My compulsive watching of SVU totally came in handy in class today…

Posted on 08.07.2011


THIS article was brought in by one of my students today. And that would be fine, if they were taking a ‘legal English’ course, but they are taking business English.

Allow me to backtrack. The class in question is one of my higher-level classes, but they are a slightly mixed bag and definitely have their issues. We have no curriculum, so when I took on the class, the instruction I got was to just go in and listen to them talk, and correct everything. That was fine for the first few months, but after that, I started picking up on the same mistakes being made over and over and over again, consistently, by all of the students. So I’d make notes of the grammatical errors I heard, and then give a short lesson on them a class or two later.

Eventually the students started asking for MORE grammar and teaching from me, and I am happy to do that. So as it stands, I assign homework these days (mostly grammar, mostly relevant to whatever mistakes they are still making) and we’ve been doing a lot of reading in class. Sometimes I assign a short story or news article. But we’ve worked out a plan where each week, a student is to bring in an article that they found interesting to share with the class.

So, the student that brought the above article this week told me that he hadn’t even read it before choosing it, it was just on a topic he thought the class would find interesting. This is fine, because we don’t always talk about business in class. It’s important to be able to talk about a lot of things, including what’s going on in the news. BUT: I was aware of the fact that he hadn’t read it, since one look at the vocabulary in the article would show any teacher that the student didn’t bother to read it: it’s full of words that my students have never used or heard.

A small sampling of those words: plea bargain, perpetrator, ‘perp walk’, felony, misdemeanor, alleged, assault, charged (with a crime), legitimate, assistant district attorney.

I mean, granted, these are words that most native English speakers just know instinctively. There were more in the article that were not so easy, though. And honestly, can you explain the difference between when it is assault and when it is rape or battery? Because that came up as well. Thankfully, I could explain the difference. But I think that came more from living in Baltimore than watching TV. Could any American you met on the street explain the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?

Regardless, these are words that are NOT taught in business English classes, unless the students are lawyers. And even then, it’s only in the highest level classes, as these are what we call ‘specialized words’, which means that they are not needed by the general population (just like graphic design or advertising words). So imagine the students’ surprise when they realized that they had to ask questions about at least two words in every paragraph.

It took us nearly the entire two hours to read. It was good to read, since it was a lot of new vocabulary, but I think my student learned to read the next article (at least a part of it) before bringing it in.

Thankfully, because all I watch these days is football games (the Women’s World Cup is on, if you’re interested) and Law and Order: SVU DVDs (the xmas gift that keeps on giving, thanks Steph!), I was totally able to explain EVERY SINGLE word. I think Mariska Hargitay would be proud:)

I have never been so damn thankful to watch a TV show, ever. I was telling Deb today that maybe I should pick up House after this, so I can learn a bunch of medical vocab by osmosis as well.

Posted in: in the news, teaching