This is how I started class the other day:
Hello folks, good morning! I hope everyone is doing well. It’s 9 so let’s get right into it. Today’s start is a bit different as I’m going to ask you for some help. Maybe you don’t know this but I don’t have any classes tomorrow. I’m actually giving a talk at The Asia Society, on the topic of North Korea. For some reason. I am far from an expert but I was asked to talk to a group of American businesspeople about this topic. I am quite worried because of my lack of expertise but also because I am not accustomed to giving long speeches like that. I’m also worried that my style is a bit too informal or off-register for the setting. Again it’s a group of American businesspeople. I think they are quite unfamiliar with Korea and North Korea and the whole issue on the peninsula. By the way, the Asia Society is an NGO that is focused on promoting mutual understanding between the US and Asia. I have this big fancy talk there tomorrow. I’ll wear a tie and everything. I guess it’s a big deal. Can you help me with my intro? Thank you! I’ll read what I have so far, and please let me know if there is anything I should make more formal. This is what I have so far…
It was pretty fun and my students (who are future interpreters) did a nice job finding examples of extreme vagueness as well as things that were off-register. They helped me rework my intro. It went pretty well and I was happy to see what they changed and how they changed it. This process brought up a whole new batch of issues and questions. I was generally pleased with the idea and execution.
An interesting part of this activity was the students uncovering my lie. As you might have guessed by now there was no talk. As the questions mounted and it became more clear there was no talk, one student asked, “Was anything you said true?” Another asked if The Asia Society exists. It does. Another student asked if I was going to wear a tie the next day and I informed her this was extremely unlikely. I will admit to basking in the glory of being praised for my acting ability and lying skills.
I was pleased with how things went but had an ever so-slight bad feeling about the subterfuge which lead us to the (imo) useful practice. They seemed so excited about my talk and perhaps a bit let down that it was not happening. I can’t say for sure but maybe a few of them felt like they’d devoted their energy for something completely made up. At the same time I don’t really feel too bad because it was useful practice any my tiny little lie was helpful to build up motivation.
When I think about teachers fibbing, I’m always reminded of David Deubelbeiss who suggested in his “7 Sensation Sins of Great English Language Teachers” that a great teacher tells tall tales and spins yarns in order to motivate. He writes, “A great teacher twists the facts of his life and gets the students interested in ‘the story.’ When teaching, I would tell my students fantastic stories of my day, my life. I kept them engaged with the language, who cares if it wasn’t ‘fully’ true? A great teacher lies — tells their students things to motivate, damn the truth! Think about it – we do this, so let’s admit the sin and come clean.” Please be sure to check the link above for the other 6 “sins” as that post is well-worth a read.
And, in typical blog post fashion, let’s finish with some questions:
- Do you ever feel bad about telling tall tales in class?
- If so, how do you justify it in your mind?
- Under what circumstances would you feel uncomfortable selling tall tales?
- Do you see any downsides to such fibbing in class?