Book Reviews

Stranger in Town

One Teacher's Comments

As a teacher of ESL in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, I have found "Stranger" to be very useful to my students, as well as very captivating. I have broken the play up into 26 lessons. Each lesson consists of listening to a portion of the play, at least three times but not more than five times (depending on the level of the students). The first listening is done with eyes closed and full concentration on the words. Then, I give each student a copy of what was just heard with several words missing. They listen again (2 or 3 times) and write in as many missing words as they can. After that, we read it together and I put the correct words on the board. We then listen one final time, now that they have the correct words, so they can hear the sounds that they missed in the previous listenings.

Next, we discuss any words, phrases, or sentence structures which are unfamiliar to the students. I point out any phrasal verbs, idioms, slang, etc. that are used, and after a discussion of them, the students then try to use them. That way I can check to see if they truly understand.

We also look closely at the natural English pronunciation. It is so difficult for the students to recognize the blending, or running together of sounds (reductions), as we so often do in naturally spoken English. For example: Did you eat? = /jeat/. Also, we talk about how stress and intonation are used to convey a meaning to the listener.

We then practice pronunciation and discuss the story content, piecing it together with the previous lessons. By doing this each week (I teach "Stranger" once a week), students can practice their speaking skills by retelling the story. It also helps keep those students who were absent, up to date with the happenings in the play.

Besides the obvious language kinds of things mentioned above, American culture can be taught in a very interesting way. We talk about why things were said as they were, or why someone did what they did, or how a situation was handled. The students like to compare it with the way it would be done in their country. Some very interesting discussions ensued.

Believe it or not, the students are very much interested in American culture and customs. And, I believe that by teaching it through a play or a story where it can be discussed and misunderstandings cleared up is the way to go. If not, the students learn about American culture through movies, and that is not always so good. In fact, there are many things that they see in movies which they think is the norm for Americans. By talking with an American about those things is very beneficial for everyone involved. Also, by talking about the cultural issues, we make sure the students understand that one culture is not right and another wrong, but that they are only different. That is very important, especially in a third world developing county such as Viet Nam.

I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching "Stranger" and the students equally enjoyed learning it, as seen by their comments below.

My students range in age from 12 to 60+. I teach elementary students, high schoolers, and university level students. I have professional people (architects, engineers, Drs. teachers, etc.), laborers (construction workers, street vendors, mechanics, etc.), housewives, unemployed, and retirees. I teach speaking/listening for Level A, Level B, and Level C. I also teach advanced speaking. I have used "Stranger" with Levels A, B, and C. I developed the lessons to meet the needs of the particular levels. Obviously, the Level A class needed more vocabulary work than the other levels, and the discussions were not as in depth as other levels. However, regardless of the level of the students, "Stranger" can be adapted, and used very effectively.

Gayle Confer
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
E-mail Address:

Students' comments

This is my opinion about "Stranger in Town" by Lou Spaventa. I easily learn a lot about American English Idiomatic Expressions (the way an American expresses something). Natural English. I think "Stranger in Town" helped me a lot in understanding naturally spoken English. The story is so good too, it's interesting. It helps me understand more about American culture.
(Minh Quoc)

I am a Vietnamese student of Miss Gayle - an American teacher in Viet Nam. Thank you for your story "Stranger in Town." Thanks to your lively story and our teacher's practical explanations, not only our vocabulary, but also our knowledge about English in communication is improved.
(Thu Ha)

I like this lesson because I learn a lot of common conversation - idioms which I didn't know how to use when I was in similar situations. I was saddened to know that Bob used to use dope but I believe what he said: "I'm clean now. No more dope". Gayle, thanks a lot for giving us the 'A1' lesson. If you have contact with the Writer, please send him my thanks.
(Bui Loan.)

I don't know what to write about "Stranger in Town" excited me. I used to hear about it before but I had no chance to read it until my teacher, Gayle Confer, introduced it to me in class so that I could improve my listening. It's very interesting when listening to American English from many different voices with a good story, but I liked Bob's voice best and ... I wished I would see him in person.
(Minh Thu)

The title is Stranger In Town by Lou Spaventa. During the time we learned this story, I truly was absorbed following the style and the dramatic character of this story.
(Ngoc Yen)

I really like "Stranger in Town" for many reasons. First, it's useful to improve my listening. Then, they tell story in a lively way so that I'm really attracted. In other way, it makes me feel relaxed when I'm studying English. But the best thing is the American voice very natural, that's great!
(Thao Anh)

One thing that really impresses me about "Stranger in Town" is the choice of readers. Their voice, tone, and feelings are all fit to the content of the story. It seems like they're real life, everything happens very naturally. I always wait anxiously for the listening session of "Stranger in Town."
(An Tam)

"Stranger in Town" is rather clear to listen to. The more I listened to it, the more attracted I was.
(Vu Thanh)

I love "Stranger in Town" very much. In my opinion, "Stranger in Town" not only helped me understand more about the various characteristics of Americans, but also helped me know more spoken American English. There were many new words which added to my vocabulary. In sum, "Stranger in Town" is very interesting. I wish it would last longer.
(Quynh Huong)

"Stranger in Town" helps me learn a lot of interjections and idioms. Studying "Stranger in Town" I now know how Americans show their feelings. I've also learned a lot about America life in America. The content of the story is attractive. I'm interested in Bob and Jean.
(Minh Ha)

The content of "Stranger in Town" is attractive to listen to. It makes us want to listen from beginning to end. We can learn what Americans say: phrases, idioms, etc. without translating from our mother tongue into English, as we often do.
(Minh Thu)

"Stranger in Town" helps me understand naturally spoken English. The content of the story is very interesting and it makes me curious and want to know the ending quickly. It has helped me improve my listening skill.
(Chau Thi Minh Thao)

When I first started to listen to "Stranger in Town", I couldn't make head nor tail of it. But, thanks to my teacher leading class discussions on what we listened to each evening, I soon learned many new words, new idioms, and a lot of phrases. I also now understand what it means to and how to 'read between the lines'. I appreciated "Stranger in Town". It really helped me a lot in listening, reading, pronunciation, and vocabulary. From the story I know a little bit about the American lifestyle and I learned how to 'take the bitter with the sweet' in my life. Thank you so much for everything I learned from "Stranger in Town".
(Truong Minh Thao)

I found "Stranger in Town" very useful. We learned about grammar, vocabulary, phrasal verbs, and idioms, as well. In my opinion, you took much time to write the good story. I hope you'll give us more stories in the future.
(Ngoc Trang)



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