How ‘Friends’ helps people around the world learn English

Written by Mike Ives

True or false: In the tv present “Pals,” Monica Geller was invited to Rachel Inexperienced’s marriage ceremony.

The query is a part of an English lesson for worldwide college students in San Jose, California, that’s primarily based solely on the present’s pilot episode. It was designed by Elif Konus, a trainer from Turkey who as soon as binge-watched “Pals” to enhance her personal English.

The category, and the trainer’s TV habits, illustrate a global phenomenon that emerged in the Nineties and has endured throughout generations: Younger people who aren’t native English audio system seem to get pleasure from studying the language with assist from the hit sitcom.

Seventeen years after the last “Pals” episode, college students and educators say that the present, nonetheless seen broadly in syndication around the world, works nicely as a studying useful resource. The dad denims and cordless telephones might look dated, however the plot twists — falling in love, beginning a profession and different seminal moments in a youngster’s life — are nonetheless extremely relatable.

“It’s actually entertaining in comparison with different sitcoms, and it addresses common points,” Konus, 29, mentioned by phone from her residence in Monterey, California. “The themes, for those who ask me, communicate to everybody.”

Over the years, a number of outstanding celebrities have mentioned that they realized English from “Pals.” The listing consists of Jürgen Klopp, the German soccer coach who helms Liverpool in the English Premier League; numerous Main League Baseball gamers whose first language is Spanish; and Kim Nam-joon, chief of the South Korean pop group BTS.

“I believed I used to be form of like a sufferer at the moment, however proper now, I’m the fortunate one, due to my mom,” Kim, who performs underneath the stage identify RM, informed tv host Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. “She purchased all the seasons.”

The “Pals” reunion episode that premiered Thursday on HBO Max included a cameo by the members of BTS and scenes from the present that had been translated into French, Japanese and Spanish. Followers around the world, from Ghana to Mexico, additionally reminisced about how the present helped them address private dilemmas or tragedies.

Measuring the reputation of “Pals” as a educating useful resource is an inexact science as a result of so many people watch it exterior of formal lecture rooms. However educators, tutorial research and page-view information recommend that the present nonetheless has a large following amongst English-language learners.

Elif-Konus, an trainer from Turkey who as soon as binge-watched “Pals” to enhance her personal English and now incorporates the present into her personal EFL classes. (Photograph Credit score: Nic Coury/The New York Instances)

“I’ve been on YouTube for 13 years and I’ve not been posting ‘Pals’ content material the entire time,” mentioned Rachel Smith, founding father of the studying web site Rachel’s English, primarily based in Philadelphia. “However I’ve undoubtedly by no means sensed that the time for it has handed.”

In a single obvious signal of that, “Pals”-based studying movies that Smith posted in 2019 have acquired considerably extra views per day on common — 839 — than these that includes different reveals or films, she mentioned. After the United States, the hottest markets for her movies as an entire are Vietnam, India, Brazil, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.

Different seminal American TV reveals can serve an identical studying operate, Smith mentioned, however they are typically too specific for nonnative English audio system. The humor in “Seinfeld” is a bit too gritty and New York-specific, for instance, whereas “The Massive Bang Concept” may come throughout as an excessive amount of of a “scientific nerd factor.”

“Different reveals do work,” she mentioned. “‘Pals’ simply appears to have the magic one thing that’s much more engaging.”

Followers and educators on three continents echo the sentiment, saying that “Pals” is a near-perfect amalgam of easy-to-understand English and real-life eventualities that really feel acquainted even to people who dwell worlds away from Manhattan’s West Village.

Kim Sook-han, 45, recognized in South Korea for her YouTube movies about educating herself English, mentioned that the present helped her perceive the fundamentals of American tradition, together with which holidays are celebrated in the United States, in addition to how people there cope with conflicts between family and friends members.

“My favourite character is Monica as a result of I feel we have now related personalities,” she added. “She may be very meticulous and clear and at all times insists on utilizing a coaster as a result of she hates when a cup leaves water stains on a desk.”

A couple of followers mentioned they might pinpoint exactly when and the place they noticed “Pals” for the first time.

Konus was educating English at a army academy in Ankara, Turkey, six years in the past when she seen that her roommate stored laughing whereas watching “Pals” on a laptop computer. Konus started watching “nonstop,” she mentioned, and realized much more about English than she had in years of grammar-based courses.

Jamie Ouyang, 30, found the present throughout her final 12 months of highschool in south-central China when she purchased a field set in her hometown, Changsha, for about $15. She was hooked from the first episode, by which Rachel, performed by Jennifer Aniston, meets the different characters in a marriage costume after abandoning her groom at the altar.

Ouyang, who attended faculty in Ohio and now works as a movie producer in Beijing, mentioned that “Pals” gave her the confidence to make small speak with Individuals. It was comforting, she added, to see Rachel make grammatical errors on her resume.

“However Rachel additionally grew rather a lot: She did nicely at her job and located her personal path,” Ouyang mentioned. “Over time, I seen that people stopped teasing her about her grammar. I paid shut consideration to that.”

“Pals” might have endured as a educating software partly as a result of the web has made it accessible to new generations of followers. YouTube, particularly, permits nonnative audio system to observe clips with out having to, say, purchase pirated DVDs underneath a bridge, as Ouyang did in China 12 years in the past.

One more reason, mentioned Ángela Larrea Espinar, a professor in the division of English research at the College of Córdoba in Spain, is that people who train overseas languages have regularly shifted over the final twenty years from a “communicative” method that emphasizes grammar to 1 that encourages cross-cultural understanding and reflection.

“Tradition is a troublesome factor to show, and for those who depend on textbooks what you get is stereotypes,” she mentioned.

To keep away from the textbook lure, Konus, the English trainer in California, constructed lesson plans around the sitcom’s 1994 pilot episode. Along with the query about whether or not Monica, performed by Courteney Cox, was invited to Rachel’s marriage ceremony (reply: false), there are workouts that ask college students to investigate scenes, idioms and character motivations.

Why, for instance, does Rachel breathe right into a paper bag? And what does Monica imply when she tells Joey Tribbiani, performed by Matt LeBlanc, to “cease hitting on” her buddy? (Solutions: “She is afraid of her determination about residing on her personal” and, “to attempt to begin a dialog with somebody that you’re all in favour of.”)

Konus mentioned that her college students — who’re from Brazil, China, Colombia, Japan, South Korea and Turkey — typically like the “Pals” classes and find yourself binge-watching the present on their very own. Additionally they slip traces from it into dialog, together with Joey’s signature “How you doin’?” greeting, and mimic the depressive method by which David Schwimmer’s character, Ross Geller, says “Hello.”

After one class, a Turkish scholar noticed that her trainer’s English sounded not fairly native, but in addition “not Turkish.” Konus mentioned she took the remark as excessive reward.

How, the scholar requested, may one hope to achieve the similar stage of English proficiency?

“Simply watch ‘Pals’ and attempt to imitate the characters,” Konus informed her. “You’ll get there.”

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