…and so it continues with each person knowing what they want to say but being unable to convey it clearly or understand the other person. That is the basic underlying theme of this show and it’s the basis of ongoing hilarity throughout.
Now I know this isn’t the type of post I usually add to my blog but I find language in general very interesting and find the dated language of this show a fashion in itself and just as important as fashion clothing in the media.
Mind You Language (1977-1979) was a tv show of the classic British comedy genre which spanned 3 seasons (29 episodes) and had an elusive fourth season (13 episodes) made separately and which has not currently been released on DVD. This review will focus on the first three seasons with the complete original cast (provided in the 2007 boxset). Each episode was 25min long and the certificate is PG. There is some extra footage in the form of uncut scenes.
Advantages: Funny, can learn a thing or two about English language.
Disadvantages: Cultural/Racial stereotyping.
Summary – Explore the dynamics and social awkwardness of a group of people racially/culturally different.
PREMISE AND INTRODUCTION
In an adult further education college there is an English As A Foreign Language course aimed at helping people to learn English and those with English as their second or later language to improve. Every student is of a different racial/cultural background though some share nationality and some share the same overall religion but are members of sub-sects. In addition to their varying levels of English and idiosyncrasies this makes a very interesting and difficult job for the teacher Mr. Brown and is extremely frustrating for their principal Ms. Courtney who has always disliked the course.
This show apparently garnered dissention and controversy in its time but conversely has gained a lot of fans over time, of many ethnicities (YouTube). In my personal opinion it is obviously based on racial stereotypes but is more in the mild self-mocking tone of the more contemporary and hugely popular race related shows such as The Real McCoy, Goodness Gracious Me and 4 Non Blondes. It is a bit more patronizing and condescending than those but not in keeping with many of the shows of its time that were outrageously inconsiderate and biased or at least portrayed some of their characters as discriminatory and/or prejudiced whilst the rest of the cast would try to get them to change their ways. Mind Your Language shows many of the things that people may associate with certain groups of people in their minds or in the safety of their own group(s) but not necessarily voice outside.
When it comes to the entertainment media I personally cannot sympathise or empathise with characters I really dislike and find them unwatchable and that would include racist (or any ‘-ist’) ones but I liked and enjoyed almost all of the characters in this show to different extents and found them to be an eclectic mix. I can see that being set in a classroom atmosphere primarily showing the student/teacher relationship probably didn’t help the viewers that disliked the show because it focused on the wall between those in the know and those learning, making the pupils look unintelligent. The mistake is to assume that just because someone can’t or is as yet unable to communicate in ‘your’ language that they are not intelligent. One of the great things about this show is how it highlighted many common misunderstandings that are present for anybody learning a language, particularly the difference between traditional grammatical teaching and practical teaching which attempts to get students to learn metaphors, similes, nuances, timing, tone and sub-text as well as the grammar/correct construction. It shows that language is an ever evolving and changing tool depending on who uses it and what their purposes for using it are but the important thing is to be able to understand each other clearly.
Where to start!?
As a mirror to real life there were initial onscreen groupings of various students into the groups they felt they most belonged or understood. For example the characters from the Romance languages of France, Italy, Spain and Greece immediately found common bonds with each other in language and religion and those of the Indian sub-continent or South Asia verbally understood each other quite well but also had the biggest cultural angst. The South East Asian or Chinese-Japanese relations were less frequent but always had a tentative balance of hostility-competitiveness and politeness. Also as a mirror to actuality – a common bond that saw all the men in agreement regardless of race or culture were the women they found attractive.
Played by Barry Evans – probably best known before for his role as Michael Upton in Doctor in the House (1969-1970) and Doctor at Large (1971). As Mr Brown he continues the well spoken, mild mannered, likable and gentlemanly character that he developed previously and where he was treating patients of their ills in Mind Your Language he treated his students not only in their language skills but often in the personal lives as well. He had a firm but fair attitude and cared about the welfare of his students.
