I recently participated in a Saturday English program called “Real World Conversation.” It was organized by the Ulsan Ministry of Education, and had the children’s best interests at heart. The goal of the program however, was a little unclear. Were the children meant to pretend that they were in an English-speaking country? Or were they practising to help foreigners in Korea? Nobody seemed to know.
12 “missions” had been prepared for the children. Some had obvious goals – the bank, the library, the cafe and the art gallery were all easy to grasp. The impromptu Cinderella performance, and the trip to the toddler’s playground were a little more mysterious.
My favourite was the fire station. The dialogue provided at the fire station was astonishing. And I quote:
Sally: Hi, what is this building?
Fire fighter: This is the fire station.
Sally: Oh wow! Are you a fire fighter?
FF: Yes, I am. How can I help you?
Sally: I am a foreigner. What do I do if there is a fire in my building?
FF: You call us.
S: What is your number?
FF: 119 (Korea doesn’t use 911)
S: What if no one picks up the phone?
FF: There is always someone to pick up the phone.
S: Oh great! I feel safe.
What on earth was the point of the dialogue? Of course it’s a fire station. Korean fire stations look just the same as Western fire stations. Why is Sally so silly? And why does she announce that she’s a foreigner? Worst of all, is the fact that with a slight change in intonation, a ridiculous English dialogue turns into a Harlequin romance.
“Hi,” says Sally, batting impossibly thick lashes. “What is this building?”
“This is the fire station,” replies the brawny fire fighter, valiantly trying to keep his eyes off Sally’s plunging neckline.
“Oh wow!” Sally exclaims, breathless and wide-eyed. “Are you a fireman?”
“Yes, I am,” he announces, picking up a nearby fire truck to show off his manly physique. “How can I help you?”
Perhaps I’ll use this with an adult class to teach intonation. After all, it’s important to learn that with a slight change in your voice you can change this: