Jackie in Panama

Jackie Wald has served as a lecturer in Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in SMU’s Dedman College. She and her husband, Michael, have volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps in Panama for 27 months. Their assignment is to update the English Program at the Escuela Normal, which is Panama’s premier teacher training school.

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Not so “Beautiful”

The opinions, if any, expressed in this post are the author’s only and do not necessarily represent those of the Peace Corps.

The Escuela Normal has gone high tech. I was working with a colleague who shares my love of teaching language through pop music. How many times in Spanish classes at SMU have we played Juanes, Shakira, Ricardo Arjona or Julieta Venegas songs, following the lyrics on worksheets in which I leave out words for the students to fill in as they listen?

This teacher had chosen “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. She had a version on DVD, which we popped in a player. This particular rendition was the artist at the pier on the ocean. He sings about exchanging glances with a girl he will never see again. He knows they cannot ever be together so he meticulously removes his shoes, rings and shirt and jumps into the ocean at the end. At one point he sings, “She could see from my face that I was flying high.” When that line played, what I heard was “f—ing high.” I almost jumped out of my skin. I looked at the teacher. She had no reaction. Nor did any of the students. The teacher played the song three times in that class. I realized that no one in that room had the auditory discrimination to perceive that the spoken word did not match the written word.

After class, I mentioned to the teacher that flying was written in the lyrics but was not what he sang. Oh, really? Is that word bad then? We went to an internet cafe after class and found a better version of the song on You Tube, where James Blunt is in concert and sings according to script. She said she would get someone to convert it to DVD format to replace the offensive one.

I, of course, did not know this song or I’d have seen it coming; I’d have been familiar with the different recordings on You Tube (not my type of music). Combined with the teacher’s lack of English skills, it could’ve been a disaster if a savvy kid had known this word. Or maybe students would think that the correct pronunciation of F-L-Y-I-N-G was something else.

I don’t always agree with the teachers’ choices of music for their English classes. Some titles have been: “Octopus Garden” by the Beatles, “I Need to Know” by Marc Anthony, “Crash and Burn” by Savage Garden and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

If anyone out there has some other suggestions for clearly sung, catchy lyrics in English (in good taste!) please comment in this space and let me know. You may just be contributing to the English program of Panama!

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