The Octagon

Dutch sophomore learned English with the Goth Gloom patriarch

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This is the fourth installment in a five-part series on world-language textbooks used by students inside and outside of school. 

Some people learn English by writing essays, reading books and magazines or listening to English music. 

My preferred method was following the thrilling lives of vampires in a small English village.

Jacqueline Chao
Sophomore Héloïse Schep

“Hot Spot” is a textbook series aimed at fifth to eighth grade students learning British English. Each book (levels one through three) has seven chapters and focuses on a different family or friend group.

I used the level one book with my tutor in the Netherlands to learn English before I moved to America.  

Each chapter had a different comic centered around a family that incorporated the chapter vocabulary. 

For example, a comic about a boy named Lee who discovers a time-traveling machine and meets various people in the future taught us how to introduce ourselves. 

One about a boy named Fussy Freddy taught us about likes and dislikes: doors but not windows, coffee but not tea, all letters except “C.” 

The friends and families would return throughout the chapter as characters in grammar exercises. 

My all-time favorite, though, was about a Goth/vampire family called the Glooms. They lived in a huge Victorian mansion and dressed exclusively in black. 

The stories mostly focused on Mandy and Helga Gloom, two teenage girls, but also included the Gloom grandparents (who were over 100 years old because they lived forever), parents, uncles, aunts, children and pets. 

The parents wore vampire cloaks to pick up their children from school, and their favorite activity was playing pool in a dungeon. 

The Gloom patriarch, Gordon, was a famous explorer and author who visited Mount Kilimanjaro and set a world record by sailing around the world in 80 days. 

A few years after my English lessons, I watched the movie “The Addams Family,” and the resemblance between the two was uncanny! 

I loved the comics; obviously, they made it easy to remember the vocabulary, since I can still recall them five years later. 

The only thing I didn’t like about the textbook was the singing. 

Besides completing grammar exercises and speaking projects, reading stories and listening to lectures, singing songs that involved the vocabulary was part of the curriculum.

At the end of each chapter, I memorized a song from the chapter, which could be found on a CD that accompanied the textbook. 

Since my tutor visited me at school during the day, my classmates and other teachers could hear me singing songs (such as one about pronouns that was called “You and Me” and went on forever because it had to cover all the pronouns). 

It was embarrassing at the time, but looking back, I’m really glad I learned English in such a fun way, humiliating as the singing was.

By Héloïse Schep

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