Copernicus: 73 Questions In 8 Minutes

By gdcgraphics (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons
By gdcgraphics (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

DuJour magazine called her accent “beguiling”; PAPER described it as a “velvety purr”. highlighted her ability to master different accents: “For her role in the new movie ‘Queen of Katwe’, which tells the story of Ugandan international chess champion Phiona Mutesi, the Academy Award-winning actress nailed the accent, and this was confirmed by Ugandans who took to social media to celebrate that feat.”

The aim of this Copernicus column is to give English-language students exposure to the many different sounds of English around the world. This month we bring you Lupita Nyong’o, who was born in Mexico City, raised in Kenya, went to college in the US, and achieved worldwide fame when she won an Oscar for her role as Patsey in the 2013 historical drama “12 Years A Slave”.

Here are five things students might like to know about Lupita Nyong’o…

(1) First things first, this is Lupita showing us how to pronounce her name!

(2) Her nationality is Mexican-Kenyan. “I’m Mexican and Kenyan at the same time,” she says. “I’ve seen the quarrels over my nationality, but I’m Kenyan and Mexican at the same time. So again, I am Mexican-Kenyan and I am fascinated by carne asada tacos.”

(3) Lupita’s first audition for “12 Years A Slave” was a video tape made for the movie’s casting director. “It was the very first thing I’d ever put myself on tape for,” she remembers, “so I had no expectations whatsoever. It was just a great role to work on and good practice for the audition process. I definitely thought, no chance!”

(4) That audition went better than she expected – to put it mildly! Steve McQueen, the director of the movie, said: “I first saw Lupita on tape, and at first I thought it was a mirage, in a way. I was rubbing my eyes as I was seeing what I was seeing. I brought my daughter in, I brought my wife in and they confirmed to me that I was looking at a great actress. And then I got on the phone to my agent and said that we need to see this woman immediately. And it was just one of those moments where you kind of just quiver and sort of tremble because you know this is something big.”

(5) She is fluent in Spanish, Luo, English and Swahili.

So, what does she sound like? This is Lupita doing “73 questions”, a fun (and fast!) video series from Vogue magazine. (Note: this video was made just before the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, in which Lupita plays the role of Maz, using motion capture.)


(1) Extended listening exercise: how many questions – and answers – can students write down?

(2) Introduce some new vocabulary. How about the following? Eclectic, specificity, a sunny nook, wide-brimmed hat, festivities and on demand.

(3) Get students to do “7 questions”: students prepare 7 questions, then ask them to their partner. Remember, the questions and answers have to be in a continuous flow, with no pauses. (Yikes, that’s difficult!)

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