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Saturday, July 22, 2006


All aboard! -- Jump on the super express train to English

The other day, a Japanese man came up to me in Starbucks and said, "Could you help me with this word?"

News photo
Trains Could just be the next big thing in English lessons. DOUG DELONG PHOTO

"Sure," I said. He attempted to read the word out loud, "ahchifishyaru insemeenayshy on."

"Huh?" I said. He showed me his textbook. It was an advanced English textbook with c urrent news topics.

"Ahhhchiifishyaru insemeenayshyon," he repeated raising his voice and lengthening the vowels.

"Ah!" I said. "Artificial insemination!" (oh, my God!). "Ah, well, it's uh . . .a process of um, fertilization where the man's, um, well, uh, you know cows, right?

"This is the way cows get pregnant these days. They're not allowed to just, um you know, do it. No, not naturally. This is kind of like 'o-miai,' you know, it's all arranged in advance. Except the cows never meet."

"Oh, I see," said the man with a wide smile. "Thank you very much very clear explanation." After which I expected he would walk away. But, he just stood there going "Hmmmm," and nodding his head, the way Japanese people do when they consider an answer.

Finally, he said, "Artificial insemination! Yes, thank you very much!" He left repeating, "Artificial insemination, artificial insemination, artificial insemination," until it rolled off his tongue with ease.

And such was my first two-minute English class ever. And this got me to thinking. English language schools often set up their schools right in front of train stations. But they ought to set them up inside the trains.

Think about all the students and others you see studying English on the train every day. And think of all the people who have approached you on the train to practice their English.

Trains have all the necessities of an English class: people, chairs, a foreigner and time to kill. Perfect.

"Step into my compartment! You'll be fluent by the time you get off at the next stop."

In our fast world, people need fast English: "How would you like your English lessons sir? For here or to go? An order of prepositions on the side? How would you like your sentences corrected? Well, medium, or hardly at all? We're having a special on verbs today, would you like some extra vocabulary?"

Let's face it: People don't have time to go to English classes every day. They want to fit lessons into their current schedule. And since most people take the same train at the same time every day, they'd be sure to show up for their lessons.

There is certainly a case to be made for strapping a box onto your body and taking 100 yen coins for two-minute English lessons, always running out of time just before an important phrase.

You could offer reserved and nonreserved classes.

"Getting off at the next stop? No problem, here are some phrases to go. See you here, same train, same car, tomorrow for your next lesson. Quiz in the morning. Bye now!"

"Next class -- all aboard!" And think of all the fun you could have with English on the train: What better place to learn transitive verbs than while on the local transit?

Let off some steam by singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad." After all, karaoke was invented in a freight car.

Besides, we need some new English school slogans: "Get on the right track with Choo-Choo English: I think I can, I think I can!"

Children would love to "Learn English from Thomas the Tank Engine" No school would be lying if they said: "English language training doesn't get any better than this."

Or how about simply "Express yourself in English!" You could even offer a combination of sudoku and English for the old folks : "Improve your train of thought with our model train program!"

You could even teach idioms: "Learn English idioms on the train -- It's a piece of cake, and you can eat it too."

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