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April 30, 2000 - Learning English, Part 1 - 2002-02-16

INTRO: This week VOA's Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble begin a two-part report to answer a common question from their listeners.

AA: Listeners often write us to ask for ways to learn English, and so we called Anthea Tillyer, a veteran English as a Second Language teacher at the City University of New York for some help.

RS: She says you can have fun and learn English at the same time by watching English language movies, and recommends one in particular:

MUSIC: "The Godfather Theme"


TILLYER: "The movie that I found my students like more than any other - and of course it's quite shocking to some people - is `The Godfather.'"

AA: "Part One, Two or Three?"

TILLYER: "Part One and Two, Part Three is not mentionable in my presence. I'm not quite sure why it's such a tremendous success with students. Of course there are lots of other movies that they like, but there aren't any others that they will watch over and over and over and not just get bored with."

AA: "So that's a violent movie about the Mafia and gangsters, and this is what they like to learn English?"

TILLYER: "Yeah."

RS: But Anthea Tillyer says "The Godfather" is also a story about family, and that may be the big attraction. She says that many students also read the book by Mario Puzo on which the films are based.

AA: They read the book not just in English, but also in their native language. She says reading books in both languages is another technique to improve your English.


"You're already set up for success. You understand it. You can focus on particular words and the way they are used."

RS: "What about building vocabulary through American music?"

TILLYER: "Absolutely. For me personally, music is my preferred way of LEARNING

languages. I've learned one or two that way, and I think the important thing is to choose music you like. I would say old music is not particularly good."

RS: "What do you mean old music?"

TILLYER: "I would say older than 1960 - even the 1960s."

RS: "But what does it matter if you're singing?"

TILLYER: "There are just certain turns of phrase that are quite dated. So if a student learns them and then trots them out, they sound funny."

MUSIC: "I Just Called to Say I Love You"/Stevie Wonder

RS: As with her students' choice in movies, Anthea Tillyer was also surprised by their taste in music:


"I hate to say it, but the all-time favorite among my students is Stevie Wonder's `I Just Called to Say I Love You.'"

AA: "That's a very pretty song."

RS: "Tell us about that song."

TILLYER: "Actually I have a lot more respect for it now because one of my students, who's doing a master's degree in dance at NYU, has to take an advanced music course too. She was having terrible, terrible trouble writing her master's thesis. One of the reasons was that she elected to do it on Stevie Wonder's song `I Just Called to Say I Love You.' In the process I learned from her and from Stevie Wonder that there's a lot more to that song than meets the eye, but it is very, very repetitive."

RS: "Is that why it makes a good song to use to teach English as a foreign language?"

TILLYER: "Yes, it is, and it's because it's an upbeat song, people at all levels can understand it, and of course you can always give homework, tell them to go home and call someone and say they just called to say they loved them."

RS: We'd like to give you, our listeners, a call and make you part of our program. Let us know your phone number and a question you'd like to have answered on Wordmaster.

RS: Next week, more "do's" -- and some "don'ts" - - for learning English, so please tune in again. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: STEVIE WONDER -- "I Just Called to Say I Love You"

HOST: That song, by the way, is from the movie "The Woman in Red" -- and it earned Stevie Wonder an Academy Award.