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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Two New Kids on the Block - A New Type of Spontaneous Street Interview for ESL Students

A very cool 2012 ESL video venture

Did you know that the slang word "sick" means cool? Neither did I until I discovered a brand new site and YouTube channel called "Slargon". I couldn't believe it. An old guy like me had to check out the Urban Dictionary to confirm it. The new "sick" is now being used as a near-antonym of the traditonal "sick". This young lady goes on to say that if something is "sick", it's something you really like.

The site has been and is being created by the Corbo Brothers, Stephen and Jimmy. They both have MA degrees and work in the New York City Department of Education as Speech Language Pathologists  We're obviously not talking about the usual cowboys we often find in the world of ESL who throw up new sites on a wing and a prayer.

On the other hand, they learned how to make video and a site just like I did,  without any training, learning by doing.

"Growing up in New York", Jimmy writes "we have been exposed to many different dialects of English and we are fascinated by the different ways in which people can use language. That is what prompted us to dedicate our video language library to slang, idioms and other peculiar language".

Their videos are all spontaneous steet interviews, just like Real English. No boring actors. You meet a lot of people filmed in different parts of New York City who agree to make a "language donation" as they call it.

The videos are very short - some less than 12 seconds. The longest clip I've found so far is 30 seconds. We're talking sound bites here, and it's really a hoot!

In some of the clips, we find  classic idioms such as "the cat's pajamas", but in other cases we find cool everyday expressions which are widely used by native speakers but never, or almost never taught in the ESL/EFL classroom.
One thing I learned that is very important when building a coherent language library based on the spontaneous speech of street interviews, is how to approach prospective interviewees, or "donators". I am lucky to have a friendly, attractive French wife who does this job. She puts people at ease and makes them want to give us an interview.
This is what Jimmy says about their approach: "Stephen tends to be the bolder brother but we do switch off approaching people to ask for language donations. We  usually approach them with a short pitch about our project. "Hey, how are you? We are from, and we're creating a video language library of slang, idioms and other peculiar language.  We are looking for language donations... Do you have a word or phrase that you would like to contribute?"
They obviously make a good team. Jimmy told me "Slargon is something that has really grown from my brother Stephen's ambition to merge technology and language services... Once we decided that we would do the project together we hit the ground running. Stephen went to work building a website for Slargon and I went to work learning about Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects for the purpose of editing".He goes on to say "This is a mouthfull, so sometimes we spend an additional 15 minutes explaining our project, and sometimes people jump right in with a word or phrase, and other times we are completely blown off. All in all our general success rate is 50-70%".

I can't help comparing this figure to Real English. After our first filming campaigns in the US and the UK in the mid-90s, we got about the same success rate. The problem comes later when we have to decide who is "good enough" to include in our library. That was my problem 3 months ago when we filmed in my new favorite spot in South Beach, Miami. I thought everybody was great while filming, but in the end, we only used about 20% of our footage.

You will also find donators who speak English as a Second Language. You see a French girl below who explains the slang version of "J'adore" (i.e., without an object) which is not exactly the same as the literal meaning. Several foreign languages have already been included in Slargon's library.

And finally, Slargon's Web 2.0 clincher: "Generally speaking we have gotten a great response on the street, people seem to love the idea. Filming is a great part of the job but we are hoping that eventually users will make their own online contributions by uploading their videos to Slargon".

A word of caution in regard to young children learners. You will find some vulgar clips here too. In fact they have divided their clips into 27 categories so far, and that includes the "gross" and "lustful" categories.

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