With rather limited success, I’ve been trying to learn Levantine Arabic, and over the past year I’ve probably had about ten one-to-one classes with a Jordanian friend who lives here in Totnes. Saif is an excellent teacher. One thing I particularly like is that he allows me as the learner to control the content of what we talk about in the classes, whilst he supplies me with the language I need to express the things I want to say. For example, a while back I showed him this picture of when I got to go olive picking for a day because my teacher training work in Ramallah was cancelled.
I told him what I wanted to say to him about the picture – things like ‘I worked on an olive farm, for one day only, the farm is in a village near Ramallah, I worked with a Palestinian family, the children talk a lot, nobody speaks English, I really enjoyed it, I want to go to the farm again‘ etc and he taught me how to say those things in Arabic.
( Ana ishtaghalet fi mazraat zaytun. Yom wahed bas. Il mazr’aa fi karia ariba min Ramallah. Ana ishtaghalet ma’aa a’ylla falestenia. Il Awlad biyahku kteer. Kulhom maa biyehku inglizi. Embesatet kteer. Biddi arroh lil mazr’aa marra tania. )
When I was happy with my pronunciation of each item, I recorded myself saying it into a micro-recorder, so that I could listen again later. This technique could be described as working with emergent language. The teacher didn’t come with a pre-decided agenda of which areas of language were going to be focussed on, but rather the language emerged out of my desire as the learner to communicate something. A focus on emergent language is a key tenet of the Dogme approach to language teaching (Meddings and Thornbury 2009) .
I think this is a wonderful technique for me as a learner. I’m learning to say the things that I want to communicate, and which I’ll probably want to say to other people again. I also have the very memorable context of a personal picture to which I can connect the language I’m learning. Despite having these really useful qualities, I’m still not convinced however that emergence alone is enough to make new language stick around for me long term. I think I also need resurgence ; I also need contrived opportunities to go back to what I’ve learnt, to challenge myself to retrieve it, and to try to activate it in different ways. Otherwise there’s still a very strong chance that I’ll forget it.
Now hold on a minute! Why am I banging on about my experiences learning Arabic in a one-to-one setting? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about things we can do in teaching English in large classes? Well there is a link, and in many ways my experiences learning Arabic might be similar to what it’s like learning English for your learners. For a start I don’t get much exposure to the language I’m learning, and I certainly don’t get many opportunities to use it. For these reasons my level is still very low.
A few weeks ago I looked at a classroom activity that could also be described as focussed on emergent language. It’s the one where the children draw pictures of whatever they want to, and the teacher walks around the class and chats with them about their pictures. Again there’s no pre-conceived language agenda from the teacher, and the language may become memorable because it’s emerged from a context created by the learner. But again, I don’t think it’s enough. If the learners don’t look at their pictures again and aren’t called upon to use the same areas of language again, these areas of language may be lost forever. Therefore I think there’s definitely a place for doing some language resurgence too. In the video below the learners have drawn pictures and we’ve already talked about them in a previous class. The teacher in Gaza has since scanned their pictures and sent them to me and now I’m doing some quite controlled activities with them, around asking questions and testing each other, to reactivate the language that may have previously emerged.
Now, I think that teachers could create quite a nice resource for their classes if they put together a set of these pictures drawn by students in a book, and asked the students to create questions for the pictures they had drawn. In a way we’d be creating an extra coursebook, but it would be a coursebook focussed on emergent and resurgent language. What do you think?
Reference: Meddings, L and Thornbury, S (2009) Teaching Unplugged; Delta