Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
- Outline what happens in the audition room. (30 %)
- Examine how the author illustrates Mr. Luong’s feelings during and after the audition. Give evidence from the text. (30 %)
- Choose one of the following tasks:
3.1 She didn’t dare check her father’s reaction when she said, “Yes. I’ll translate.” (ll. 37/38) Explain the quote and reflect on the role language plays in integration; use Mr. Luong’s experience as a starting point. (40 %)
3.2 Compare Mr. Luong’s difficulties with those of a character from literature or film who also fights for recognition. Assess the way they cope with their situations. (40 %)
3.3 In an online article for a media project on career prospects, discuss whether talent shows can be a chance for Mr. Luong and people in general to realize their dreams. (40 %)
The text at hand is an extract from Bich Minh Nguyen's novel "Short Girls", published in New York in 2009, and deals with the incidents during and after an audition for a talent show for desperate inventors in which Mr. Luong is taking part.
Mr. Luong, a first-generation Vietnamese American, has been invited to this audition to present his inventions in front of a jury. At the beginning of his presentation, he explains that he has invented certain devices for short people to ease their life. After he is interrupted by one of the jurors, who pretends he cannot understand Mr. Luong's strong Vietnamese accent when he talks in English, Mr. Luong's American-born daughter Linny joins the presentation to work as a translator. Linny takes over her father's presentation, and as she is well-behaved, fluent in speaking English, and familiar with the expected behaviour in this situation, the presentation is a success, and Mr. Luong is invited to the next round of the show. Mr. Luong wordlessly gathers his inventions and leaves the room, while his daughter and their friend Tom are very pleased with the result. Mr. Luong is so upset about the jury and TV business that he declines to join the next round in Las Vegas.
While reading the text, the reader becomes aware of the clear difference between Mr. Luong's feelings during and after the audition.
The third-person omniscient narrator, who only describes the scene without commenting on it, contributes to the reader being able to subjectively experience the situation as it is presented.
Right from the beginning, the reader experiences a very tense and intimidating atmosphere in the audition room. When Mr. Luong recognizes "bored-faced judges" (l.1), the reader anticipates that Mr. Luong is facing quite an impossible task of convincing the jury of the value of his inventions. The closed faces are supported by the men's position "behind a long table" (l.1) that works as a barrier, and shows a clear separation between TV business, represented by the jury, and an ordinary contestant like Mr. Luong, who does not seem to be of any interest to the men. It also indicates Mr. Luong's disadvantaged position, and foreshadows his failure before he has even said a word. The large space between jury and contestant, and the contestant's position "in the middle of the room" (l.2), contribute to Mr. Luong's hopeless situation in which he feels exposed and intimidated. The personification of the "block-lettered logo" that "loomed" (l.4) in Mr. Luong's back works as a threat from behind, and thus intensifies his forlornness.
Even more, he is "surrounded by cameras" (l.1), which means that all his movements and emotions are being recorded. That puts him under enormous pressure, and reveals his excitement and nervousness to the reader.
The body posture which he assumes reveals his insecurity as he "tried to strike a shoulders-back posture..." (l.5) as well as his fear of failure. This becomes obvious to the others when he is compared to "a kid in the final anxious round of a spelling bee". He is even reduced to a child that cannot hide his feelings, as he does not have any experience on how to survive this situation.
Nevertheless, he seems to be very eager and ambitious when presenting his inventions; he has carefully arranged the different devices "on the desk” (l.2) and “arranged the suitcase and ladder nearby" (ll.3). He is very eager and careful to introduce himself in ll. 8-12, and points out the value of his inventions when referring to them in ll. 16-19, but his overexcitedness leads to a deterioration in his use of English, as we notice when pronunciation and grammar seem to fail him (see ll. 20-22). The derogative impression created by the simile "Miyagi-like" (l.22), used to describe his way of pronunciation, foreshadows the jury's reaction of not taking him seriously. His range of vocabulary is very limited, and does not correspond with his intellect, as he obviously invented very useful devices for physically disadvantaged people. The interruption by one of the judges creates a contrast between the humble Vietnamese exposed "in the middle of the room" and the loud American jury "sitting behind a long table", who do not even try to figure out the value of Mr. Luong's inventions. He feels humiliated not only by this interruption, but also by his daughter's well-intended interference to save her father's performance when she jumps in and takes over without asking for her father's consent. His humiliation is not directly revealed to the reader, but as he becomes totally invisible from l. 28 to l. 38, although he is obviously still present, the reader experiences the hidden feelings as well.
