Communicate in English with The Devil Wears Prada

Writer(s): 
Gwyn Helverson, Osaka University
Publisher: 
Shohakusha Publishing

[Simon Capper and Teruhiko Kameyama. Japan: Shohakusha Publishing, 2017. p. 138. [Includes Teacher’s Manual, DVD, and CD.] ¥2,200. ISBN: 978-4-88-198-712-4.]

I had anticipated that a textbook based on the clever and funny movie, The Devil Wears Prada, could inspire some great conversational English classes. After all, this comedy-drama depicts the struggles of a young journalist working for an infamously horrid boss at a fashion magazine in New York City. However, my heart sank when I first flipped through the textbook, Communicate in English with The Devil Wears Prada. It is written predominantly in Japanese and therefore seems unsuitable for the immersion classes that most native-speaking English teachers are required to teach. However, after piloting this text in a small elective conversation class at a public university, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the variety of materials and the humorous contents therein, as did the students. In addition, the use of Japanese throughout the textbook provides quick explanations for learners and supports a variety of teaching approaches.

All of the directions and many of the explanations in Communicate in English with The Devil Wears Prada are in Japanese, allowing students to access meaning quickly, which may have advantages with this kind of authentic script (von Dietz, von Dietz, & Joyce, 2009, pp. 45-48). Students are asked to view a few minutes of native-speaker English in the movie, then discuss detailed aspects of vocabulary, grammar, or cultural points in Japanese. One of the oft-noted advantages of this pedagogy is that it “gives students the opportunity to show that they are intelligent, sophisticated people” (Atkinson, 1993, p. 13). In that sense, this book could be used effectively in conversation classes with lower-level adults who crave more challenging themes and language.

The overall composition of each carefully structured chapter matches immersion-style, communicative lessons (Willis, 1981). Previewing Activities (including Vocabulary Check-up, Useful Expressions, and Listening Tip) lead into Viewing Activities (True/False Questions, Partial Dictation, and Role Play). Each chapter ends with Post-Viewing Activities (Discussion Topics, Grammar in Focus, Language in Focus, Expansion, and Transcript). The Expansion section sometimes includes a Did You Know? textbox in Japanese which explains cultural tidbits, for example, key points in the film such as when the whiny protagonist gets scolded by a coworker, “…where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work” (p. 31). The English transcript at the end of the text is annotated in Japanese and includes cultural and vocabulary details ranging from Lagerfeld to flip-flops to snooty. 

During the in-class trial, almost all students were enthusiastic about the movie and text combination, albeit for differing reasons. Some students enjoyed discussing the fashion, romance, and intrigue therein. Others were inspired to debate the more serious topic of employment, including hiring policy, abuse of power, and harassment. Finally, some students wanted to practice the movie’s contemporary, idiomatic English until they mastered it. This movie has something for any student, and the textbook’s writers have harnessed that humor and range well. “Duh!” is just one example of a cultural and language tidbit which students found extremely amusing (p. 37), whereas the topic of reference letters showed practical potential (p. 79).

However, assuming a focus on L2 immersion pedagogy, there are some drawbacks. Students are not actually exposed to much English in the text, and the teacher needs to be able to read Japanese fluently. The lack of practice activities is a negative point: There are 5-8 simple practice questions for the grammar point highlighted in each chapter. Nonetheless, it is possible to expand upon the themes: Supplementary activities could include the role-playing of job interviews, composition of CVs, and business telephoning. As one of the main characters is American and another is British, a humorous comparison of expressions is possible (introduced on page 55 in a Did You Know? blurb). 

In summary, the lack of English may initially prove a setback to teachers who teach mostly or wholly in English, whereas other teachers will welcome the complete explanations and translations in Japanese. The original The Devil Wears Prada script is entertaining and linguistically more complex than it first appears. In Communicate in English with The Devil Wears Prada, Capper and Kameyama have skillfully selected the grammatical, idiomatic, and cultural points that make this movie an excellent starting point for a variety of conversational activities. This pairing of text and movie set will work well with any student in a conversation class who is inclined towards enjoying authentic, contemporary English. Just like the movie upon which it is based, this text is clever, funny, and thought-provoking.

References

Atkinson, D. (1993). Teaching monolingual classes. London, England: Longman.

von Dietz, H., von Dietz, A., & Joyce, P. (2009). Researching the role of L1 (Japanese) in the English (EFL) classroom. IERI Journal, Vol. 5, pp. 35-52. Retrieved from http://ci.nii.ac.jp/els/contentscinii_20171018101240.pdf?id=ART0009169922

Willis, J. (1981). Teaching English through English. Essex, England: Longman.

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