Thursday, 19 April 2012

Strange Wedding Guests

It all started last night. Wednesday nights are usually Headway nights with my intermediate group of learners and we had just started Unit 12. This unit is entitled “Life’s Great Events” and begins by looking at reported speech through a dialogue in which a woman gets chatting to a rather smooth talking man at a wedding. It turns out later on that the man has been economical with the truth on a few counts, and that’s where the reported speech comes in: “But he said he was thirty!  He told me he’d never been married!” etc.

Anyway, as is usually the case, this rather inconsequential scenario is illustrated by a large photograph of a wedding scene.  However,  the photograph does not appear to have anything to do with the three characters in the dialogue I have just described.  On first glance, it looks like a typical course book photo peopled by smiling white teethed models with inoffensive facial features.  My learners and I looked at the picture and I elicited the usual vocabulary: bride, groom, confetti etc. Then someone pointed out the eerie figures standing in the cemetery, looking on.  A youth with a camera.  A middle aged man so pale he is almost transparent, standing  among the tomb stones and far removed from the rest of the party. And finally, a white clad woman in her fifties, watching the wedding party with a most curious look of rage and bitterness.

If you have access to this book, please do look at it closely so you will know I do not exaggerate. And then ask yourself: why? Is this the work of an ambitious course book photographer with secret ambitions to be the next Cartier Bresson? Or a disillusioned course book photographer who has failed to get into film school and amuses himself by injecting subversive elements into his photographs?

We may never know. I would, however, like to thank whoever took this photograph for providing such excellent inspiration for tonight’s lesson.  My learners chose the five most interesting people from it (the five people above, actually) and as a class we wrote detailed character profiles for each one, and created a story around the central relationships.  Each learner chose a character to write a dramatic monologue about, and we will continue these monologues next week.


  1. There are probably some even older books in our base! Some of them are even still being used which is even sadder.

  2. I wonder why they are still being used... Is it habit, do you think? Or is it the hoarding instinct which makes it so hard to part with things even when they are past their sell by...

    When I was at high school in the early nineties, we learned French from a series called Triclore and German from a book called Deutsch Heute. Both books were old editions, maybe dating from the late 1970s. As a fairly shallow teenager I was appalled by the fashions (both interior and sartorial) on display in these books, and mentally wrote both countries off as being nations full of badly dressed people with bad hair styles.

    Luckily, I was intrinsically motivated to learn French and German through a love of language learning. However, had I been less intrinsically motivated, I feel sure that my extrinsic motivation (wanting to pay either of these countries a visit in the future) would have taken a severe beating.

    I wonder what effect using out of date course books has on impressionable young learners?

    As a postscript I should add that on arriving in France I was flabbergasted and delighted to find a country full of people who looked much like they did at home (well, okay - much more stylish!)

  3. Genevieve - I have just found your blog and I can only ask, "Where have you been all my life?" :)

    I'm an ESOL teacher in Slough and have loved reading your accounts and reflections, so thank you.

    This Headway anecdote has me genuinely laughing out loud. Must get my hand on a copy at college. What a golden moment that photo turned out to provide :D

    All the best,


  4. Hi Emma,

    It's very nice to meet you, too, and I'm really glad you have enjoyed reading my posts. I've not been updating this blog as frequently recently, but your feedback has inspired me to get back to work on it!

    All the best,