After the audition, Mr. Luong's humiliation becomes apparent when "he stood still" (l. 40), although he has been invited to the next round of the show. The contrast between the expected behaviour of joy and happiness and Mr. Luong's behaviour of total passiveness reveal his humiliation. He feels he has been treated as a second-class citizen, having been reduced to his improper use of the language, and he knows that his success does not belong to him as the inventor, but to his daughter's performance. "He stood still" also means that he suppressed his anger, which is then released after they have left the audition: He "stormed toward the exit" (ll. 45/46). He voices his anger when he refers to the "stupid TV people" (l. 48). He even "spat out" because he is so upset about how he was treated; he is unable to articulate his frustration properly. He recognizes the betrayal in being used by a system that in no way cared about his inventions, but only about profit. The staccato-like short sentences in ll. 49 and 50 unveil his anger to the reader as they strongly show his anger about being abused, and even anger with himself for having dreamed about possible financial success (see ll. 23-25) in the USA. And, after recognizing this hypocritical system, he withdraws from it and turns down his participation in glamorous Las Vegas - which might offer glamour to him as well. His rising anger is expressed in the way the climax is formed, starting in line 40 when he "stood still", then "stormed out" (l.45), and "spat out" (l.48), resulting in this vulgar last sentence.
At first Mr. Luong is eager to succeed in this audition and to make his own American Dream come true, but when he recognizes the implemented hypocrisy, he is not willing to sacrifice his human dignity for any financial success.
The quote from ll. 37 and 38 refers to Linny, the protagonist's daughter, and her behaviour during the audition. It expresses Linny's good intentions when she decides to take over his presentation, and her desire to help him succeed, because she can already anticipate her father’s impending failure due to his lack of knowledge in speaking English. On the other hand, the quote also refers to Linny's anxiety that, when she takes over, she openly embarrasses and humiliates her father. As an Asian daughter, she must stand behind and not overrule her father in public. For her and her father, this situation means a violation of typical Asian behaviour, and Linny is well aware of this fact as she "didn't dare check her father's reaction".
In this situation, Linny becomes quite aware of the fact that language is the key that paves the way to success for her father. Obviously, he has failed to learn to speak English properly in the course of the more than 20 years (see ll. 22-23) he has been in the USA, and during which time he has become a citizen as well. He has failed to integrate into society, as he otherwise would have known how to behave in situations like the one mentioned in the text.
The knowledge and use of the language of one's new home country are essential, as it opens doors into society in everyday life, such as when talking to neighbours or doing the daily chores. In that way, one settles into society and feels fulfillment and acceptance as well, which is the basis for establishing an identity within the new country – with its culture and its people.
It is the key to education and to qualifying for jobs when specific vocabulary is required, like in university, engineering, in medical institutions or in court.
It is the basis for identifying with the new country, because through the language, ethical values, cultural standards and traditions are transported, which in turn ease one's way in coming to terms with and adapting to the new situation in the new country of settlement.
It is also the key to having a wider influence, as it is possible for the speaker to join different organizations, unions and even parties to get to know new persons, to share common interests, to exchange opinions, and even contribute to the country's progress when, for example, serving as a member of an environmental organization that fights for the preservation of nature in the respective country.
Mr. Luong has missed the opportunity to learn and to speak the language properly, and so he has missed lots of other chances , like having a well-paid job to support his family and his inventions, of having them patented, or of becoming an entrepreneur with his own business and selling his inventions. Another sign of his not being integrated is that he interacts with his Asian friends in a community where the use of English is not necessary. In that way, he excludes himself from being integrated.
Part of his failure to sell his inventions or to have them patented is his lack of knowledge of English and of using English properly. He cannot describe the use of his inventions, as he does not have any proper technical vocabulary that allow him to provide exact insight into his constructions.
The proper use of a language is the key not only for being accepted, but also for showing one's willingness to participate and to further the country's development as a proper citizen.
The difficulty of integrating into a completely new culture has been the topic of various literary works. Amongst them are, for example, Monica Ali's novel "Brick Lane", Amy Tan's novel "The Joy Luck Club", Zadie Smith's novel "White Teeth", and the movie "East is East".
