Monday 19 September 2016

Communicative Language Teaching

I said I would tell you a little more about what was going on with Evie. See my previous post: Let me tell you about Evie. It was her willingness and determination to communicate that made her an effective communicator. 

It isn’t just about language and it certainly isn’t just about getting sentences beautifully grammatically correct.
GCSE in the UK recognised this for a long while and to some extent still does.  Half of the marks were awarded for effective communication and the rest for accuracy and quality. Oral work was marked for communication first, accuracy and fluency second. If the statement only communicated 70% of the message the other areas could not obtain more than 70%.

So for instance:
“Ça va? (Okay?)
Ça va, la moto? (Okay, the motor bike?)
Une ambulance?” actually fulfilled the role play exactly. Unlike the following:  
“Comment allez-vous? (How are you – almost in the sense of “Good day”)
“Est-ce que ….. blessé?” (Is the ….. injured?)
Voudreiz-vous que je’appelle…. (Would you like me to call ….)”  The second example hardly communicates at all though it contains some correct and complex grammatical structures. The first would gain 100% on communication though maybe 50% on accuracy and quality. The second would score perhaps 30% on communication if one was generous and perhaps 30% on accuracy and quality thought “blessé” is perhaps not quite the right word for “damaged”.

These demands of GCSE spilled out into our teaching. The point was always to encourage the learner to make the most of what little language they had. In class, they soon learned to be quite wily. When it came to a real life situation my very intelligent year 11s struggled a little more though Evie who had a lot in life thrown at her found this a doddle.  

I have to confess that even after A-level French and two years at university studying French and German, as my friend and I stopped to buy something to eat as we crossed Paris on our way to start our year abroad we struggled to order a cheese sandwich. But we’d been brought up on Grammar Grind – we could structure beautiful sentences including subjunctives and conditions. Everyday matters were a little harder. Thank goodness the year abroad sorted that out.

We Brits do seem to find it a lot harder than other Europeans to leap into this communication pool with our little bits of foreign language. Are we more naturally shy? Do we get less practice because those few miles of sea remain significant despite our healthy relationship with the rest of the EU and despite the convenience the Tunnel offers?  It isn’t just a matter of “They all speak English anyway.” Because they don’t. It may make us lazy, however, if we think that to be the case.  

Each European language – every language for that matter - contains a few things that can’t be said in any other. The French “ça va” mentioned above is a good example. It literally means “that goes” and has the sense of “it’s okay” but it’s actually so much more as well. You only get a real sense of it as you become more proficient in French.  

We can’t learn all languages of course, but unless we learn a couple in addition to our own we’re missing out. Language, thought and culture are all linked.

Language isn’t just the words. Communication includes body language, eye contact and that willingness to communicate. The latter is the most important of all.       

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