AUTHENTICITY - REAL COMMUNICATION
EXAM TITLE: Some extremists argue that no language used in a classroom can be "real" because of the very fact that it is used in a classroom. Others would argue that classroom language is as real as any other language. In other words, the language teacher need not make any concessions towards authenticity. What in your view are the criteria that make the use of language in a classroom "real" and what kinds of activity do these criteria give rise to? (Question from David Jones' RSA Course in Stockholm).
It is probable that much of the criticism of "language used in the classroom" has arisen as a result of the limited view of language which underlies many syllabuses.
Grammar/Translation and structurally orientated approaches leant heavily on the belief that Language = Vocabulary + Essential Structures. Even today, many syllabuses adhere partially to this equation.
The obvious limitation of the classroom has always been its physical setting. This has led many course designers to try and account for "situations" outside the classroom.
Situational Dialogues: Student Book (by Michael Ockenden: Longman) At a railway station, On a bus;
Task Listening: Student's Book (by Blundell & Stokes CUP) Airport, Office, Coach Tours, Telephone box settings + sound effects.
These materials expose learners to the necessary variety of situations and are useful in so far as physical setting prescribes the language the learner is likely to need outside of the classroom.
However, the less useful situational dialogues and texts are the ones where situation, equated merely with physical setting, is used to enliven the next series of grammatical forms to be presented in a structurally graded syllabus.e.g. Nuffield Foundation's French (En Avant Stage 2 - orchard).
Although the vocabulary items may be bound to the "situation", the link between structural items and situation is often arbitrary. E.g. At A Dentist's for teaching "Going to future" & "has just + past participle".
If we are truly concerned with situation, the total context in which language is used, we have to consider:
Moreover, we have to focus on the meaning behind their utterances before we start to prescribe grammatical forms.
If we start at the structural end of the continuum and prescribe "patterns to be mastered" without prior reference to total situation, we are likely to teach a kind of structure-speech that is rarely appropriate to any occasion for using language.
Recognition of total situation can be gained through a variety of dramatic activities.
In my teaching, I aim to bring the outside world into the classroom (by using pictures, photos, films, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, political manifestos).
I also aim to exploit the internal resources which each student brings into the classroom (e.g. Swedes owning camcorders will proudly present their safari holidays). I find it necessary to ensure that these don't become occasions for monologue.
I have chosen what I believe to be well-illustrated general course books: eclectic in design - language should be functional, but the structural syllabus cannot be ignored at lower levels.
Good course books: learners meet main characters by substituting themselves into the dialogue. Personalization. Whether they are L, S, R or W, students are aware of a satisfactory context (given the limitations of the text book).
Good course books: purpose for undertaking the activities should not be crudely pedagogical.
The interpretation of pictures provides valuable practice involving both the recognition of total situation and the internal resources of the student.
PLACES/THE WORLD OF THE PICTURE:
Learners may project themselves into the skin of the characters (talking through them). Having asked the initial questions about character and place, learners can find (or be supplied with) reasons for the character(s) in the picture to speak.
i.e. a problem or immediate elements of situation (needs / functions to be expressed) which would naturally lead to speech. Moods, feelings and attitudes should be taken into account at this stage.
If a picture is to be used as a stimulus for construction of a dialogue, it is important that the dialogue should be read (and perhaps learnt) so that voice quality, stress and intonation can be practised with reference to intended meanings.
Ideally, learners should listen to their characters speaking, rehearsing their utterances as they are constructing them.
Role plays, simulations, games and puzzles: the best of these encourage appropriate and spontaneous use of language (See "Challenge to Think"). They capitalize on the elements of situation which provide a purpose for communication.
They go outside what is normally found in a coursebook, bringing authentic material into the classroom. The reason for the utterance, reading or writing task is clearly defined.
Careful integration of the activities ensures the natural existence of the information gap. The learnerss should not have to feel that the latter is contrived all the time.
A medley of problem-solving activities which fail to make a purposeful whole may be as artificial as requiring learners to question one another about the obvious.
Unfamiliar ground should be interesting ground to make learners want to communicate. Careful selection as well as careful exploitation of learners' internal resources (backgrounds/experiences) can bring both interest & authenticity into the language of the classroom.
EXAM TITLE: Think up follow-up activities which would involve learners in "real" communication for the following three situations: