21st March 2003 at 00:00
"Great Britain and the United States are two nations separated by a common language" (George Bernard Shaw). It seems strange to suggest that English readers of American texts need the help of a translator, but it's true.

What, for instance, is a "scuppernong", or a "kewpie doll"? Can you really have grasped To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men without knowing the answers? American readers of popular texts like Goodnight, Mr Tom have similar problems, with both vocabulary and with cultural references.

Why not build an e-mail link with an American school and help one another out? www.gigglepotz.comcc.htm makes finding a partner easy.

Ask your students to write a short piece about their special interest, using as much technical vocabulary as they can. Their intended reader should be someone equally well-informed. The results will be incomprehensible to the uninitiated - skateboarders will be writing about "grinds", "ollies" and "nollies", equestrians may be discussing standing and running martingales.

Circulate the pieces within the class, asking readers to annotate the words they don't understand, then return them to the writers, who should now write an explanatory glossary. Circulate again.

In a plenary, discuss how the language you use helps define your identity, and the value of specialist vocabularies.

Schools in areas with strong local dialects could try a similar exercise, exchanging texts with students at the other end of the country.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today