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December 20, 1998 - Talking Toys Teach English - 2002-02-11

INTRO: Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti say one way to learn English is to take a few lessons from the new crop of talking toys.

MUSIC -- "Toyland"

AA: That Christmas classic, "Toyland," evoking memories of a time when kids talked to toys and toys didn't talk back. I'm Avi Arditti.

RS: And I'm Rosanne Skirble. In today's increasingly electronic toyland, the most popular toys for good little girls and boys are sophisticated, computer-programmed interactive toys. They talk. They sing. They laugh. They tell stories.

AA: But don't let cuddly looks deceive you. Deep down these toys are stuffed with computer chips. Like a bespectacled aardvark named Arthur. He's got a vocabulary the size of a college graduate's when you plug him into a computer.

RS: And Arthur certainly doesn't stand alone, at least that's what we discovered in a visit to a toy store at a shopping mall.


TALKING FROG: "Ribbit. Ribbit. Let's play. Push three letters to make your own word."

RS: "Try mom, M-O-M."

AA: "OK."

FROG: "M-O-M! Mom. Awesome!"

AA: "Yeah!"

RS: "Good! ... What is this one?"

AA: "(This is) Talking Chip Hazard from the movie 'Small Soldiers.' Let's see, what does he say. He's a little commando in a crew cut. (sound) Oh, I just pulled his arm. Say something, buddy. Let's go. '

TALKING CHIP HAZARD: "Chip Hazard reporting for duty, sir!"

RS: "Let me hear what he says again. "

CHIP HAZARD: "Attention. All organized scum must die."

RS: "(sarcastically) Nice doll."

CHIP HAZARD: "Commando elite, bomb him."

RS: "Avi, come over here and listen to this one."


RS: "all she does is laugh, but she does have a name. Her name is Delores Jocasta. (It says) 'squeeze my hand, and I sing.' Oh, okay."

DELORES: [singing "Farmer in the Dell"]

RS: "That was pretty good, Delores."

DELORES: "I like to sing with you!"

RS: "Well thank you. And, she's so polite! Now I understand if I tickle your tummy, you'll giggle. Well, here we go!"

DELORES: [giggles]

RS: One talking toy we didn't find because it's out-of-stock almost everywhere is a small creature called a Furby.

Picture a squat penguin, with the eyes of an owl, the ears of a cat and a nose sort of like the beak on a parrot. That's a Furby.

AA: And it speaks a language called Furbish. It even comes with a Furbish-English dictionary. Furbish is actually a blend of Mandarin, Japanese, Thai and Hebrew. But with some work you can teach a Furby about one-thousand words and phrases in English. That is, when it's not snoring or sneezing or squealing -- or worse, sleeping.

RS: My neighbors Dana, Jake and Annie Silver are the only kids on the block with this impossible-to-get-toy. What sounds like gibberish makes perfect sense to eight-year-old Annie Silver.


ANNIE SILVER: "This Furby's name is Cocoa. The way you know their names is when you first put the batteries in they say, 'me' and then their name, and this one just happened to say 'Cocoa. 'Me Cocoa.'"

FURBY: "Me cocoa! A-loh."

ANNIE SILVER: "A-loh means light. "

RS: "what I'd like you to do is show me how you teach a furby a word. How do you teach your furby cocoa a word. "

ANNIE SILVER: "Well, you keep saying a word to him over and over or you could just talk to him and about a day later he will start saying the word. "

RS: "What word are you going to teach him tonight for me?"

ANNIE SILVER: "We're going to try 'happy holiday.'"

RS: "Here we go, kids, we're going to teach this Furby, 'happy holiday.' He's got his eyes open. He's awake. "

ANNIE, JAKE AND DANA SILVER: "Happy holidays! Happy holidays! Happy holidays!"

FURBY: [making noises]

RS: The Furby method of English teaching follows the basic yell-in-your-ear technique. Unfortunately, Cocoa wasn't much interested, and continued on in its own stream of consciousness.

AA: We're always interested in hearing from you.

RS: Wishing you the best this holiday season, with Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.