"Ok," I announce to my intermediate English class, "It's time to study grammar! YAY!" My sarcastic enthusiasm is completely lost as I receive only awkward smiles and downright frowns from my Thai students. This odd exchange of sarcasm and non-response is repeated daily at my school. A mumbling of, "Oh, it's raining. Good, I wanted to get wet today!" is returned with a confused "Really?" Often my sarcastic remarks are completely ignored.
As an American, sarcasm runs in my blood. I toss around sarcastic comments without a second thought. My friends and I communicate with sarcasm as a mode of humour, defence and as a coping method. Even when I try to tone down my sarcasm, those rascally comments still slip from my lips! I know that my students are vaguely aware of sarcasm but they don't quite understand it and they certainly would never use it on their own. Because many of them want to befriend foreigners, travel to western countries and study abroad, I thought that I might help introduce them to the concept. However, I soon realized that sarcasm and Thailand do not and should not mix!
My 'Introduction to Sarcasm' activity began with a matching game. I told my students to match sarcastic comments such as "What great weather!" and "I feel fantastic" to pictures of rain clouds and hospital patients. "OH!" they exclaimed, "Sarcasm is like the opposite of what is true!" I nodded and continued to explain that sarcasm is used as a funny way to talk about something negative. For example, rather than saying, "It's raining and I don't like it," we would say, "Great weather!" I also modelled sarcastic tone compared to genuine tone. They seemed to get it!
The final twenty minutes of class involved small groups of students writing and presenting skits using sarcasm. This is when things went downhill. Three girls (two beautiful and thin, one more unfortunate in appearance) stepped up first.
"You're so pretty," Beautiful Girl #1 said to Unfortunate Girl. Unfortunate Girl nodded her head. My stomach tightened. Ugh oh...
"Yes, and you're so skinny!" remarked Beautiful Girl #2. Again, Unfortunate Girl nodded and I frowned. This was not good!
"You should be in a beauty pageant! I think that every boy wants to date you! You have beautiful clothes." The barrage of insults kept coming as Unfortunate girl kept smiling and nodding her head.
"Yes, I am the most beautiful girl in the world," Concluded Unfortunate Girl.
The group took their seats. The rest of the class, as usual, wasn't paying attention, but rather they were practicing sarcasm together. "You're definitely Man's only girlfriend!" sneered Flirty Girl. "It's none of your business!" Girlfriend hotly remarked."Your clothes are so trendy" shouted HI-So Girl at Isaan Girl. "You are so popular," Butterfly said to Lonely Boy.
I watched in horror as my formerly sweet students slung sassy comments across the room at one another. It really upset me to see my polite Thai students behave so out of character. I had to shut it down! I know that in their minds they weren't being bullying or offensive but I didn't like it.
My advice to any English teachers considering using sarcasm as a subject: DON'T DO IT! Teach a lesson about articles instead.
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