Cross cultural communication, an introduction to PPAP (for better or worse)

I love my students, they are so full of surprises!  Who knew I’d be treated to a rendition of the PPAP cult classic by my enthusing students today, such was their determination to get a fellow student to correctly guess at pineapple.

So today, after much faffing, I decided essentially to follow through on my threat/ promise to see if they’d managed to retain the fruit vocab from yesterday.  I also wanted to see what else they’ve remembered from previous weeks.  I feel I need to get not exactly more serious, but more focuses, there is a certain amount of material we need to cover in order for my students to pass the course and progress to the next level, I owe it to them to check that it is going in OK, even though it is as scary for them as it is for me, leaving me somewhat exposed.

I was still waiting for a new student to join the first group.  I therefore used their imminent expected arrival, as a premise for getting all the students to introduce themselves again, but I increased the complexity.  They needed to tell me what they were studying, where they are from and what their favourite fruit was. I was astonished at how well they did.  I then revised all the fruit – and on the whole they took pride in having nailed it, and finally did a bit of a recap on wedding ceremonies. To my considerable surprise the first group did complete (admittedly collective) recall on this topic, even using their own words to describe the various ceremonies.  The second group, which I’d characterised as stronger, were pretty rubbish on that element, but much better at the opening conversations.  We are beginning to properly communicate.  I found out much more about my students.  One turns out to be taking a break from university where he was studying English.  I found out his class size there was about 45 students, and his teacher was a Cambodian who was therefore unable to correct pronunciation due to his accent.  Also, with that many students it was difficult to get a chance to speak anyway.   Another student is in fact a tour guide.  I asked him for recommendations of where to go in Phnom Penh. It was funny that he came up with the Royal Palace – which it turned out only two of us had been to, and ironic that he came up with S-21 – which he referred to more correctly as Tuol Sleung (?) – which he himself has never visited, again only me and one other have been.  I urged them to go saying it is sad, but important, which is something of an understatement on both counts.  However, it was genuinely interesting to talk to the students like this. They are so motivated and engaged when the conversations are ‘real’ and I gain new insights into their lives and new respect for what they have to deal with.   The class comic in the second group told me he is a salesman. However, he was unable to say what he sells, on account of the fact he didn’t know that vocabulary. It turns out he works in some sort of money exchange ‘I sell money’ I asked him if he would buy my fake dollars, but he was adamant he would not – a bit of a cheek I thought given he has used the same money to free me of the burden of my real fruit!

We did a repeat of the ‘I went to market and I bought’ exercise, only this time I gave them pictures of the fruits, then added in some descriptions.  Fortunately they already had  a lot of the vocabulary (round, sweet, sour) but I introduced the concept of seed, pip, stone and spikey (pineapple spikes are hard, dragon fruit spikes are soft).  They had delicious, I’m not sure that they really got ‘juicy’ oh well.  The did inside and outside fruit colours and it was a surprisingly lively discussion.  It was fun and challenging to describe some  of the fruits, and there was a surprising amount of disagreement about colours.

The finale for both groups was a highly successful use of the hot seat TEFL technique.  Basically, I sat one student in the centre of the room with their back to the white board, then I held up a picture of a fruit behind them, and the other students had to give clues for the word until the student guessed correctly.  It was genuinely hilarious, and sufficiently high volume that the poor teacher next door had to tell me to be quiet.  Oops.  I got them to mime extravagant celebrations after that, which still worked.  I need to do the exercise with the students facing the opposite wall next time, so the sound goes away from the adjacent classroom.  Their creativity was impressive. When descriptions didn’t work, one came up with ‘we like to mix this fruit with milk and ice‘ as a clue for avocado.  Unfortunately the pronunciation was so off we had to do a bit of work on that, but hey, ingenious approach!  Oh, and one student was 35 minutes late again. It is the same every day.   Every day I tell her it is not OK, but nothing changes.  She is such an asset when she comes though, I don’t want to scare her off entirely!

I was amazed at the creativity of the students in how they described things. When it didn’t work with colours, taste, seeds etc they resorted to other techniques.  PEAR-shaped in an attempt to elicit ‘pear’.  A description of how mangoes grow on trees, a mime of a papaya seller pushing a barrow spring to mind.  Green hair on the rambutans, allsorts really.  It’s amazing how much language they are able to access and utilise when they are motivated to do so.  I have yet to come up with a game too silly for them to want to play.  However, the best was the final one of the day.

The students were desperately trying to communicate ‘pineapple’ to a student who knew the word but for some reason just couldn’t identify the fruit.  One described vividly how the plant grew; another said ‘it has many eyes’ and all the students joined in repeating this.  I’ve never thought of a pineapple as looking like it has many eyes, but this is obviously a common visual interpretation of the fruit from a Cambodia perspective as it was offered up as a clue by both groups.  Nope, this student still didn’t get it, even when they started spontaneously to do the PPAP (Pen, pineapple, apple, pen) song, of which inexplicably I had previously been completely unaware up until last week when I was introduced to the video by my helpful and informative students.  Yes, it is very annoying, sorry about that.  Push that ‘play’ button at your peril.  He only got it with 30 seconds left of class time when they resorted to telling him to ‘look at the top row of the poster, count to the third fruit along…’ the students followed to the letter my directive not to point at the poster or say the name of the fruit, I too was so desperate for the game to reach a conclusion at this point I was just grateful they had found a work around in time for us all to go home rather than be locked in the building all night!  Clever lot.  Clever indeed. It must be how I inspire them….

So today my students were energetic, focused, creative, funny and came up with some really good stuff.  I still have absolutely no idea about what I’ll do tomorrow, but you know what, tomorrow is another day.  Today, we all did good. Go us!

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