Twelve American Voices: An Authentic Listening and Integrated-Skills Textbook

Twelve American Voices: An Authentic Listening and Integrated-Skills Textbook

by Maurice Cogan Hauck

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Designed for non-native speakers of English, Twelve American Voices presents a series of entertaining and culturally rich radio documentaries by award-winning producer David Isay. These stories, which were first broadcast on National Public Radio, focus on a range of individuals living and working in contemporary America, from an immigrant Chinese restaurant


Designed for non-native speakers of English, Twelve American Voices presents a series of entertaining and culturally rich radio documentaries by award-winning producer David Isay. These stories, which were first broadcast on National Public Radio, focus on a range of individuals living and working in contemporary America, from an immigrant Chinese restaurant owner in New York City to an African-American waitress who helped integrate a Southern lunch counter, from the owner of a pawnship–wedding chapel to a retired couple who have become disk jockeys. As students listen to these stories, they hear a variety of regional and ethnic “Englishes” and are introduced to some corners of American culture that are rarely seen in the media.

In addition to transcripts of the documentaries, the book includes thought-provoking exercises that encourage students to analyze the language in the stories and to respond in both oral and written form. A CD of the broadcasts is included. Also available are an instructor’s manual and a cassette for language labs (both free).

Editorial Reviews

Susan Vik
This book provides authentic and entertaining listening comprehension material and meaningful language exercises for students of ESL.

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Yale University Press
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12 American Voices

Instructor's Manual
By Maurice Cogan Hauck


Copyright © 2002 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-08960-0

Chapter One

Hunan Chef

Introduction to the Broadcast

David Isay calls up his favorite Chinese restaurant for a delivery and is surprised to learn that it is going out of business that very night. David heads over to Hunan Chef to have a last dinner with David Ma, the owner, and to reminisce about a place that has been his hangout for nearly a decade. We learn something about David Isay's personality and character-he's both a very loyal friend and a very finicky eater-in this bittersweet story.

"Hunan Chef" serves as an introduction to Twelve American Voices in a number of ways. It introduces David Isay to the students by having a greater focus on David as a person that do most of the other chapters. The themes of "Hunan Chef" are also well suited to an introductory lesson. The subject of restaurants is covered to some extent, but the main theme of the story is having a "home away from home" and experiencing cross-cultural friendship.

Students may be interested to know that David Ma, after being forced out of Manhattan by high rents, has opened a new restaurant in New Jersey, also called Hunan Chef. David Isay is still in touch with him but of course doesn't get out there to eat nearly as much as he did at the old Hunan Chef.


PETER LORRE-Hungarian-born Hollywood character actor of the 1930s and 1940s. His best-known role was as the nervous smuggler Ugarte in the film Casablanca (1942).

FORTUNE COOKIE-A thin cookie folded around a slip of paper with a fortune or bit of advice printed on it. Usually served at the end of the meal at Chinese restaurants in the United States. The fortune cookie was introduced in San Francisco in the 1960s and is not at all well known in China.

Notes on the Exercises



Check that students are familiar with the sense of "regular" as used here to describe a restaurant visited on an ongoing basis. You may want to relate it to the term "home away from home," which will be used in the Introduction. One way to communicate to students what is expected would be to offer a brief personal reminiscence of a place that once was your own home away from home.

Once students are in working groups, it is advisable to limit their exchanges to five to ten minutes, as the purpose of this activity is to raise the themes of the story rather than to exhaustively explore them. (Students will have a chance to return to these ideas in the discussion and writing activities.) For sharing, it probably is not practical to hear from all of the groups. Ask for volunteers (it is fine for students to elect not to speak in front of the class at this point) and have two or three people briefly summarize their stories.


This exercise introduces potentially new words from the story grouped around the theme of restaurants. Encourage students to pool their knowledge before turning to the dictionary.

Whenever teaching vocabulary, it is useful to give students your opinion about which words are more common and therefore useful (e.g., "sip," "left-overs") and which are less so (e.g., "fare," "carafe"). Note that the distinction between "sliced" and "diced" plays a role in the broadcast.

The words "bill" and "check" are interchangeable here (both meaning the amount of money due for a meal), but they have distinct meanings in other areas (e.g., one might write a check to pay one's credit card bill).


Note the use of modals and modal-like expressions (i.e., "must," "might," and "do you think ... probably"). You may want to review for students the distinction between each. For example, it seems pretty clear from the name that Hunan Chef serves Chinese food, though it may or may not specialize in the cuisine of Hunan Province (in fact, it does not); whereas there are a wider range of possible answers to the other items.

The prediction questions here are fairly low level. In later chapters, as the students become more practiced at making predictions, more sophisticated, global questions will be asked at this stage, and in some cases students will be called on to generate their own predicting questions.

Each student should be encouraged to make an individual prediction. If students are hesitant to predict, explain the concept of making an educated guess. It is not important that they be right, but they should put down something to guide their first listening. You may want to gather a range of predictions and put them on the board so that you can check them after the first listening.

To ease anxiety, explain to students before the first listening that they will be given plenty of further opportunities to hear the broadcast, and that they will eventually have access to the transcript. When the tape finishes, allow students to consult with each other before checking with you on the accuracy of their predictions.

There are other possible answers besides those given. For example, it could be argued that "the owner is a poor businessman" is a valid prediction, as shown by the fact that David Ma did not seem to know about the rent hike in advance. In principle, any response is valid as long as the student can support it by referring to the broadcast.

Listening for Comprehension

Base the way you handle this activity on your students' level and the amount of difficulty they had with the first listening. For intermediate students it can be useful to read through the comprehension questions, checking for understanding of what's being asked and seeing which items need to be focused on. (More advanced levels may be dropped into the listening after just taking a moment to skim the questions.)

