Audiotapes bridge language barrier via world's bad words

June 18, 1993|By Veronique De Turenne | Veronique De Turenne,Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles -- Chat with Allen Epstein about his work and you're in for some colorful language. Very colorful.

Phrases with words that suggest one's parents never married. Sentences that refer to private body parts and some of their private functions. We're talking fighting words, curse words, words that would make your mother weep and then lunge for a bar of soap.

If she could understand what you were saying. For Mr. Epstein's company, Calabasas, Calif.-based Extra Curricular Learning, produces a series of audiotapes that round out your foreign language education like Berlitz never could.

Called "Foreign !%& Words (and Phrases) They Don't Teach You in School," the tapes with a self-proclaimed X rating include "Forbidden French," "Forbidden Spanish," "Forbidden Italian" zTC and "Forbidden German."

"These tapes are mostly for entertainment value," Mr. Epstein said of the cassettes he created with partner and fiance Holly Taylor. "The other idea was to educate people, because you really learn a lot about a culture when you study the language. If you go to a particular country where this language is spoken, but you don't know how, how can you consider yourself fluent?"

Translators may balk, but would-be linguists appear eager to buy the tapes, Mr. Epstein said. The national novelty store Spencer Gifts placed an order for 12,000 of the 15-minute, $9.95 cassettes.

"We're getting lots of calls from radio stations in the Midwest that are actually playing significant portions of the tapes on the air," Mr. Epstein said. "I wonder, is the FCC listening?"

Listen to the Italian cassette and you can learn culture-bridging phrases like,"Go spit on your aunt," "Coward" and the indispensable "Curse the dead and the other dead and all the dead that you have."

All four tapes offer gems like, "I'm physically attracted to you," "Will you go to bed with me?" "May I photograph you in the nude?" and "Are you using birth control?" Frequent freeway drivers are sure to find new uses for the rest of the scatological and sometimes graphic phrases.

"I don't think we're teaching people how to be rude," Mr. Epstein said.

"We're teaching people to recognize when it's happening to [them]. For that sake alone, it's nice to know if someone is swearing at you."

The tapes parody the customary language lesson format. Mr. Epstein, completely deadpan, intones the phrase in English.

Another speaker translates it into a foreign language, followed by a pause for the student to take a turn at the off-color or offensive remark.

"We had trouble finding an Italian speaker to do the tapes," Mr. Epstein said. "One guy canceled at the last minute because he didn't want to say anything bad about motherhood or God."

G; Mr. Epstein's company can be reached at (800) 880-5508.

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