Played by Zara Nutley, the principal was quite ahead of her time and old fashioned at the same time. She reversed gender roles as much as possible and is the first character I’ve seen in a 70’s show referred to as ‘Ms’. She was old fashioned in the sense that she held sexist views against men (twisting regular sexism and that of those in usually in high profile positions). She was fully against Mr Brown being the course teacher at first because he was a man and besides not thinking that men are as capable as women, in her experience the English As A Foreign Language course always had problems with sexual attraction i.e. it being too distracting for the males (students and teachers) hence she wanted a female teacher.
Ms Courtney is a tough character who is generally unyielding and very demanding.
**Giovanni Vincenzo Marco Dino Alberto Leonardo… Capello:
Played by George Camiller is the Italian, he’s a chef and has a pretty good grasp of English. He stands out by being the tallest, thin and partial to wide stripes and tight jeans. He is often the class monitor when Mr Brown has to leave on errands and in that position can be quite the mafioso. Like many people where English is not their first language he often reverts to ‘home’ style phrases when shocked but in English terms that refer to Italy rather than swearing or portraying surprise in Italian e.g. he often says ‘Santa Maria’ or ‘Holy Ravioli’.
Mr Brown: “Giovanni, the correct word to describe a relative by marriage is “in-law”, as in “brother-in-law”, and not, as you put, “outlaw”.”
Giovanni: “It’s the same thing.”
Mr Brown: “It is not the same thing. An outlaw is a bandit.”
Giovanni: “So’s my brother-in-law!”
**Maximillian Andrea Archimedes Papandrious:
Played by Kevork Malikyan is the Greek, he works in a shipping office and is close friends with Giovanni. Max and Giovanni often compete over the French lady with Max playing the shorter but strong in self belief and so-called charm counter to Giovanni. Max’s particular linguistic quirk is that he adds a ‘H’ to the beginning of many words such ‘h-ok’. (Perhaps in a throwback to the late Latin influences on the some of the later languages that influenced English e.g the late Latin affect on French where h’s were added and spoken but not written and became quite common whereas in the UK the lower classes are thought to drop their h’s whilst sometimes adding them to other words – and the upper classes are known to add them.) Like Giovanni his conversational English is pretty good.
Played by Françoise Pascal is the French character and also the ‘sexpot’ of the class. She represents the sexual centre of attraction that Ms Courtney has seen over the years and she relishes every bit of her role. She pretty much always has sex on the mind and sets her sights on Mr Brown to add to her list of boyfriends for every day of the week. She is an au pair and gets on very well with the other women in the class until a Swedish beauty comes along… Danielle’s English is also one of the best in the class but suffers from word ‘ze’ instead of ‘the’ or adding innuendo.
Substitute Teacher (to Danielle): “Explain the meaning of the phrase ‘to bury the hatchet’.”
Danielle: “To chop someone’s ‘ead off.”
Substitute Teacher (points to Giovanni): “You. Complete the following proverb ‘people who live in glass houses…'”
Giovanni: “…should get undressed in the dark.”
Played by Ricardo Montez is the Spanish ambassador in the class, he is a bartender and always upbeat. Juan’s English is very poor and so we don’t really hear much of him, he often says ‘por favour?’ as an all round answer to most questions, even greetings and as his English slightly progresses ‘por favor’ changes to ‘s’alright!’ As such he doesn’t progress much throughout the show though he does improve and even believes he can teach a Russian how to speak English. He still managed to be one of the funniest characters with his rare interjections of lucid English and general demeanour. Giovanni and Max tend to translate for him.
Police Sergeant: “What is your name?”
Juan: “Por favor?”
Police Sergeant: “How do you spell that?”
Mr Brown: “That’s not his name!”
Police Sergeant: “Oh, giving me a fake name, are we?”
Juan: “Por favor?”
Police Sergeant: “I’ll come back to you, Mr. Por Favor, or whatever you name is!”
Played by Dino Shafeek, he grew up in Delhi and moved to Pakistan. He is unemployed and is another character who has quite conversational English. His religion is a major aspect of his character, he is Muslim, always has his jinnah hat/cap and is often in an argument with the Punjabi Sikh character. Ali often says ‘yes please’ instead of ‘thank you’, ‘oh blimey’ and ‘jelly/jolly good’. He often smiles when he says that he doesn’t understand what the other person is saying.
Mr Brown: “Ali where would you go to get some aspirin?”
Ali: “The Tandoori Takeaway.”
Mr Brown: “What?”
Ali: “My jolly good friend who works there always has plenty aspirin.”
Mr Brown: “No, where would you buy aspirin?”
Ali: “Why would I be buying aspirin when I can get it from my jolly good friend for free?”
Mr Brown: “All right, where would you go if the Tandoori Takeaway was closed?”
Ali: “Oh blimey, The Taj Mahal Curry house!”
Played by Albert Moses is the aforementioned Punjabi Sikh who carries a tradition kirpan knife and wears a turban. He works on the London Underground (when he first introduced himself he neglected to say ‘London’ and so it appeared as if he worked in shady underworld dealings). His English is also fairly understandable and every time he makes a mistake he puts his hands together in traditional prayer position and says ‘a thousand apologies’.
He and Ali share an open hostility and use everything they can to turn a situation into a religious mudslinging match, at first their arguments had the threat of becoming physical and having to be separated by Mr Brown or other members of the class but over time they simmered down and even became friendly towards each other with occasional bouts of rivalry for the sake of it. That said, their insults were always phrased weakly (and I don’t believe that was due to their levels of English), more personal than culturally offensive but with the cultural references thrown in as the cause of their fights but to anyone quite laid back, tolerant or laissez-faire the verbal content of their arguments tends to be silly. For example:
Ali: “Did you know it takes two Sikhs to milk a goat? One to be holding the teats and the other to be moving the goat up and down, up and down!”
Ranjeet: “And did you know that Muslims have no ice? Because the man who is making the ice has left!”
Ali: “Are you saying that all Muslims are stupid?”
Ranjeet: “No, just you!”
Played by Jamila Massey is an Indian housewife who speaks Hindi. Like Juan her English is very limited but unlike him she is very shy and tries not to be noticed, preferring to pay attention to her knitting than participate in class. She never gets into arguments with Ali or Ranjeet and they never approach her that way, her religious background is not certain and certain episodes hint that she is a converted Christian who admires Buddhism. She refers to teachers as ‘master-ji/master-jee’ and her first English breakthrough is ‘gud havening’ (good evening). Her English progresses well throughout the show.
Jameela: “I sit at backside with Taro.”
Mr Brown: “No, Jamila. You will sit at the back. Backside is what you sit on.”
Jameela (laughs): “Oh no, master-ji! What I sit on is chair!”
Ms Courtney: “If someone were to stop you in the street and ask you the time, what would you say?”
Jameela: looks at her watch and replies in Hindi.
Ms Courtney: “That wouldn’t help them.”
Jameela: “Oh yes in my street it’s all Indian peoples.”
Played by Pik-Sen Lim is the Chinese character, she is a secretary in the Chinese embassy and is very forthright and determined. She always carries her ‘Little Red Book’ (the communist manifesto of Chairman Mao) and knows it by heart being able to quote it efficiently at every opportunity. Like Jameela she often wears clothing from or inspired from her homeland. Her English is quite fast and fluent though she pronounces her ‘R’s as ‘L’s. She and the Japanese character sometimes come to loggerheads over their respective country’s approach to the handling of society and patriotic achievement.
I find Su-Lee very interesting in that the major way she differs from the group is through her political beliefs which demonstrates that within any group, with lots of obvious differences or a seemingly homogenous group there will still be plenty of divisive factors such as politics, financial class and title/peerage based class.
Ms Courtney: “Can anybody tell me who said “To Be or Not To Be”?”
Su-Lee: “Chairman Mao!”
Ms Courtney: “This may come as a shock to you, but there are people who’ve written things besides Chairman Mao.”
Su-Lee: “Chairman Mao lite evelything!”
Ms Courtney: “Well, he certainly didn’t lite… *write* “To Be or Not To Be”!”
Mr Brown: “Su-Lee, spell “Democracy””
Mr Brown: “And I suppose if I asked you to spell “Dictatorship”, you would have spelt “England”?”
Su-Lee: “Or Amelica!”
