Apr 112011

What’s the AmE word for a (BrE) socket? Watch this video to find out. It comes from an episode of the 1960s Lucy show. It’s in the public domain so I’m expecting Youtube  will let me keep it up. (Fingers crossed, eh?)

If you’re teaching technical English, you may be hunting for ‘troubleshooting’ conversations. This one marries well with several others that I’ve written in Oxford University Press’s ‘Tech Talk’ series. I’ve edited out some of the more obscure language but a lot of it was timeless – e.g. Did you plug it in?

I think it has a sort of period charm to it. Ask your students to guess when it was made. Clues: electric typewriters were ‘brand new’, the fashions, the terms of address (Mr. Mrs. Sir). Answer = 1967.

Click here to download the tapescript in pdf format. If you hover your cursor over the up arrow (bottom right on the video player) it allows you to turn the closed captions (cc) on and off. And below is another version of the video with some comprehension questions and a task inserted. Hope you and your students find it useful. If you get a moment, please click the red ‘Comments’ link below and let me know.


For more information on sockets and outlets and other ‘electrical’ differences between the US and UK, please see the comments on this post.

And something else I forgot to mention in the original posting:  there’s often so much lexis to work on in technical English classes that I think it’s easy to skip over pragmatics. But relationships matter and for some techies, failure to pay attention to the feelings of others when communicating can even become critical in life and death situations.

 There’s some pragmaticky stuff going on in the video that teachers might want to draw attention to, particularly with higher level students. Mr Mooney irritates Mrs Carmichael at various points. Where, how do we know, and why? (Body language and tone of voice are tell tale signs. He’s getting up her nose by talking down to her, being condescending, stating the blindingly obvious, not listening to her) Also what’s Mrs Carmichael thinking when she says ‘Oh plug it in! You must think I’m a perfect idiot’? Does she mean it or is she being sarcastic? What clues do we have?

 Posted by at 8:55 am

  20 Responses to “Troubleshooting – Lucy and the typewriter”

  1. This is great Vicki – very nicely done 🙂

  2. I love it, Vicki! The questions are still pertinent and I like the way you inserted them into the second video. I was always a great fan of Lucille Ball.

  3. Wow! This is great, Vicki. How did you manage to insert the text into the video? I can see great potential here for exploiting any number of YouTube videos to suit our individual students’ needs. Great work.

  4. Thanks very much Evan, Geniveve and Helen. I’m so glad you like it.

    Helen, I downloaded the original video from a public domain archive: http://www.archive.org/details/movies

    I did an initial edit in Microsoft’s Moviemaker – which is free software. I couldn’t clean up the sound track in that though and in the interim I’d bought Adobe Premiere so that’s what I used to clean it up and add the text. (I just inserted some black video and dropped still titles on top)

    With hindsight, I’d have been able to do a more professional job if I’d worked in Adobe Premiere from the start, but I’m guessing it would have been possible to get pretty similar results with free programs. I’d have needed ‘Audition’ to sort the sound out. The text would have been a fiddle, but I’d imagine it might be done by inserting bits of flash video that can be made from powerpoints using Ispring or whatever. A lot of work though. It’s more straightforward in Adobe Premiere.

    Dunno if it helps anyone, but Adobe have just started offering large educational discounts on Creative Suite 5 in the US. It includes Adobe Premiere (video editing), Photoshop and Illustrator (artwork), InDesign (book and web publishing) and all sorts of other goodies. Folks lucky enough to qualify for the discount (I need to send vendors a copy of my Penn university ID card when I apply) might want to cash in on this because it makes editing video a lot easier.

  5. Thanks for the link, Vicki. I may have a play around with this technology at some point and see what I can come up with. Looks good, though. Thanks for posting this. See you in Brighton?

  6. Nice one Vicki! and thanks for the useful links tip.

  7. Socket and outlet are not synonymous. The outlet is the wall fixture; it has one or more sockets, typically two.

  8. Hi John, many thanks for stopping by and pointing this out.

    As you say, in the US, there are two different words. The fitting on the wall is the outlet and many outlets here have two sockets (often positioned one above the other). In the UK I put my plugs into socket which as I recall (and hopefully Brits will be able to correct me if I’m misremembering) refers to both the wall fitting and the holes you stick the plug in (often positioned side by side).

    So both Brits and Americans refer to the holes as sockets but Brits will also use ‘socket’ to refer to the thing on the wall that Americans call an outlet. Another place this crops up is with when you don’t have enough sockets in the wall. In the UK, you might solve this problem by plugging in a six gang extension lead. In the US, I’d call it a six outlet power strip.

    Aside from the obvious 120 volts AC 60 hertz (US) and 240 volts on one phase (UK) difference and different shaped plugs, other US/UK electrical differences I’ve come across are:

    – the earth pin of the plug (UK) is the ground pin (US).

    – the lead for an appliance (UK) is the power chord (US)

    – generally speaking in the US, if a switch is in the up position it’s on and if it’s down it’s off. It’s often the other way round in the UK.

    – batteries die in the US and go flat in the UK

    – when I talk about electricity coming into the house via “the mains” (UK), my ‘merican husband looks at me quizzically.

  9. Wonderful! Thank you Vicki, my students will have a good laugh because I’m a high-tec dud, learning, though!

  10. […] Troubleshooting – Lucy and the typewriter […]

  11. People often do use technical terms in non-technical ways. It would be interesting to hear from a British electrician what the technical U.K. usage is. I was quite surprised to find out that when a (U.S.) plumber refers to a lavatory, he means neither the room nor the main fixture in the room, but the other fixture — the sink. (And etymologically this is right, from Latin lavare ‘wash’.)

  12. OBTW, it’s “power cord”, not “power chord”, though the two words are rather intertwined generally: the musical “chord” was originally a “cord”, short for “accord” (harmony). In general, though, when it means a string or other long thin object, it is “cord”. “Vocal cords” and “vocal chords” are both acceptable.

  13. Thanks John!

  14. […] Troubleshooting – Lucy and the typewriter | Learning to speak ‘merican […]

  15. Dear Vicki,
    It’s very interesting to watch your video with the gap fills. I wasn’t expecting them the first time around, so after listening I didn’t get even these simple gaps right without doing some thinking. Focussed listening is a very different animal from listening for gist. Thanks for this 🙂
    I’m with Helen, this does look very promising. Life is getting more difficult for us freelancer, though, can’t make the most of software offers. As institutions aren’t the marrying kind these days, at least not around these parts (Germany), maybe we’ll have to figure out new forms of business partnerships for freelancers.

    Have a lovely into-May-weekend!


  16. […] Troubleshooting – technical English – Lucy and the typewriter […]

  17. […] Troubleshooting – technical English – Lucy and the typewriter […]

  18. Thank you for this great lesson plan, Vicki. I’m going to try it out with my technical students.

  19. Thank you Anne! Do hope it goes well.

  20. Many years later … Hi Vicki, I’ve been searching for this great video – Troubleshooting with Lucy, is it no longer available? The video and the lesson plan were excellent, would be great to find it again.
    Thanks for any help! Good night, Joan

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