Yes, it is possible. You can become fluent in English right here in Thailand. You donít have to spend many years living or studying in an English-speaking country to become fully proficient.
We have living proof here at the Bangkok Post in the person of Kong Rithdee, writer/reporter for our Friday real.time magazine. In fact, Kong has developed his English language abilities so thoroughly that he even writes movies reviews. As you will see later in this lesson, movie reviews require very special skills Ė which are beyond the abilities of most native speakers, incidentally.
According to Kong he was educated in the Assumption system all the way from the age of six until his graduation from ABAC. At the lower levels, he said most of his courses were in Thai, but he said he benefited greatly from the schoolís tradition of excellence in English-language teaching.
He also attributes his skill in English to his habit of constant reading. "For the past 7 or 8 years," he explains, "Iíve been obsessed with reading Ė both in Thai and English. I read everything Ė novels, magazines, newspapers."
Kong has a remarkable vocabulary Ė something you will see very quickly when you read any of his work in real.time. Interestingly, he says, he tries out new words Ė words he has never used before Ė almost every time he writes. "I see it as my job to try to use new words, to experiment," he says.
Where does he find them? Mostly from his reading. How can he be confident that he is using them correctly? Again, reading helps a lot, he says, particularly if you are able to see the words used in different contexts. That helps you to understand their nuances of meaning and subtle connotations.
Of course, says Kong, he also checks with colleagues Joe Smith and Bernie Cooper (both of whom you met last in last weekís column). And then there are always dictionaries with detailed explanations and examples. "I use them, too," he says.
As for his job, Kong says, he is really a jack-of-all-trades. His main job is to write front-page feature stories for real.time, but he also writes restaurant reviews, helps with a gardening column and, of course, he writes movie reviews Ė his biggest personal interest. Since movies are also a personal interest of most students, that is where we will focus this week.
|obsessed with||unable to stop thinking about or doing||nuances||very small differences in meaning
||subtle||not easy to notice; not obvious
||connotation||a feeling or idea that is suggested by a word (e.g., both "slender" and "skinny" mean "thin", but slender gives a positive impression whereas skinny is negative)
||jack-of-all-trades||someone who does many different types of jobs
Kong stresses that in writing a movie review, he is simply expressing his own opinions about the film. That is why he writes his reviews in the first person (i.e., he uses the word "I"). He says his purpose is simply to share his impressions of a movie with his readers. "For example," he says, "if a movie is supposed to be funny and itís not funny, I try to explain why it fails to do what it is supposed to do."
He generally starts thinking about writing his review only after he sees the movie. "I try not to think about my feelings while Iím there," he says. "I just let myself go with the experience, then think later."
Kong admits to having somewhat of a formula for writing his reviews. "I begin with my general impression of the movie," he explains. Then, he says, he deals with typical elements of a movie review such as the plot, the characters, the actors, and comparisons with other similar movies.
Kong says there are two general approaches to movie reviews. The first deals with the subject itself and what it tells us about society. The other is the "cinematic approach" which focuses on the techniques of movie making e.g., the filming techniques, the acting, the directing, etc. "I try to balance the two approaches," he says.
But writing a good review is much more than simply mixing impressions with facts. It has to be interesting and entertaining at the same time. This often means developing a catchy, attention grabbing, theme. For example, here is how Kong began a recent reviews on the movie Inspector Gadget:
Inspector Gadget is a comedy with creaks, loose screws and broken springs. Worse, it has no heart, no human touch in its entire length.
A gadget, of course, is a small device or machine, and Kong is clearly comparing the movie to a gadget Ė one which doesnít work. In other words, in Kongís opinion, the movie is a failure.
Does Kong ever worry about being so outspoken and critical? "No," he says. "When you watch movies, you know right away when something is not good, that it is a hoax and it cannot fulfil what it is supposed to do." In such a case, the reviewer should be honest and tell his readers about the movieís failings.
|plot||the story of a movie, play, etc.||comedy||a funny movie, play, etc.
||creaks||noises caused by something which is not well made or which hasnít been fixed
||hoax||a plan to deceive someone
Reading the review
This week we are featuring one of Kongís reviews written under his pen name, K. Rudeen. It is about the Hollywood movie, Big Daddy, starring Adam Sandler. Perhaps you have seen it.
It wonít take you long to find out that Kong didnít like the movie. As you read, find out why he felt the movie was so bad. Here are some things to consider as you read:
- Did his review follow the formula mentioned above? Did he begin with his general impression of the movie? Did he discuss the plot and characters? Did he discuss the actors? Did he make any comparisons with other movies?
- Did Kong consider both the social significance of the movie and its cinematic effects? Which one did he focus on most?
- In this review, did Kong use an entertaining, attention-grabbing theme or was he mostly very serious? Why?
- Look at the vocabulary used in the story. Make a list of the adjectives Kong used to express his dissatisfaction with the movie and Adam Sandlerís acting?
- Did he find anything that was good in the movie?
REVIEW: A charmless, witless summer-flick
There are movies in which the actors serve as mere instruments to the plot. They donít put in any energy, they donít try to be creative, sometimes they donít even try to act Ė all they can do is allow themselves to get carried along helplessly by the story.
Whatís worse, if the story itself is lousy, the failure is compounded. This review might upset many viewers, but I think Adam Sandler and his summer excursion Big Daddy are a hoax; a shallow comedy with a shameless pretence of appearing uplifting. It is laden with cheap jokes but at the end attempts to touch on high-minded subjects of child adoption and paternal dedication.
The film wants us to believe that itís perfectly OK for an aimless, lazy, underemployed, vulgar, anti-social slacker to adopt a five-year-old if only he genuinely loves the child. Is it OK? Well, Iím not so sure. If it were his own child Ė his own flesh and blood Ė then the idea might be acceptable. But adoption is about assuming the life of an abandoned child; it isnít like buying a second-hand car.
But where Big Daddy fails utterly is in its weak, drifting plot: It doesnít convince me that Sandlerís character really loves the child; he treats him as a new toy, a walking, weeping, peeing doll (the film really enjoys this gag about peeing; perhaps director Dennis Dugan was dreaming of making the classic Bicycle Thief). I canít imagine what that poor child would grow up to be if he had such an insane, self-obsessed father!
Sandler plays Sonny Koufax, a law school graduate whoís determined to live a teenagerís life and refuses to develop a mentality and responsibility of an adult. In a misguided attempt to impress his estranged girlfriend, Sonny accidentally adopts Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) and finds himself trapped in his own scheme since he has to keep the child until the agency finds a suitable foster family.
But the two develop a mutual bond, and Sonny doesnít want to return the child when the time arrive. The situation allows the screenwriter to insert cliché jokes like bed-wetting and kangaroo-jumping and constant peeing. It contains a few big laughs all right, but most of the time Big Daddy employs cheap and cruel tricks by letting Sandler shout into our ears or perform gross-out, crazy acts just to rescue the gags.
In one scene Sonny takes Julian for a trick-or-treat excursion and practically robs a man who refuses to give candy to his adopted son. In another Sonny throws a wooden stick on the ground to trip up rollerbladers so that he and his beloved son can have a good time together. Is this a model family? Is Sonny a father figure we should admire?
Sandler looks like a really disturbing skiver Ė he might consider that an acting success Ė but heís nothing more than a lifeless robot manipulated by the hollow plot. The legion of supporting actors donít make any difference, although they all do their best to extract the last laugh at the final, fantasy-afflicted scene in the court room. Big Daddy is a typical Hollywood summer flick: A superficial gag movie which is absolutely forgettable.
not willing to accept responsibility
(informal) very bad
made worse; made stronger
improving morals or behaviour
lacking a purpose
impolite; rude; gross
a very lazy person
(the little boy in the picture is peeing)
no longer together
a family that cares for a child who has no parents
an expression or idea that is used very often so that it is no longer interesting
jokes; funny incidents
someone who does dirty, unpleasant jobs
In addition to the Bangkok Post, the Internet is a great place to find movie reviews. Here are three short excerpts from Internet reviews of Big Daddy. Decide whether or not the reviewer agreed with Kongís negative impression of the movie.
- Of course, no one wants Adam Sandler to stop making "dumb" movies. Itís when heís dumb that heís most brilliant. What Sandler and his collaborators have created in Big Daddy may sound like a contradiction, but it isnít; itís a hilarious, dumb comedy thatís smart enough to be something more. And all it does is make him the most soulful ó and the funniest ó comic in the business.
- There have been many, many movies using the story that "Big Daddy" recycles. Chaplinís "The Kid" used Jackie Coogan as the urchin; "Little Miss Marker" (versions by Shirley Temple and Walter Matthau) was about an innocent tyke and a bookie; Jim Belushi's "Curly Sue" has some of the same elements. What they had in common were adults who might have made good parents. "Big Daddy" should be reported to the child welfare office.
- Like everything else about this movie, there is something lazy and presumptuous going on here, as if the star and his team started counting their millions before the cameras even began rolling. With turkeys like Big Daddy, however, chances are such good fortune won't always be there for Sandler.
|hilarious||very funny||urchin||a small child who wear dirty clothes and behaves badly
||tyke||small, playful child
||child welfare office||government department which is responsible for protecting and caring for needy children
||presumptuous||pretending to be something more important than it is; pretentious
This lesson is meant to inspire your students to take their English lessons seriously and to help them understanding one of the most entertaining types of writing in the Bangkok Post Ė movie reviews.
The inspiration comes from Kong Rithdee who is certainly one of the most talented young English-language writers in Thailand. And the fact that he developed his language skills locally makes him an excellent role model for your students. Have your students read the introduction to find out how he became so fluent in English. And what can they learn from Kong about vocabulary acquisition?
One problem with movie reviews is that the language used can be rather difficult. This lesson can help your students understand them despite the difficulty of the language.
Point out that the purpose of a movie review is simply to tell the reader what the reviewer thought of the movie. In other words, was it good or bad and why? You can expect the reviewer to talk about such things as the movieís plot, something about the characters, as well as the actors who appeared in the movie and the quality of the performances. The reviewer will usually make some comparisons with other movies as well.
Did the movie have something important to say? Did it fulfil its purpose? Was the story effectively filmed and directed? Did the actors do a good job. These are some of the questions typically answered in a movie review.
One thing to take away from the review featured in this lesson, is that good reviewers should not be afraid to express honest opinions, even if they happen to be very negative. But they should also give good reasons for their opinions. This is something Kong does consistently well.
Next week: A review of the term's lessons.
This lesson was prepared by Acharn Terry Fredirckson, BA Stanford, MA (TESL) University of Minnesota, Manager of the Educational Services Department at the Bangkok Post and general editor of this programme. For more information, visit our Internet site: http://www.bangkokpost.net/education/