English Coaching 2.0: I’ll be there for you: How ‘Friends’ fuelled a learning drive

True or false: In the television show Friends, Monica Geller was invited to Rachel Green’s wedding. The question is part of an English lesson for international students in San Jose, Calif., that is based entirely on the show’s pilot episode.
English Coaching 2.0: I’ll be there for you: How ‘Friends’ fuelled a learning drive


It was designed by Elif Konus, a teacher from Turkey who once binge-watched Friends to improve her own English. The class, and the teacher’s TV habits, illustrate an international phenomenon that emerged in the 1990s and has endured across generations: Young people who aren’t native English speakers appear to enjoy learning the language with help from the hit sitcom. 
Seventeen years after the final Friends episode, students and educators say that the show, still seen widely in syndication around the world, works well as a learning resource. The dad jeans and cordless telephones may look dated, but the plot twists — falling in love, starting a career and other seminal moments in a young person’s life — are still highly relatable. “It’s entertaining compared to other sitcoms, and it addresses universal issues,” Konus, 29, said. “The themes speak to everyone.” Over the years, several prominent celebrities have said that they learned English from Friends. The list includes Jürgen Klopp, the German soccer coach who helms Liverpool in the English Premier League; a number of Major League Baseball players whose first language is Spanish; and Kim Nam-joon, the leader of the South Korean pop group BTS. 
“I thought I was kind of like a victim at that time, but right now, I’m the lucky one, thanks to my mother,” Kim, who performs under the stage name RM, told the TV host Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. “She bought all the seasons.” The Friends reunion episode that premiered Thursday included a cameo by the members of BTS. Fans around the world, from Ghana to Mexico, also reminisced about how the show helped them cope with personal dilemmas or tragedies. ‘Friends just seems to have the magic something.’ Measuring the popularity of Friends as a teaching resource is an inexact science because so many people watch it outside of formal classrooms. But educators, academic studies and page-view data suggest that the show still has a wide following among English-language learners. “I’ve been on YouTube for 13 years and I have not been posting Friends content the whole time,” said Rachel Smith, the founder of the learning site Rachel’s English, based in Philadelphia. “But I’ve never sensed that the time for it has passed.” 
In one apparent sign of that, Friends - based learning videos that Smith posted in 2019 have received significantly more views per day on average — 839 — than those featuring other shows or movies, she said. After the US, the most popular markets for her videos as a whole are Vietnam, India, Brazil, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. 
Other seminal American TV shows can serve a similar learning function, Smith said, but they tend to be too particular for non-native English speakers. The humour in Seinfeld is a bit too gritty and New York-specific, for example, while The Big Bang Theory could come across as too much of a “scientific nerd thing.” “Other shows do work,” she said. “Friends just seems to have the magic something that is even more attractive.” Fans and educators on three continents echo the sentiment, saying that Friends is a near-perfect amalgam of easy-to-understand English and real-life scenarios that feel familiar even to people who live worlds away from Manhattan’s West Village. 
Ives is a journalist with NYT©2021 
The New York Times 

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