Tutor Tales, Volume 27
This week, Star Shaker brought a classmate to our tutorial , explaining that they had to work together on a creative project for ESL class: a puppet theatre adaptation of a well-known movie. They needed me to help them write a script that would retell the plot of the movie in five minutes. ("Or less!" as Star Shaker insisted.)
My first thought was that it was a pretty clever assignment. It covered not just English practice but also the valuable skill of trimming something down to its essentials--something rarely taught in any English classes that I know of, these days. Besides, puppets are fun.
So what was the movie, I asked.
Titanic, they answered.
And I thought: Oh, just smack me with an iceberg now and get it over with . . .
Then again, I've never been one to back down from an English class challenge. And what a challenge this was! Star Shaker had never seen Titanic; her partner had watched it only once, about three years ago; and Yours Truly last watched it in its entirety perhaps ten years ago. They had also come to the tutorial without doing any research on the movie. Not that I expected them to watch the whole thing, but Wikipedia is supposed to be the desperate student's best friend, you know. And what would the girls have done if I had never seen Titanic?
To make a long story short (Is this a third-rate pun?), it was a choppy crossing, but we got there in the end. Here is, from my memory, the finished script, stage directions not included:
(Setting: Brock's workplace)
Brock: Good morning. I heard that you have something to tell me about the necklace I'm looking for.
Old Rose: Yes, I do. Let me start from the beginning . . .
(Setting: The deck of the Titanic)
Rose: I don't understand why you didn't stick up for me at dinner.
Cal: I don't understand why you think your opinions are so important. You're just a woman.
Rose: How dare you! A woman's opinions can be just as worthwhile as a man's!
Cal: But what really matters is that you look pretty for me. Here, put on this necklace.
Rose: I don't think I want to marry him any longer! I'll just kill myself now . . .
Jack: Excuse me, ma'am. Why are you standing on the outside of the railing?
Rose: Go away and mind your own business! What do you care about me, anyway? All you men just look down on women!
Jack: I don't look down on women! I respect all the women I meet.
Jack: Yes, really!
Rose: Oh, I think I'm in love with you!
Cal: What is going on? Rose, why are you with this poor boy?
Rose: I'm with him because he respects me!
Jack: Will you marry me?
Rose: Yes! I will love you forever.
Rose: Oh, no! We're going to die.
Jack: Quick! Get on this floating door.
Rose: Okay. Jack? Jack? . . . Jack!!!!!!!
(Setting: Brock's workplace)
Rose: And I never saw him--or the necklace--again.
Brock: I'm so sorry to hear that. Thank you for that story.
Rose takes the necklace from her pocket and tosses it overboard
Before you say anything mocking, please know that I could write a better one if you gave me another chance--although I wouldn't want to, even if you did--and the above is primarily the product of two unenthusiastic students who know that pleading poor English skills will let them get away with half-assed work.
While my memories of Titanic are obviously just very fuzzy impressions these days, I think the girls and I nailed Rose's character arc in those interactions with Cal and Jack. When we were done with our script, I found myself wondering whether James Cameron's greatest unsung talent is finding actresses who bring his women characters to amazing life: Linda Hamilton . . . Sigourney Weaver . . . Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio . . . Jamie Lee Curtis . . . Kate Winslet . . . not to mention Jenette Goldstein and Goria Stuart! (No comment on Zoe Saldana: I haven't seen Avatar.) Then again--not to sell him too short--he did help two of them get Best Actress nominations.
Later that evening, I worked with Rain Dancer on another assignment: a report on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. (The best thing about being an English tutor is all the excuses I get to read books I'd otherwise let alone.)
She has been very frustrated lately by her inability to read the text on her own. It was quite the reality check, too, because she had spent the last couple of months priding herself on having a bigger English vocabulary than her Filipina classmates. Having watched several Korean students over the years "accumulate" new words and believe they have learned them, I never considered her more advanced than she thought herself--which is neither here nor there at the moment, as appreciating a Victorian novel takes more than just a big vocabulary.
When I was in uni, I knew a lot of international students who subscribed to the rule, taught in one of their required ESL casses, that if a book has five unfamiliar words on a single page, then it is too hard for one's reading level. I thought that was a little silly, having swum out of my depth through many classics in high school. (Which is not to say that I totally understood them, but that I didn't let unfamiliar words put me off if the rest of the language drew me in.) So I was happy to learn that my roommate and best friend from uni found the same rule to be "rubbish." (Her word!) She never let the idea of "levels" stop her from improving her English, renting two new movies each week to watch with subtitles (so she could both listen to and read the dialogue), choosing the ones that seemed interesting rather than the ones which seemed easy. She had a similar approach to books--and well, friends. =P And she had the best English of all her peers in the same ESL programme. She had figured out that one has to read not just words, but also context.
If words are like bricks and grammar is like mortar, then literature is like architecture. Rain Dancer gets basic modern houses pretty well, but she is completely daunted by the unfamiliar, more complex stylings of Victorian buildings. She wasn't happy when I pointed out that her only realistic option was to read an accurate online summary--although, yes, she did it anyway. (I told her I wouldn't help her with her report unless she at least knew the story.)
And now that she has . . . it's my turn not to be happy. She is so unsure of herself because she couldn't read the actual text that she won't write a single word of her report unless I am there to hold her hand. =(
The assignment is due next week and currently feels like as much of a patchwork job as the Titanic-in-five-minutes-or-less script, with more stitches looking suspiciously like my handiwork than I usually allow.
Image Source: a) Stars, b) Titanic poster, c) Rain