Saturday, April 05, 2008

There's an aardvark in the refrigerator

In that strange short phrase, there is as scary a universe as you will find in a handful of dust. We are talking language learning here, and I want to take you back to a controversy that broke up friendships and ruined careers.
We are going to teach little Pierre to speak English. We want him to master the structure "Theres' a........... (+ prepositional phrase of place)."
This can be used by little Pierre in a zillion situations; all he has to do is to supply the words that matter to him. For example, "There's a riot in the Place de la Concorde", "There's a corrupt politician in the government", "There's a blue ridge round my heart, Virginia". Well, it's up to Pierre, it's what he wants to say that matters.
So, how do we inculcate (lovely word) the structure?
Two schools of thought emerged:
1 The utilitarian argument
Every example we give must be "useful", something relating to Pierre's everyday life and experience, eg, "There's a loaf on the table", "There's a car on the road".
2 The fantastical argument
Every example must be memorable, and the further from reality and the further into the ridiculous the better, eg, "There's an aardvark in the refrigerator".

Irreconcilable, these two schools of thought. A colleague of mine wrote an article in support of the second argument. The article was entitled: "My guinea pig died with its legs crossed."
It certainly caught everyone's attention, but it might have been a bit OTT. Mind you, an aardvark in the fridge is not exactly an everyday occurrence either.

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