Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sesame Street, she drive you crazy

Sometimes I just don't understand Sesame Street.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a first-generation Sesame Street fan. I have loved the show since I was three-years-old. I'm delighted that it's one of Bud's favorites. But why does Sesame Street, the pioneering leader in educational television for young children, feature characters who role model poor speech patterns?

There are two factors that have made the role modeling a problem for Bud: 1) Bud is an echolalic speaker, so almost all of his early speech and a great deal of his current speech is comprised of phrases he has memorized from television and videos, and 2) Since he began using spontaneous language, one of the areas that has been most problematic for him is the use of pronouns ("Look, Mama, it's a picture of me!"; "No, honey, that's not you. That's a picture of me."; "Yes, it's a picture of me!"). For both of these reasons, I've been frustrated by the confusion that Sesame Street's much-loved characters have created for Bud with their improper use of grammar.

There are really only two main culprits: Elmo, who uses the third person exclusively ("Elmo is so happy to see you!") and Cookie Monster, who uses objective pronouns in place of subjective pronouns ("Me love cookies!") But for a boy who has continually struggled with pronomial reversals (initially first-person and second person, or I/you, and currently with gender-specific pronouns, like she/he and him/her), it adds an unnecessary layer of confusion to an already complicated learning process.

My current frustration is actually not with grammar per se. Bud's favorite Sesame Street segments these days are claymation shorts that feature two caveman-type characters (Bud tells me their names are Marty and Susie, but I have a hunch he made that up), who clash when they try to do things at the same time (sit in a chair, play basketball) but ultimately achieve success when they learn to cooperate. The shorts are well made and have a lovely little message about sharing. Unfortunately, the two characters communicate with each other by grunting, shrieking, babbling and using gibberish, all while engaged in fast-paced frenetic movement. Bud is captivated by these two characters, and he often reenacts their routines. Unfortunately, when he is around other people who lack context for this type of play, his behavior seems inappropriate and problematic. Of course, it doesn't occur to Bud to give people context for it and I can't always be there to provide it.

I'm not really being critical of Sesame Street. I understand that Elmo and Cookie Monster and Marty and Susie are simply entertaining and are not at all confusing for most children. But, still, there are times when I just want to sit down and write them a letter: "Sesame Street, Mom is frustrated. Me SO frustrated!"


Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

Gabe loves Maisey. Imagine what that sounds like repeated out of context.

I totally agree with you.


Kristina Chew said...

Charlie likes some of the Sesame Street songs on CD (and his lately lost iPod) but the show has never held his interest. In contrast to the primary-colored world of the Teletubbielands, Sesame Street moves by too fast and busy for his slow-tracking eyes.

Perhaps, like the new "Disney babies" shows, Sesame Street is reaching--leaning over--to a younger, younger set?

Though from your description, I think he'd like "Marty and Susie"---the clay and the conflict resolution.

Zilari said...

You've made a really good point here! For a show that has long been renowned as "educational", the characters do not set a very good example for beginning language-learners.

gretchen said...

I agree with this also. "Our" Sesame Street back in the 70s didn't feature Elmo. I was troubled when my kids started watching and realized that there's a large segment of the show featuring this baby-talking guy with a high screechy voice. Why do little kids like Elmo so much? I wish he would talk like a big boy! I'm not sure how old Elmo is supposed to be, but my (NT) 2-year-old has better speech than Elmo.

28481k said...

I've been lurking in and out various blogs about autism for a while, but I seldom post comments. However, this saying about Sesame Street intrigues me. You see, I was a big Sesame Street fan too.

Elmo and Cookie Monster, how could I forget them. Long before Elmo's World lanuch in 2001, Elmo has been around for at least 10 or 15 years when I was like 3 or 4. God, the catchy theme tune of Elmo's World is ringing in my head now. Elmo has been speaking like that since conception.

Cookie Monster, me like cookies! He speaks relatively normally in his own Alastair Cookie show, otherwise it is his "me..." pattern, and even my parents remember that. "C is for Cookie, it's very good for me"...

The two-headed caveman like monster (hence they also work together)! I know them during my days as well, they even have difficulty when they want to do seperate things since they're linked together, so they'll have to share. They don't speak I know, luckily I didn't pick up their traits even when I was in echolalic stage, or perhaps I forget those times? I don't know.

My favourite segment was however the Ernie and Bert show where these brothers seem to be quarral or disagreement every time it was shown. Poor Bert, he has been tricked by Ernie for so many times... (I sympathise with Bert although I really want to be Ernie at the time, but I know I'm Bert (character wise) not Ernie.)