After the second listening has been completed, go over the answers one by one. If the class is still having difficulty comprehending, a good technique is to replay the story, stopping after the point that answers each question, rewinding as many times as is necessary for students to hear how the answer is provided. (It may help for you to have the transcript open as you do this, though it is not suggested that students look at the transcript at this point.)

Most of the items in this exercise call for a fairly literal type of recall comprehension. Question 7, however, is a bit more complex, asking students to relate the mixup between diced and sliced chicken. It could be given to a relatively advanced student who is champing at the bit in the exercise.

An additional question to ask more advanced levels is, "How did David feel when he read his fortune cookie?" The answer is complex; he was in one sense disappointed, but he is also playing up his feelings of disappointment to make an ironic, humorous point.

Language Focus A: Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs vary widely, particularly among different speech communities (e.g., between American English and British English). For this reason, asking students to learn a list of phrasal verbs and their definitions seems a misapplication of energy.

Exercise A points out some of the principles underlying phrasal verb creation and then exposes students to a few authentic uses. Though the language in this exercise is adapted, the phrasal verbs are in the same form as they appeared in the broadcast.

Exercise B gives students some experience in seeing how a single preposition can combine with different lexical verbs to create different idiomatic meanings. There is a twist to the answers: "up" is the answer to five of the items while each of the other five particles appears only once. This is intended to show how a single particle can have a range of other meanings (although "up" is perhaps the most flexible particle in creating phrasal verbs, each of the others given here-as well as many other prepositions-can be used with a range of meanings). Point this out to students and see whether they can infer what meaning "up" adds to the lexical verb in each of these sentences.

Another important concept in working with phrasal verbs is that some are separable (e.g., we can say either "call up Hunan Chef" or "call Hunan Chef up") while others are nonseparable (e.g., we can say "head over to Hunan Chef" but not "head to Hunan Chef over"). Some examples of each type are included, but this point isn't directly presented.

A note on terminology: it would be more accurate to describe phrasal verbs as "multiword verbs" and to call the word that combines with the lexical verb a "particle" rather than a preposition. Our decision here has been to sacrifice technical accuracy for the sake of less-confusing terminology. You can tell students that the "preposition" in a phrasal verb is not acting in the way we expect a preposition to act (i.e., it is not joining with an object to form a prepositional phrase) but rather is functioning as a part of the verb phrase.

Listening for Analysis

The activity focuses on the emotional content of the relationship between David Isay, David Ma, and the restaurant.

Of course, there is a range of possible answers to each of these questions. Diverse answers should be encouraged as long as students can back up their response by reference to the transcript. If students are hesitant to offer a response, you might ask what a certain event shows (e.g., David eating at the same restaurant for nine years) and brainstorm vocabulary for possible responses on the blackboard (e.g., "loyal," "conservative," "boring," etc.).

This activity also gives students an opportunity to pursue any language or vocabulary points of interest that have not been covered elsewhere in the lesson. It is our perspective, however, that understanding the story does not necessarily mean being able to gloss every single lexical item. For example, students might not get the reference to a busboy who looked something like a "Chinese Peter Lorre." Though this certainly can be explained if a student asks about it, we consider it tangential to the story and not worth teaching explicitly.

You may want to ask students what they think of David Ma's ability to speak English. Note that his language skills have many limitations (in terms of grammar, pronunciation, etc.), but he does speak well enough to run a business and, more important, to build a meaningful friendship.

Language Focus B: Vocabulary in Context (1)

This exercise focuses on a method for working to understand new vocabulary that is useful both inside and outside the classroom. It is placed in Chapter 1 in hopes that students will get into the habit of using this technique regularly. Students can use a dictionary if they get stuck but should be encouraged to use context clues and to make educated guesses.


Discussion Activities

The saying in Activity A means that whenever someone offers something for free, they will expect something in return. In responding to this question, students may want to consider David Ma's comment: "Money can buy some things, of course it can buy some things. Some things it cannot buy. Like a friend. We talk about it, you know what I'm saying. Keep the memories, buddy. Just a friend."

One view is that this broadcast shows that there can, in fact, be such a thing as a free lunch. David Ma is picking up the tab for purely emotional reasons, not because he wants to get anything back.

Activity B, on cross-cultural friendships, is more specifically personal as it asks students to talk about their own lives and experiences. If students feel they have never had a relationship with a person from a significantly different background, they should be encouraged to do activity A.

Depending on class size and time available, you may want to ask one person from each group to summarize their group's discussion.

Writing Activities

Activity A calls for a personal narrative. Students can be encouraged to pay particular attention to their use of past tense verbs, or to "showing" rather than "telling," etc.

Activity B calls for familiarity with a fairly specific genre of writing, the review. To give more direction, introduce some other types of review (movies, books, theater, etc.) and present some of the functions of a review: identifying (providing the restaurant's name and location); describing (talking about the food, atmosphere, prices, etc.); and evaluating (talking about whether the thing being reviewed is good, mediocre, or bad). Students can choose to write about the restaurant they described in the orientation, building on what they told their group.

Project Activity: Planning Your Own Restaurant

The directions given in the student book are deliberately open-ended. Depending on time and interest level, this can be a fairly short wrap-up discussion, or it could become an elaborate simulation activity. This activity can be expanded in any number of directions (e.g., copying each group's menu and asking members to act as hosts in a roleplay of restaurant interaction). In either case, it's important to give students clear guidelines on how much time should be spent, what level of detail is required, and how the activity will end.

If group presentations are made, the other students-the audience-should be given a specific task to complete while listening (e.g., they can vote on which restaurant they would like to have dinner at, or they can act as investors choosing which they think is most likely to make money).


Excerpted from 12 American Voices by Maurice Cogan Hauck Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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