Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Advertising In the Service of Tutoring

A tutor named Giso Broman wrote me recently about something he tried with his learner. He started thinking about advertising while listening to "Marketplace," a program on the local National Public Radio station. He thought about how advertising infiltrates our lives and wondered what he could do to use it in his lessons. Giso works with a learner who is relatively advanced and has an interest in business. Here is what he wrote:

My brainstorm came to me as I was listening to the weird, overly clever language that Kai Ryssdal uses on his program. These kinds of idiomatic turns of phrase are a big part of what L. and I have worked on together. I thought that, rather than look at a magazine's articles (which has worked well for us before), why not look more deeply at the advertising?

Kai Ryssdal

I'm sure I didn't "invent" this idea, but it worked perfectly for L. and I that I must admit that I feel pretty clever right now. The ads in Forbes magazine - L. is a finance guy - were surprisingly rich despite their brevity. There were some strange vocabulary words, but the more useful bit was talking about everything that each ad left out. "Who is this ad targeting? What kind of customer is this company trying to attract?"

L. very interested in business and marketing. I pointed out when a word, like "lustrous", wasn't necessarily going to be very important to memorize, and instead we talked more broadly about the themes, intended audience and subtext (without using the word subtext)… There are no right answers when it comes to ads and we had a very animated discussion of what we thought of each ad, each customer base and the underlying meanings, symbols and cultural significance of each. In describing this idea, I feel like it sounds incredibly complex and even trivial. In fact, though, it was our best meeting yet.

It's not something that would work for every learner, or indeed every volunteer, but L.'s level of sophistication and a little bit of vigilance on my part (like not getting overly philosophical) made this a really great exercise. The cultural elements (for example, Who is Sean Connery? or What is a "fountain of youth?") were an unexpected bonus. I was able to elicit a lot of really thoughtful opinions from L. and he was eager to flip through from ad to ad right up until the librarians flashed the "closing soon" lights.

No comments: