Dr Strangelove, telephoning

This is a great little activity to do as an extension when reviewing telephoning language.

With my TOEIC exam class (for which I am always on the hunt to liven up!) I first asked my students to list as many telephone phrases and vocabulary they could remember in 3 mins. There was then open class feedback and phrases and vocab were boarded.*

Next I asked them if they had heard of the film Dr Strangelove, a few had. I explained that they would watch a 4 minute clip of a telephone exchange between the US president and the Russian president, and that the US president was delivering some bad news.

They were told that they would only hear the US president talking and that they should try to imagine what the Russian premier might be saying.

Play the clip:

Tell the students that they will get a transcript of what the US leader said and their task is to write down what they imagined his opposite number said.

Hand out the following:

What does Dimitri say?

Hello? Hello, Dimitri?

Listen, I can’t hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?

Oh, that’s much better.

Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I’m coming through fine too, eh?

Good, then. Well then as you say we’re both coming through fine.

Good. Well it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine.

I agree with you. It’s great to be fine. laughs

Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb.

The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb.

Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head.

You know. Just a little… funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing.

Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes… to attack your country.

Well let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri.

Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it?

Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?

Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It’s a friendly call.

Of course it’s a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn’t friendly, … you probably wouldn’t have even got it. They will not reach their targets for at least another hour.

I am… I am positive, Dimitri.

Listen, I’ve been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick.

Well I’ll tell you. We’d like to give your air staff a complete run down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes.

Yes! I mean, if we’re unable to recall the planes, then I’d say that, uh, well, we’re just going to have to help you destroy them, Dimitri.

I know they’re our boys. Alright, well, listen… who should we call?

Who should we call, Dimitri?

The people…? Sorry, you faded away there. The People’s Central Air Defense Headquarters. Where is that, Dimitri?

In Omsk. Right. Yes.

Oh, you’ll call them first, will you?

Uh huh. Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dimitri?

What? I see, just ask for Omsk Information.

I’m sorry too, Dimitri. I’m very sorry. Alright!

You’re sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are, Dimitri.

Don’t say that you are more sorry than I am, because I am capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry, alright?


Yes he’s right here.

Yes, he wants to talk to you. Just a second.

taken from The Kubrick Site: The Strangelove Continuity Script

If you have a strong class one could give the script with no line breaks and students would have to decide where to put in Dimitri’s line.

There are of course opportunities for focusing on phone language – ..coming through fine; Sorry, you faded away there; Do you happen to have the phone number; just a second

If you got students to do it in pairs also great to get some of them to act out their dialogue.

Credit for this idea activity must go to commenter Dzubur93. One could for added interest use their Dimitry lines for comparison:

Dimitri: Oh hi Mr prez! What? Sure Can you hear me? You coming through fine? Im coming throught fine Were both fine? ITs good to fine. Its great to be fine The What? What Bomb? What u talkin bout? Funny in the head? What did he do? WHAT! YOU CAPITALIST MOTHERFUCKER! ! ILL HAVE YOUR HEAD! Who cares how u feel!? Whats that mean? You dont like talking to me? You sure dont sound like it! So its a friend call? Great, ‘cept im gonna be blown up! U sure? This sounds like a trick. What am i gonna do?


Hope you enjoyed this and let me know if you use it.

*The boarding work included using what Hugh Dellar calls vertical and horizontal expansion of lexis. This approach will be familiar to many teachers but the nomenclature is a useful heuristic when going over functional language such as telephoning.


This is an example of a pair of students acting out their dialogue (unfortunately I pressed record too late to capture the start of their performance!):

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