In general though, Sesame Street segments have been much faster in the past decade than it was when I was obsessed with it. And its introduction like Elmo's World or Jorney to Ernie drives me mad. It's still a good show, perhaps much quicker than 15 years ago when I wacthed it (obviously to combat even increasing speed of other programmes too.), but it's still educational.

I weaned off Sesame Street I was 9 or 10 I think, just didn't have the time to watch them after all... (It's broadcast in the afternoon after school in where I lived, so normally I watched them before doing my homework)

r.b. said...

I remember the first time I ever heard Ben laugh was when he was 6 months old and "Guy Smiley" with his HUGE teeth and smile came on. Every time he'd see that character, he would just laugh and laugh.

He's 12 now, I wonder...

About confusing pronouns...I would ask Ben "Do you want to go to the park?" and he would always say, "You go to the park!" when he meant yes.

But my favorite, which drove me nuts then, was, "Would you like juice or milk?" and he'd say "Juice or Milk"...and I'd say, "Just say one or the other!" and he'd say "One or the other!"

Can't say he wasn't listening.

Once he learned the power of the word "I", he never reversed pronouns again. I tell about it on my blog, if you have the time.(http://hardwonwisdom.blogspot.com/2006/03/therapeutic-horseback-riding.html)

28481k said...

Oh, sorry, I should have checked the facts: Elmo's World was inagurated in 1998! Oh I remember now, this actually pull me further from Sesame Street, when my sister (who was then 3) was introduced to Sesame Street.

Waxhaw5 said...

My son hasn't watched Sesame Street (though I've seen enough in my life for both of us), but he loves the website. Have you heard Baby Bear talk? Oh, my. My son & I went 'round and 'round one day because I couldn't understand that his request for "Baby Beo" was actually asking me to help him find the Baby BEAR part of the website. My son doesn't have trouble putting the endings on his words; this is how Baby Bear says his own name. Aarrrgh. Surely there's some sound educational theory behind all of this that we just can't see. (?!)

"He's a he-woe, he's a guy...He-Woe Guy!"--more Baby Bear
(Love this blog, by the way.)

Christine said...

My beef is with Baby Bear. I don't talk baby talk to my kids but Seseme Street does! He is the only character that annoys me so much that I have to leave the room.

28481k said...

A few more errata instead of replacing my previous comment:

Alastair Cookie should be Alistair Cookie, who plays in Monsterpiece Theater, a parody of Masterpiece Theatre deliver by Alistair Cooke.

The major revamp over Sesame Street shows happened in 2002.

It's an addition in the 1980s, see here. He supposes to be around 5 or 6 now.

Yes, THAT Guy Smiley who often opens his mouth really wide as T.V. show host! You can't stop wonder why you don't at least have a laugh when you see him, he's so comical!

About Ben's speech pattern, well, you can't say he isn't listening, he's just simply mirroring whatever you said though.

Baby bear seems to have a speech inpedement over rhotic "r", acting more like a sloppy British speaking... However, I can't recall him saying "He-woe", but then several notable radio personality in the UK has this problem of speaking initial "r" as "w" as well, of course it is often oscastrised for Chinese speaking "r".

Big Orange said...

I think the idea, at some level, may have been to represent children's speech patterns: Elmo's 3rd person, Cookie's pronoun confusion and BB's /w/ for /r/ (his drawing of Hero Guy IS pronounced "hee-woe"). i think what would be better for all concerned is if the adult characters would CORRECT the speech patterns, like most folken would. I mean, if you went to Kindergarten or 1st grade with a /w/-/r/ reversal or referring to yourself in the 3rd person, the teacher would immediately write a speech path consult. meanwhile, YEARS go by on SS and no one tells Cookie or the gang how to speak properly. They could continue doing it, sho', but at LEAST a few adults or other characters SHOULD fix their errors.

Julia said...

Elmo is 3 1/2. (Apparently the extra 1/2 is very important. At least this is the impression I got when I saw the episode where he had a crush on Gina and wanted to marry her.)

Big Bird is 5. I've known that for years, maybe picked it up reading an article in the TV listing insert in the paper. (I think it was at least 20 years ago that I read it....)

I don't know how "old" any other muppet is supposed to be.

MOM-NOS said...

And another! Bud told me this morning he was going to count "Thirteen dancing wegetables" - WEGetables, not vegetables. And he pronounced it in syllables - "weg-e-ta-bles"... just like The Count.