From emergence to resurgence

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.

Olive picking

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 RamallahI worked with a Palestinian family, the children talk a lot, nobody speaks EnglishI really enjoyed itI 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.

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

6 thoughts on “From emergence to resurgence

  1. Great Job 🙂
    It’s really amazing that you retrieve the language items which are mainly generated by students in the class and specifically for a particular topic. The way you used engaging students in a funny -let’s say- exercise, can evoke students’ language that will never be forgotten. Students will always remember those items they generated for such an activity.

    I think paying so much attention to the students’ works has a great affect on them and gives them a sense of importance, existence and identity so they’ll not feel afraid or shy of using language even if in a wrong way.

    Another thing is that, you took turns with kids regarding testing and asking questions about the picture so helped practice making questions as long as giving answers which is really beneficial and effective.In other words, you let them to challenge you as you challenged them… I’ll never forget your words ” students like to be challenged”
    For sure I’ll do this in my class… 🙂

    The last thing is that, I’ve googled the term (Dogme ELT), and I found that it focuses on conversational communication among learners and teacher, which is really interesting….
    I’m going to learn more about it 🙂

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful strategy…


    1. Thanks for your very detailed comment Sahar. Yes – I think this kind of testing is so important in language learning. I don’t mean testing in the sense of sitting down and doing a 3 hour exam, but rather the teacher challenging the learners to try to remember the language that has emerged in an activity, students testing each other, or learners testing themselves. Karpicke and Roediger conducted a study in 2008 where they concluded that challenging learners to retrieve what they had already learnt was as important in terms of learning as introducing them to new material. (If you’ve got a few spare hours to kill 🙂 you can access the complete text of this study here…. )

      I think that one thing we could do is ask young learners in groups to make a sort of book of the pictures they have drawn. For each picture we could help them write a series of memory questions on the back like the ones I used in the video. Each group could then swap their book with a different group and they could try to orally answer the questions in the book they have been given. Is this possible in your classes?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Nick,
    It’s very good to see the video showing the learners enjoying while learning.Learning is always effective when it becomes fun.I use picture description in such a way that improves vocabulary, tenses and expression.It’s like showing picture to the learners and asking them to write a story about the scene.They might be asked to fill in the blanks using appropriate prepositions while showing things in, on, under, out, behind, beside and in front of.They might be asked to make a chant.
    So, good job! 👍


    1. Hi Uzma, Thanks for your suggestion of using a picture as a stimulus for the students to create stories. I think that’s a wonderful thing to do. Isn’t it interesting that children have a natural disposition to find a story in anything they encounter. Any way that we can make use of this fact in the classroom is great 🙂


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