Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

An actual celebrity encounter – Eddie Izzard in Madrid

Expatlandia. As well as all the great things about living in it, like having the vantage point from which to complain about more than one country and getting extra, exotic, points with the opposite sex, you get to see people like Eddie Izzard for €20 in a small venue with no real fear it will sell out.


Six nights here in Madrid did sell out in the end and the Force Majeure tour is taking in an airmiles orgiastic 25  countries throughout Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal and the Far East with performances in St Petersburg, Moscow, Belgrade, Berlin, Helsinki, Oslo, Gothenburg, Istanbul, Vienna, Kathmandu, Delhi, Mumbai, Zurich, Geneva, Ljubljana, Tallinn and the  Hollywood Bowl.

Eddie Izzard has long been known for doing stand up in French but his German performances, and now interviews, are also in German, and he did twenty minutes of stand up with his beginner Spanish.  I kind of glazed over in the middle as twenty minutes of listening to Spanish is effort for me but, by all accounts, he did very well, linking into previous parts of the show in characteristic surreal style.

He broke off a couple of times to look at the script and totally forgot the word “entonces” (so) but it didn’t matter and there was an audience of expats and Spanish more than happy to laugh along with that almost as if it were part of the routine. A teeny tad sychophantically if you ask me. I think once a comedian gets to a certain level they get their laughs too easily. That’s not to say they haven’t earned them at some point, of course, and over ninety minutes of Thursday’s very clever show counts too.

Music to the ELT community’s ears is that Izzard thanked his Spanish teacher, Tom, a bilingual EFL teacher, with whom he’s been having three hour a day lessons.

Tom says Izzard has strategies for learning, which is something I think marks the  successful language learner from the rest. And right up to date with ELT’s musings over bringing L1 into the classroom officially instead of just pretending this isn’t what every student is doing anyway, it turns out Izzard’s method is based on translation.

He translates the L2 sentence into whatever gobbledegook the L1 reflects it back as and then it sticks. So he’s saying “Me duele la rodilla” and thinking “Me it hurts the knee” to help fix it. Obviously the other way round would lead to pretty terrible Spanish “Mi rodilla duele” which has some idea of an abstract knee, belonging but to no-one inflicting pain. But starting from the L2 and working back just uses the memory aiding tool every learner has at their disposal – their mother tongue.

Izzard with his modest assertion of 65% fluent French, 30% fluent German, burgeoning Spanish and the next attempt at Arabic, serves as a great endorsement to the non replacement of teachers with technology too for those that are worried about such things.  I wonder what he thinks of Duolingo et al which would fit his surreal comedy pretty well. The Spanish part of the routine started off with the assertion that “Todos los animales salvajes estan en forma” and then went off on one about animals not getting knee injuries when running.

His other technique for success is about attitude: he says he feels no fear about performing in other languages, even ones he has only a few hours of studying to support him. He puts this down to having been a transvestite for thirty years which is a lot more fear confronting than being onstage with new vocabulary.

Not as replicable a technique for most students  as L1 translation but not impossible. I look forward to the EFL methodology book on doing something terrifying in order to overcome nerves about how you appear when speaking an L2.



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This entry was posted on April 12, 2014 by in Learning English and tagged , , , , , , , .
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