Tag Archives: youtube

Nulla pont! ESC in the Hungarian classroom


Nicole, Germany, 1982: ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’

Bucks Fizz, Johnny Logan and sixteen year-old Nicole from Germany strumming an acoustic guitar.  What am I thinking of?

If you said the Eurovision Song Contest, there’s a good chance that you grew up in the 1980s. These are my strongest memories of the annual song competition, which I watched avidly as a kid. If I close my eyes I can practically hear Terry Wogan’s sardonic lilt introducing the next song from the BBC commentary box. I think the last year I really paid attention to it was 1987 (thanks, wikipedia!) when Johnny Logan won for Ireland with ‘Hold Me Now’.

Fast forward to 1998. I watched on Hungarian TV as Charlie (full name PO Charlie – poor old Charlie) somehow managed to score four points with one of the worst songs ever to be entered in the competition. Astonishingly, he came 23rd out of 25, the astonishment arising from the fact that there were two other countries deemed even worse than PO Hungary that year.

Since then I have watched desultorily, knowing that there is no point getting excited about whether your favourite song finishes eighth or twelfth. In Eurovision, there are only two places that matter: first, and last.

My own students are now about the same age I was when Johnny Logan crooned to victory, and they take a much keener interest in the proceedings than I do. Smart as they are, they know that this is a competition the Hungarians will never win. The nation’s unimpressive pop music pedigree combined with its ‘Forever Alone’ status among Eastern European nations means that points are always going to be scarce.

Hungary’s annual televised ‘Song for Europe’ competition (‘A Dal 2013’) recently slumped to its agonising and underwhelming conclusion. Halfway through its seemingly interminable run, I got the idea for a good classroom activity. Forget glory – let’s go for ignominy! What do we want? Nul points/Nulla pont! When do we want it? Now!

I asked one of my students to go through the YouTube archive of Hungarian entrants in the competition and find the three worst songs. This was tough – very tough – but he finally settled on three absolute toe-curlers and posted them to our group page. Tempted though I am, I will not embed videos of the songs here, but just in case you are curious about the selection, these were the three songs chosen. Google them at your peril!

Lilla Polyák – Valami Más (a quite shameless rip-off of last year’s winning song from Sweden.)

Zoltán Fehér – Nincs Baj (the title means “No problem” – a potentially libellous sentiment  given the wretchedness of the song.)

Neonzöld – Background (a song so painfully bad that no-one I have spoken to has been able to muster the strength to listen to it all the way through.)

In class I divided the students into three groups – one for each song. I told the groups that they were to be the ‘mentors’ for their allocated song.

Then we listened to the songs one by one. Oh, the suffering!

Each group then had to come up with reasons why ‘their’ song was exceptional – and to explain it to the rest of the group. This was the haaaaaaard part.

Then they got the chance to point out why the other two songs were rubbish. This was the easy part.

At the end of the lesson we had a vote.

Who would you have voted for?

Btw the eventual winner of ‘A Dal 2013’ (a hipster called ByeAlex) has a real chance of grabbing the headlines in May. And I don’t mean by winning. That’s right – the dream of nul points might finally be within the nation’s grasp!


Letters to the Magician

Lots of language teachers have second jobs. Many English teachers work in more than one school. I’ve even met English teachers who were also tourist guides, translators or musicians. Now I can add illusionists to that list.

I met Téo Elfo in São Paulo earlier this year, when he attended an OTA training course for English teachers. During the breaks I noticed that he always had a pack of cards in his hand and I duly asked him about it. He told me that as well as being an English teacher he was a keen illusionist, and that he always carried cards, balls or some other magician’s props in his pockets. At the end of the session he showed the group one of his tricks – something to do with magically appearing and disappearing red balls – and impressed us all. I remember thinking how much his young students must appreciate the fact that their English teacher was a magician. What a brilliant way to motivate students.

Not long ago Téo posted a terrific video of an illusion online. The trick involves the eyebrow-raising juxtaposition of Fruit Loops and dental floss  and as soon as I saw it  I knew it would be just the kind of thing that my own students would appreciate. Earlier today I showed a group of eleventh grade elementary students the video – and they loved it.

Students after watching the trick

Letters to the Magician

I then asked them to write down their reactions to the video in order to send them to the illusionist himself. The students were clearly motivated by the fact that the person they were writing to was a ‘real person’ known to the teacher. I told them that if we were lucky, we might even get a response – perhaps in the shape of another magic trick from our Brazilian maestro. I collected the responses together and sent them to Téo.

Letters to the Magician


Moments later – abracadabra! – I had a response. Téo was really pleased and promised to send a reply to the students. Even better, he’s going to dedicate a video trick to the group.

Magic words 🙂

It was great to be able to use this video with an elementary group. It’s short, there’s no talking, it’s very easy to follow and yet there is a wealth of things to discuss and describe. With this group, we reacted to the impact of the trick; equally we could have described the sequence of actions, using the present simple, linking adverbs and prepositions of place.

Here is another idea for using the video in class (intermediate level):

Before showing the video

– Pre-teach the words Fruit Loops and dental floss.

– Ask: how would fruit loops and dental floss usually be used together? (Eat the fruit loops, then floss.)

– Can you think of any other (creative) ways to use them? (as fishing bait, pendulum, decoration, etc.)


After watching the video

– How (on earth!) did he do it?

– Write sentences using must have, can’t have and might have

– Write to the magician 🙂


What do you think about using tricks in the English lesson? Have you got any good ideas?