Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About the Royal Wedding)

What is her name? I stressed the “her” as much as I could but my pre-entry ESOL students’ faces remained blank as they stared at a picture of Meghan Markle.

Like many people in the UK I had bought into the whole royal wedding shebang and planned a lesson around the Windsors and the Markles. In this case, the focus would be on introductions, a subject we had covered previously but to which I wanted to come back using the royal shindig as class material. I was really pleased with myself and the fact my lesson would be as student-led as possible. The lead-in would be a photo of the happy couple, Meghan and Harry, the hand-over to students would be swift and smooth and the practice stage productive. There was one element, however, I didn’t count on.

My learners did not know much about the royals.

There it was on the wall, the family tree diagram I had so carefully printed off the net showing the lineage from Queen Elizabeth II to the latest addition, Prince Louis. Yet, my students, spanning continents from Asia to America, and countries from Pakistan to Ecuador, only recognised William. I panicked in the same way a theatre director panics when their leading actor or actress falls ill on opening night and their understudy has lost their voice. What to do now?

Well, time for some improvisation – having been part of an impro troupe back in my uni days, I developed then very handy skills that have served me well over the years. For instance, how to turn a potentially failing lesson into a successful one with a simple sleight of hand and some thespian tricks – and concept checking questions. Is the woman’s name William? No, it isn’t (well, even Harry would have been surprised at that one!). Is her name Elizabeth II? (they knew who the Queen was) No, it isn’t and I for one can’t see the newly-minted Duchess of Sussex applying for the top job anytime soon.

Next it was a controlled practice activity. I chose a multiple-choice question with just one correct answer. Is the woman’s name a) Elizabeth II b)Meghan Markle c)William?

They all called out at the same time, in different accents and using various pronunciations: Meghan Markle! I carried on playing devil’s advocate for a few seconds, broad smile on my face. So, it’s not Elizabeth II (no). And it’s not William (no).

No, it is not, I said. Or no, it isn’t. I decided to throw in a bit of language feedback to ensure that their answers, whilst correct, still included the full structure.

First hurdle overcome I grew in confidence. I moved on to the productive stage. I normally use puppets in my lessons as ice-breakers and to make them more fun and entertaining. Also, to bring the child in us back out. William. Elizabeth and Meghan lost their titles and became plain Bill, Liz and Meg, a cat, a dog and a bear. Introductions were practised. Then, the new content was presented: This is my friend…His/Her name is… My learners took to it pretty well. Even the usually shy ones in the room contributed actively. My personal aim of maintaining a good pace and giving out clearer instructions was working.

Still in the productive and final stage, I marched on. Here is where most beginners’ level teachers stumble. Learners can easily get used to the teacher doing all the work whilst they only answer controlled practice exercises. Their attitude at times can come across as uncooperative. Yet, all they are doing is showing their lack of knowledge of the target language and their insecurity in acquiring said language. No wonder they refuse to leave their comfort zone. Hence the quick hand-over at the start of the lesson ensures both parties know what is expected of them. In my case, I had made up little cards, each with a (very) short bio of Harry, Meghan, William and Kate. After reading them, the students were expected to role-play between themselves.

Up stood the first two, a man and a woman. After the usual hellos, the introductions:

 My name is Henry Charles Albert David, but you can call me Harry, what is your name?
My name is Meghan Markle. Nice to meet you.
-         Nice to meet you, too. Where are you from?
-         I am from the United States of America. And you, where are you from?
-         I am from Great Britain.
-         OK, bye.
-         Bye.

We all clapped the pair and ended the lesson there on a high. I am sure that some of them went home desperate to show off to their family what they had learnt in class and what to answer if they were ever asked “What is her name?”, a picture of a beaming Meghan Markle in hand.

© 2018


  1. What a wonderful teacher you must be! And well done with the quick thinking... who would have guessed anyone could have avoided knowing all the main "players" in our world of over-saturated media coverage!

  2. Improvisation is the key for sure!! : ))
    Good job!! Well done!
    : ))

  3. What fun - and well done you! (I’ve agreed to do some school assemblies to tell the children about the summer Reading scheme, run by libraries. I used to work with children on their own - I’m certainly going to need some lateral-thinking to cope with a whole hall-full!)

  4. Hi ACIL - amazing ... and how interesting they didn't know anything about the Royal Family - or appeared not to do so ... you'd think one of the main reasons of coming over was to learn more about the culture and tradition. But well done you ... and I love your idea of the puppets - I'm sure the Royals would be delighted to be called Liz, Bill or Meg ... wonderful to read - cheers Hilary

  5. You did a very great job! There aren´t many creative teachers around (I had one, too!).

  6. Enjoyed watching the wedding with the world.

  7. Great job. I didn't realize you taught.

  8. You are the type of inspirational teacher that we should all have. A teacher who is remembered for decades.

  9. An inventive and entertaining lesson. You must be a fun teacher.

  10. Getting creative sure is the way indeed!

  11. lol. I heard there wold be a wedding but forgot about it :)

  12. Amazing to read your post, I think your lesson idea was brilliant.
    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the wedding.

    Enjoy these last few days of May.
    My good wishes

    All the best Jan

  13. What an interesting insight into how to make a lesson work. I think I would have been flummoxed, although I don't have any practice in teaching so perhaps I would be better with a little experience. I wouldn't expect the students to know TOO much about the royals if they don't speak English, it means nobody English will be talking much to them about anything but the bare necessities. And perhaps they are more eager to catch up on the news from home. But I would have thought they might have twigged some kind of a wedding was going on. Well, they know now! :)

  14. I suppose many people can stand in front of a class and lecture. Engaging the students takes real teaching qualities.

  15. I am really surprised that they didn't know anything about the Royal Family. Plunging back into the distance now to work out when the royals entered kid's minds.

  16. I like the idea of puppet royals... can we have them instead?

  17. Well done! Though I'm left with the picture of a gawky, previously shy student deciding to burst onto the London social scene armed with his sock puppet ...

  18. that was some improvisation! and the important thing is, you get the students engaged.
    nice reading this. :)

  19. Excellent improvisation! And you taught some important cultural lessons along the way!

  20. Nice work, Mario! Your improv skills saved the day. The royal family owes you one. :)

  21. Interesante tu trabajo, que sigas en la buena vía y disfrutando a la vez, saludos.

  22. What a wonderful way to engage with your class. I find it odd how Americans (including some in my family) got all excited about the wedding.

    You can mostly find me these days at this blog: www.thepulpitandthepen.com

  23. Wow...I am truly impressed!
    Where were teachers like you when I was in school? We would have simply been given the bare facts and then left to make of them what we could (or couldn't).
    And had I been in your place...I'm sure I would have be lost for words - or ideas.
    Oh to be that inventive...:))

    Have a Brilliant Weekend!

  24. You're the kind of teacher students are fortunate to have. Engaging with students and making them think is a valuable skill, but it's just as important for a teacher to be able to think on his feet. Your improv skills saved the day!

  25. They all called out at the same time: Meghan Markle! Speaks a lot of her popularity.

  26. Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this, It's very interesting Blog...
    I believe there are many who feel the same satisfaction as I read this article!
    I hope you will continue to have such articles to share with everyone!



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