Played by Robert Lee he is from Japan and works for an electronics company, always carrying a camera around his neck. His command of English is similar to Su-Lee’s but far slower and less passionate in tone. As a character he is very well mannered and when personally addressed always stands, bows and says ‘ah so!’ He always seems slightly amused, a trait that only changes when arguing with Su-Lee or defending Su-Lee. He has that particular quirk that people joined by a common bond (be it marriage or by being cultural/geographical neighbours) tend to have where it is acceptable to quarrel or debate amongst each other but will stand united or stand up for the other against anyone else. He tends to add the letter ‘O’ to the end of words.
Played by Jacki Harding is the German representative of the class. Like Danielle she is an au pair and in line with her admiration of ‘German efficiency’ has a decent level of English. She is strong both physically and mentally with her no-nonsense attitude, wears her hair in a classic functional braid wrapped around her head, takes the class seriously by paying attention during it and concentrating on her homework. She doesn’t have any disputes or close personal friendships with any of the other students. Any religious affiliation is ambiguous but she once mentions Lutheranism as the true religion and yet later says there is no life after death. Her noticeable linguistic issue is confusing ‘V’s for ‘W’s.
Gladys the Tea Lady, Sid the Caretaker and temporary students Ingrid Svenson (Swedish) and Zoltan Szabo (Hungarian and reminiscent of Juan but in a subdued way).
British people aren’t left out when it comes to making light of language barriers as the subject of dialect is touched upon with Sid being ‘a cockney’ who can speak in rhyming slang and a one off character from Glasgow who doesn’t begin or end his words and hence sentences end up as a string of ‘mished mashed’ half words. When these characters speak in dialect the students wonder ‘blimey if that is English, what is it we are learning?’ as the native speakers are unintelligible to all but Mr Brown.
Series One: (30th December 1977 – 24th March 1978)
1) The First Lesson
The pilot acts as the introductory episode showing Mr Brown as the new teacher on a trial basis, he does the register with all of the students telling a bit about themselves and Ms Courtney generally surveys them with disapproval/dismay.
2) An Inspector Calls
An education inspector (Gyearbuor Asante aka Matthew from ‘Desmonds’) visits the college and is mistaken for the new ‘African’ student (who we never actually see) – Mr Brown makes a few verbal faux pas to him his wife but the inspector learns a few things about Mr Browns teaching methods and all does not end too badly.
3) A Fate Worse Than Death
Ranjeet’s betroved (arranged marriage) turns up surprisingly and when Mr Brown joins the fray trying to help he ends up in a right pickle.
4) All Through the Night
The class is accidentally locked in the college and have to try to survive the panic and inability to escape by extending their studies.
5) The Best Things in Life
The word ‘free’ has a wide scope for Jameela and she is caught shoplifting due to misunderstanding a promotion in a magazine, they all visit the police station and then have to help when they realize that the word ‘free’ surpasses Jameela’s common sense.
6) Come Back All is Forgiven
Happy birthday Mr Brown – or is it? The students manage to get into a fight over his presents, his trial period is over and he is quickly replaced. However has Ms Courtney met her match in the new English teacher?
7) The Cheating Game
An official exam is looming and Mr Brown is worried, his unease is obvious and so the students decide to ‘help each other’ by cheating to prove that they have improved and know more than he thinks.
8) Better To Have Loved and Lost
Ali and Su-Lee decide on a marriage of convenience shocking everyone with their decision but all react with hearty congratulations. The celebrations are cut short though with the discovery of Ali’s wife.
9) Kill or Cure
Mr Brown has the flu and is absent, Ms Courtney takes over the class and is as usual very impatient being unable to tolerate the student’s inability to understand her questions. She dismisses them early and go to Mr Brown’s home with the aim of trying to cure him.
10) Hello Sailor
Juan meets a Russian sailor who wants to defect and so brings him to class as sanctuary and for assistance. Boris (the sailor) claims to have fallen in love at first sight but when his Captain comes for him things go awry… In this episode the Captain admiringly refers to Ms Courtney as ‘British Bulldog!’
11) A Point of Honour
Danielle has been receiving the aggressive and inappropriate attentions of another teacher at the college. Mr Brown ends up enlisted as her champion and has to fight the other teacher. Ms Courtney is at first against such barbaric behaviour but is brought around and happily recommends the gymnasium for their boxing match.
12) How’s Your Father?