In Monica Ali's novel, the Bangladeshi girl Nazneen, the protagonist, is married to an older man in London. She is confronted with a totally different culture, a new way of living and a new language. As she does not speak a single word, she is confined to her flat, and does not have any social contact. As such, she can easily be subdued by her husband. Only by picking up words first and learning the language step by step does she gain more independence when meeting neighbours and starting to chat with them, and going out to do the shopping. Later on when she meets the radical Karim, she gains even more self confidence, so that she is able to speak up against Mrs. Islam, who is blackmailing her; she is able to stand up and protect her family.
In the movie "East is East", the Pakistani George settles down in Salford, marries Ella, an English woman, and together they have five children. George would like his children to be religious Muslims, and has them educated in that way. Unfortunately, the children have got different intentions of what they want to be in their lives. George has never learned to speak proper English; it is very difficult for him to articulate why religion is so important to him and why he would like his children to follow his way of life. Instead of taking the situation of his children, who have different ethnic backgrounds and who live in the UK, into consideration, he follows his own traditions and expects everybody to obey him. The children do not understand his behaviour, and he turns to violence when he recognizes their disobedience. This behaviour of not having been able to integrate himself into the new culture, although he is married to an English woman, and the violence that he uses to punish disobedient behaviour, clearly estranges him from his family, so that in the end he loses his children as they turn away from him.
In Amy Tan's novel, similar conflicts are displayed within four different Chinese-American families. The Chinese mothers' difficulty of using English properly makes it difficult for them to reach out to their daughters. It is impossible for the four mothers to explain what life they left behind in China, why traditions are so important to them, and why they want their daughters to lead a better life in the USA. Therefore, their daughters experience their mothers more as a nuisance than as somebody from whom they might benefit. Only when the mothers are able to overcome their traditional Asian behaviour and adapt to the American culture can they start talking to their daughters, and all of them are given the chance for reconciliation.
In all of the works, it is not only the language that separates people, and in particular family members from each other, it is also the culture, the traditions and the values that come along with the language, which in the text at hand form a barrier that not only hurts Mr. Luong, but also all the above-mentioned characters. It is necessary to find a commonly shared voice to create a mutual understanding, and it often a commonly shared tolerant and caring atmosphere that can create such understanding.
Talent shows are booming all over the world. Every person seems to have extraordinary skills to reveal and to be marveled at. Dancing, singing, modeling, cooking - you name it and there is certainly a show for it on TV.
But can the chances which these shows offer the contestants really be the start of an outstanding career that will make the contestant's dreams come true?
When watching any talent show, the winner of the show is always promised a push forward with their career. The winners are offered jobs in a dance company, the music or fashion industries, a top restaurant - or they might even become famous in bands like No Angels, Take That or Destiny's Child, or start a solo career like Paul Potts, Justin Timberlake or Christina Aguilera. But it is up to them to keep their professional standards high. They have to be ambitious, willing to work hard and to sacrifice a family life or friendships, for example, all for the sake of their career.
But when one has a closer look at the entertainment market worldwide, one recognizes that there is a superfluous amount of talent shows on TV or on the internet. There are The Voice, ... Got Talent, ... Next Top Model, but all of them face dwindling numbers of viewers. The talent show is dead - the last years have shown a pure repetition of the same pattern: Only the name of the show is new.
The shows always prove that the contestants are not professionals. So when they really want to succeed in the show's afterlife, they have to learn professional skills, as only a small percentage of the contestants are natural talents. The large majority is humiliated in front of the cameras and ruled out. It should not be forgotten that the jury is often very demotivating, since they are very harsh or sometimes rude in their judgments. This might prevent shy people from fully explaining or even revealing their full talent, as it is obvious for the jury in Mr. Luong's case. So a lot of stamina is needed to survive such a show.
In Mr. Luong's case a talent show might be helpful, as he is ambitious and has invented something new and helpful. If the right people watch this show, he might be given a chance. Do people who care for inventions watch these shows? I guess the answer is obvious.
On the other hand, Mr. Luong is his own obstacle: He cannot sell his inventions because he cannot describe the usefulness to others due to his lack of proper language use. He could look for help, but that require him to overcome his Asian pride and adapt to the Western code of behaviour.
Finally, talent shows aim at entertainment and making profit - they do not focus on pushing forward individual careers. Once the show is over, the contestant is forgotten - or do you really still know the names of the winners of The X-Factor 2 years ago, the bands that were artificially created, except for the Spice Girls?
Shows have to be watched; they can influence people in finding a hidden skill in themselves, maybe set a goal for them or teach them about required skills that have to be developed, but in most cases the success is only for a few people, and it might be very short-lived.
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