady Gaga and Beyonce wore while they were dancing around the dead people confirmed that the video was a dig at American consumerism and materialism, and questioned the authenticity of the product placements.

The discussion about consumerist societies and our susceptibility to being influenced soon turned into one about advertising campaigns and strange ways that companies used to market their products and gain publicity. In pairs, students shared with each other the most notorious advertising campaigns in their countries, and this got students quite excited. Even those paired up with partners from the same country brought up different adverts that they remembered, and reminisced about how good (or bad) they were.

It was time for our usual 15-minute break, and so I gave them the task of finding their ad on Youtube so that they could show the class after the break. We were entertained with mini-presentations from the different students who talked about ads that gave rise to publicity coming from :

1) the extreme bad acting of a Uruguayan alcoholic beverage,

2) a Brazilian real estate company’s owner talking about his family and his phrase ‘My daughter is in Canada’ being made famous nation-wide

3) a car ad that featured a catchy jingle and animated ponies dancing around in the engine as a play on the word ‘Horse-Power’

4) A Peruvian tourism board short documentary filmed in Peru, Nebraska.

The class was made up of mostly Peruvian students, with the exception of one Uruguayan and two Brazilians, and so when the students played the video, which was in Spanish, most of the class understood what was going on quite well. Although I speak some Spanish, some of the funny moments were lost on me, and suddenly it dawned on me that this was a great moment to introduce some translation work.

Now, I know that the taboo of grammar translation methodologies still hovers over many of us teachers. And if you find yourself gasping at either the use of L1 in the classroom or the encouragement of translation, I’d urge you to read on and see if this changes your mind.

I paused the video after about one and a half minutes, and said to students, ‘You are all working as subtitlers and in charged of subtitling those one and a half minutes for an English-speaking audience. You can’t just translate word for word. You need to get the jokes, the connotations, the style of the genre across to the audience.’

I asked them if they ever did any translation work in their English classrooms previously and all of them said no. So I then proceeded to explain, ‘Many of you said you need English because it is now an essential tool to have to get a good job. So how many of you do you think would be asked in your jobs to translate an email from Spanish into English, or vice versa? Or perhaps your boss might say, ‘I need this report to be translated. You speak English? You do it!’ You might not need to be a professional translator, but at some point, you’d be asked to translate something or other into or out of English, don’t you think?’

I asked the following questions for them to ponder upon.

Is translation an easy skill? Do you think it needs practising?

Can we just translate word for word? What happens when we do?

I then played the video again sentence by sentence for the students, giving them time to write their translations into their notebooks. The Brazilians were given help by their Peruvian partners.

In pairs, the students then compared their answers and discussed the differences between the way they have translated the sentences, and the different effect that creates.

Some fascinating discussions took place here.

Some students translated ‘Peru. Nebraska. Population 569. A gas station. A restaurant…a train station that now has another use.

Others translated ‘Peru. Nebraska. Inhabitants 569. One gas station. One restaurant…a train station that now has a different use.

We discussed the use of ‘Number of inhabitants: 569’ to make it fit the genre; the differences between emphasizing the number ‘one’ versus using a general article ‘a’; and the use ‘another use’ versus ‘different use’ or even ‘different purpose’ and the subtle differences in style they create.

I could go on and on here about the different discussions we had about the very short translated text, but it would only be relevant to this text and you would be bored.

More importantly, it was the discussions it provoked and the awareness it raised of the differences in language use and the different norms in the same genre.

When the translation exercise was completed, the conversation went back to advertising campaigns and marketing products. I had picked up the DVD of ‘Business Nightmares’ during their break, and proceeded to show them a short video of Sunny Delight’s successful, but not so truthful, marketing campaign.

This led to an interesting discussion about the responsibilities that companies and corporations have towards their consumers, nicely wrapping up our three-day journey that started All Because I Hoped I didn’t Fall in Love with You.

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