The students are given the oral task of a 1min speech on a given topic. We learn that Taro didn’t know his parents and Mr Brown empathises telling the class that he was left on the doorstep of an orphanage as baby. He later learns that Sid may be a close relative but he and his wife would be better off not knowing his identity and he gives them a big gift.
13) The Examination
Mr Brown has a kerfuffle with a couple in a bar local to the college who then may hold a threatening influence over the future of his students as they prepare for their Lower Cambridge Certificate exam.
Series Two: (7th October 1978 – 25th November 1978)
1) All Present If Not Correct
Mr Brown prepares for a new school year and new students, we are introduced to two new faces; Ingrid Svenson and Zoltan Szabo. Ingrid is noted for her tight fitting clothing and traditional Blonde hair and Blue eyes, she obviously attracted to Mr Brown. Zoltan is tall with a stooped/hunched posture, very hermit like in appearance with his beard and perpetually carries around a translation book. Expecting more new students Mr Brown is surprised as all of his old students return with blase at not one of them having passed the exam.
2) Queen for a Day
The Queen and her husband are scheduled to visit the college and Ms Courtney goes into a frenzy trying to make the place and the students look as acceptable as possible. They decide to give an official greeting wearing their home/national apparel with Max giving the others a laugh in his mini skirt and all ends in a humourous mix up.
Ms Courtney: “Sidney, go and sweep the school yard!”
Sid: “I swept it up once.”
Ms Courtney: “Well, sweep it again!”
Sid: “You wouldn’t like me to go down on me ‘ands and knees and scrub it, would ya?”
Ms Courtney: “Don’t be ridiculous! It wouldn’t dry before they arrived!”
3) Brief Re-Encounter
An old flame contacts Ms Courtney for a reunion and we learn that Ms Courtney is a confirmed spinster partially due to this former heartbreak a previous elopement that was interrupted. Mr Brown et al have to help her when they realize that said flame is not good news.
4) Many Happy Returns
Ranjeet is looking forward to holidaying to his homeland to visit his mother. He has saved long and hard for the airfare and wants it in safe hands, Mr Brown’s. Unfortunately the money is lost and the students do their best to raise the money for another ticket. They don’t fully manage it but thankfully there is a happy ending.
5) Don’t Forget the Driver
The class goes on a field trip but their bus breaks down and they have to manage in the middle of the countryside.
6) A Hard Day’s Night
Mr Brown is unable to stay at his place for the night and is off to the local YMCA but Giovanni and Max won’t hear of it offering him a stay at their home. He accepts expecting a nice bed for the night only to find it’s really a couch in a tiny flat situated right next to a busy railway track. All he wants is a quiet night but haplessly gets involved in shenanigans and ends up in a police cell.
7) Take Your Partners
Ms Courtney offers Mr Brown a bribe, buy tickets to a charity ball to gain the favour of a local education official and cement his place as a teacher at the college. He is forced between a rock and a hard place, both in having to accept and in ending up with three partners!
8) After Three
There is an obligatory college talent show coming up and the students fail to present Ms Courtney with an acceptable idea for their entry, their respective talents seem talentless. Their national dress gets re-used in this episode as they decide to do a group song (the show’s theme tune which has no words).
Series Three: (27th October 1979 – 15th December 1979)
1) I Belong To Glasgow
Ms Courtney accepts a payoff from a wealthy Middle Eastern sheik to enrol his Glaswegian chauffeur as a late entry into the English As A Foreign Language class. Mr Brown disputes it but has no choice. The chauffeur speaks in heavy dialect and the other students struggle to understand him and during their oral presentations of their beliefs (philosophical life beliefs, not necessarily or just political or religious beliefs) he is brash and belligerent. He succeeds in interrupting and upsetting everybody to the point where it’s not he that has to take a language course.
2) Who Loves Ya Baby?
Danielle has to bring her charge to the college – the baby of the family she works for – this is not allowed and she has to hide it with Gladys the Tea Lady. However the baby goes ‘missing’ whilst passing through the hands of people thinking they are taking care of it but neglecting to tell each other!
3) No Flowers by Request
Mr Brown breaks his leg and has to stay in hospital. Unfortunately during a mistaken conversation with hospital staff Juan thinks Mr Brown has died and passes the news to the rest of the college. They all go to his funeral.
