When I taught English to college-age international students, we used movies quite a bit to teach listening. One movie I used was You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It’s a charming story with a lot of humor, a contemporary setting and great views of New York City, so it was very appealing to the students.
But of course, there were words and phrases that they couldn’t understand, not just because they couldn’t hear them, but because they didn’t know them. The movie contained some difficult phrases and many idioms.
In teaching this movie, I made a list of scenes, for myself and for the students, so I could stay on track and they would have a written guide to what was going on, and we could discuss the movie more easily.
I’d like to share this list with you. For almost every scene, I’ll include some vocabulary with definitions. I made up most of these simple, short definitions myself, to use on the back of the flash cards I like to use to teach vocabulary. Of course, many of these words and phrases can be found by the students themselves in dictionaries, but some are a little more elusive. They’re here if you want to use them. They are not comprehensive; they don’t include all of the words and phrases that might be new for your students, just a few. You can take it from here, adding more if you wish.
Once the students get a handle on at least some of the vocabulary, the listening will become a little easier for them. Also, they’ll learn some useful vocabulary-always a good thing in an ESL class.
In this article, I’ll include the scenes and vocabulary I used during the first week of class. In subsequent articles, I’ll continue to the end of the movie.
A note: When I taught this movie, we were still using videos, not DVDs, so my scenes don’t correspond exactly to the chapters on your DVD copy. (It’s not an old movie; it’s a classic!)
1) two apartments, email
the end of Western civilization as we know it-something that’s going to change our lives in a bad way
school supplies-books, pencils, pens, paper, erasers
black tie-occasion requiring formal dress
2) walking to work, two coffees, Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly pass each other
I’ve got this covered-I can handle this situation
who cares?–It doesn’t matter, isn’t important to me
3) at bookstore construction, Joe Fox and Kevin; Fox tells how they’ll seduce customers
sheer genius-brilliant, for example an idea, a plan
pathetic-sad and to be pitied
Hey, you know what?–a way to get someone’s attention, to tell them something interesting
4) Kathleen arrives at work, happy; co-worker says she must be in love; Kathleen asks if infidelity is possible on email; co-worker mentions cybersex; Kathleen says they met in a chat room; George comes in, then Bertie
infidelity-going out with someone besides your spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend
can’t beat that-it’s a great deal
over the top-excessive
5) Skyscraper view, bookstore meeting, father is getting married to Gillian; City Books is going under because of them, and they’re happy; they mention two other stores, Sleuth and Shop Around the Corner; we see three generations of Fox males, and grandfather things he may have dated Kathleen’s enchanting mother, Cecelia
going under-failing, closing (a business, for example)
bites the dust-dies
here you go-This is for you (when someone gives someone something, in a store, for example)
6) Kathleen’s email about a butterfly; Joe’s about a bagel; Kathleen’s about Pride and Prejudice, thither, mischance, felicity; Joe’s about Starbucks and identity
Why is that?–Why?
Agony-pain, extreme discomfort
Some students will rent the movie so they can watch it at home. Do not discourage this! It’s like voluntary homework-but it’s fun, and they will get more out of the lessons, the more they watch-and listen to You’ve Got Mail. Don’t be surprised if they start quoting lines, and talking like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan!
Sources: own notes and movie You’ve Got Mail
You’ve Got Mail scenes #2
You’ve Got Mail scenes #3
You’ve Got Mail scenes #4
You’ve Got Mail Scenes #5
You’ve Got Mail Scenes #6