4) Just the Job
Mr Brown is offered new prospects in a well paid position at a school, he quickly accepts and hands in his a very honest resignation to Ms Courtney. Unfortunately he wasn’t fast enough and finds the position has been filled. How will he get his old job back?
5) Guilty or Not Guilty?
The students are given day trip assignments to be carried out in pairs. They get arrested for causing a public nuisance and Ms Courtney is the magistrate. Mr Brown defends them all only to be held accountable.
6) Repent At Leisure
Anna’s work permit is about to expire and after an unsuccessful enquiry about its renewal she is left despairing. The other students try to cheer her up and encourage her to enter a marriage of convenience. She doesn’t see how it will work and so the students take it upon themselves to make the idea happen. Fortunately for Anna, due to new legislation West Germany visas were eligible for renewal/extension and she is allowed to stay but what about her husband to be?
7) The School Fete
It’s time for the school fete and Max accidentally lets slip that he knows Arthur Mullard (boxer turned tv celebrity in real life) and is put in charge or securing the celebrity appearance. But does Max really know him?
8) What a Tangled Web
Ali is upset suspecting that his wife is having an affair and confides in Mr Brown. Mr Brown follows his wife only to find her going to a very unexpected place. He misreads the situation and acts as counsellor to them both trying to get them to forgive and move on but ends up making it appear as if Ali is having an affair. Everything almost ends in a punch up but ends in a food fight instead.
No matter how adept, passable or uncomprehending their level of English all of the students had most difficulty with seeing past the literal use of words, imagining hypothetical scenarios, metaphors were hard to fathom and mostly just unseen, puns were lost and words that had more than one meaning particularly totally different meanings were a real quandary. If the show had been made in a modern setting I would have sympathised with the perplexing nature of ‘office speak’ that seems to take over both grammar and common usage e.g. a ‘hyphen’ being called a ‘dash’ and some confusing it with a forward slash, the ever changing format of letter writing, the general loss of the semi-colon and the ‘s’ disappearing from words well known for having two of them such as ‘dessert’ yet still having to pronounce it differently to ‘desert’. Or ‘preasant’ (gift) now and ‘present’ (time and tense). Then there’s the Americanized version of words being accepted in the UK. That said, those are just examples of how the language has changed in my time and as it has been around for quite a while people through many ages have learned it and still continue to learn it so even though the examples in such a modern version may be different the challenges would probably be the same.
Not understanding the question:
Mr Brown (holds up lime juice): “Giovanni?”
Giovanni: “A lime juice.”
Mr Brown (holds up milk): “Juan?”
Juan: “Cow juice.”
Mr Brown: “Milk.”
Ms Courtney: “Do you know where we get milk from Juan?”
Juan: “Si, senora. The milkman!”
Not understanding figures of speech:
Mr Brown: “Where are you going?”
Giovanni: “We go to spend 2p.”
Mr Brown: “The phrase is “spend a penny”.”
Giovanni: “Sure. I spend a penny, he spend a penny; we spend 2p.”
Not understanding sub-text:
Ranjeet: “If at first, you are not succeeding, try try!”
Mr Brown (corrects him): “Again. ”
Ranjeet: “If at first, you are…”
Ali: “Oh dearie me!”
Mr Brown: “You can say that again!”
Ali: “Oh dearie me!”
Not understanding the multiple meanings of a single word:
Mr Brown: “How about a toast for Ali and Su-Lee?”
Giovanni: “No sorry, we have no toast, only biscuits.”
Mr Brown: “No, I mean a toast for Ali and Su-Lee.”
Max: “We have no toast for them either!”
Mistaking one word for another:
Mr Brown (calling the register): “Giovanni?”
Giovanni (stands up): “Si, professore!”
MR Brown: “No ‘professore’!”
Giovanni: “No “professore”?”
Mr Brown: “No, from now on you are to address me as “Sir”.”
Giovanni: “‘Sir’? Now I understand!
(he bows) You have gone to get knotted!”
Mr Brown: “Come again?”
Giovanni: “Si you have gone to get knotted by the Queen!”
Many of the people I’ve personally known with English as a second or foreign language have said that English is one of the easiest languages to learn, particularly in comparison to their own. I didn’t understand that at first because to me the foreign languages I’d started to learn were easier and English is a ‘lingua franca’, a trade language, brought about by and for the purpose of national/international trade. It was considered a ‘junk’ language because it was a mix and match of predeceasing languages akin to the way history shows common thought of Latin in its days of founding and common usage and yet now it’s seen as noble, for the well educated/elite and difficult to learn. I guess I had a similar view that English was difficult to learn because it has so much variety, the rules are bent and twisted in its constant adaption but those more multi-lingual people made me realize that it is the other way round. It is because it’s so versatile that it’s easier to learn and customize, to comes to terms with in one’s own way – it’s not like how we’re taught French for example in school and then go to France to converse with a French speaking person only to realize they talk much faster than we expected and we can’t really comprehend their replies because we weren’t taught all the ‘filler’ words linking the ‘correct terms’. (Thankfully in my experience the French people I’ve encountered were very tolerant as long as you made the effort to speak French, no matter how ineptly, they appreciated the effort and were more than willing to speak slowly and basically or if possible in English in return.)
Also, as the students in the plot illustrated – once you know one language you will be able to at least basically understand a similar language and as English is the product of many languages there are many undertones and unchanged ‘exotic’ words that have been accepted as English (as I’ve intentionally used in places within this review along with English turns of phrase) making it easier to learn as a second/later language. Plus it offers a flexibility of expression for many people from the stricter or more rigid language systems whilst having softer overall tone (one of the reasons many Western European music bands/groups learn English). Watching this show made me realize why it was/is probably easier for a group of non-native English speakers to learn to comprehend each other enough to be friends than it probably would be for a group of all native-English (English as a first language) speakers to learn a different language together in the same classroom. (From my experience in different schools I’ve seen that modern foreign languages classes were mostly treated with contempt, mockery or as a ‘doss’ class with foreign language and religious education teachers being amongst the highest turnover. I’ve also seen rapid learning English classes full of non-native English speakers of various origins where paying for the class and needing the language to function in society was a bigger motivator but they did seem to take in the lessons better than their counterparts.)
One of the things I really liked/admired about this show and one of things that placed it firmly in the comedy genre is the way in which the students handled their frustration and difficulties in learning English. It was like water off a duck’s back to them, they just took it at their own pace never getting too down or being put down and never really doubting their ability or that of their teacher. That’s partially why I don’t consider this to be a serious or negative racial/cultural show – it was more of an eye opener to help viewers see the view from those teaching and those learning and showed how it can be when both sides try to be considerate to each other.
Additionally I liked that the main setting was the classroom – it put pressure on all involved in making the show to focus and rely on quality dialogue and body language. Though the inevitable need for variety was catered to with well timed excursions outside or in their homes; it was nice to see them out and about doing practical homework or getting along with their everyday lives as well as interacting with people they’d never met before.
The show demonstrated that visually obvious differences between people, differences based on living in different climates/geography or culture constructed differences are not sole factors for segregating into groupings of ‘similar people’ and their difficulty to communicate. It’s a blend of all three factors because just as the characters in the plot saw common threads/bonds which led to a feeling of ‘safety’/being comfortable and hence increased likability and willingness to put more effort into understanding or tolerating each other, people in ‘real’ life agree and differ whether they are from the same social group or not.
When it comes to tv shows/films (and books) there are very few that I can revisit again and again without diminishing enjoyment or concentration, there are even less that I increasingly enjoy with each review. This show slots into the former category but the fact that I can laugh with equal fervour each time I watch it tells me that it is just as relevant today as it was when it was made and perhaps still as instructive.
For anyone who likes cynical humour, classic British comedy and for those who have watched/liked shows like Perfect Strangers or the manga/anime (Hetalia) Axis Powers.
There was a fourth season made in 1986 but only Granada aired and as far as I know it wasn’t repeated and hasn’t been released on DVD. Of the original cast featured Mr Brown, Ms Courtney, Giovanni, Ranjeet, Anna, Juan and Ingrid were present alongside new characters.
Barry Evans (Mr Brown) met a tragic end, after failing to continue his acting career due his looks being too ‘youthful’ he became a mini cab driver and was found dead in his home, alone with a bottle of alcohol and aspirin and injury to the back of the head.