Jean Zukowski/Faust at Northern Arizona University
Language ego is that phenomenon that each language learner each language speaker develops as a personality within that language. This concept actually became very real to me when I was living in Turkey and working with uh the Turkish language ler- working with some teachers who are both formal and informal. One of the people I worked with uh was a woman named Hedia who had a sister named Hodia and although Hedia had been educated in the United States and had a very firm personality in English when her sister was with us and she frequently was we spoke in Turkish. One day we were shopping and all the sudden Hedia said let’s change into English and I thought this is kind of strange why are you having me change into English and she said I like you better in English. Years later in fact it was at a meeting in Chicago when Teesaw (?) was in Chicago last time I met with Hedia because I became aware that I liked her a whole lot better in Turkish than I did in English. I ask if she remembered that particular interchange which had happened some twenty five years earlier and she said oh indeed I do and I asked her why she liked me better in English than she did in Turkish and she said well in Turkish you sound so much like my mother and we were shopping and you should not have been able to bargain in Turkish the way you were bargaining no foreigner should be able to bargain in Turkish the way you were bargaining. Now of course I was learning my bargaining Turkish from Hedia who had learned it from her mother there for she was seeing this development of my own language ego in Turkish as a kind of reflection of what she had in her own persona. Now I knew that Hedia had been to school in the United States in fact she’s gone to the University of Indiana in Bloomington where she had gathered elements of language personality in English of a typical American college student. Where as in Turkish she sounded like a very well educated and a very cultured person because her education had been of a particularly sophisticated nature in Turkish. In English she sounded like a beer drinking college sophomore which was not attractive to me. Uh she sounded like the kind of person who would use rather crass language as opposed to the very fine kind of Turkish that she spoke. So what was happening in essence is that the personality that I had in Turkish and the personality that she had in English were quite different from the personalities that we each had in our native languages. Which indicated to me along with the work that I had read of Alexander Gor--- Alexander Gorra (?) that there was a definite sequence of developing a personality with in a language as well as learning the language and then it is this um this learning of elements of a ways of interacting of uh levels of formality or informality that were particularly strong maybe particularly unique to the second language learning situation. Because I had certainly never learned how to bargain in English and she had certainly never been an American college student in a Turkish environment. So, the there were all these various influences that were forming a kind of personality and that’s where this language ego idea came from.
Well in language learning I think what we’re trying to do in developing a language ego is to form a a personality that will work in many different environments. What we want to do is to form a personality that has a great deal of general general applicability, general appropriateness, rather than trying to form a a personality that uh that fits a range of uh that fits individual ranges of registers. We want to form a personality that has a great deal of flexibility that does not get stuck at a rather informal or extremely formal level of or place along the various uh along the range along the spectrum of language register availability awareness etceteras. We want something uh we want our our students that speak a language that will be acceptable and will work for them will serve the function of language no matter what the persons particular environment happens to be and there for we what to teach a kind of perhaps homogenized English as a base with specific examples of um of expression uh elements of vocabulary perhaps of understanding of an ability to work with idioms within a number of domains within a number of uh of settings in a variety of environments.
Can language ego interfere with learning? I prefer to think of language ego as a positive force that the development of language ego is an aspect of of a person’s development in a language that serves to to aid and to abet the persons learning rather than as a limiting force. I see language ego as a development of a specific kind of language ego as the kind of goal that a student of language can go for, can work toward. Um, when I am working with students who are beyond the intermediate level I suggest for instance that they watch movies in which they uh attempt to the mannerisms or the uh the body language the choice of vocabulary of a character or four or five characters that they really admire because I think that developing a language ego is something that is and can be as deliberate as um as learning to affect uh an accent. Uh, learning to tell a joke, learning a part in a in a play and that by assuming various roles which in a sense follows some of the major ideas of suggestopedia (?) that we give people specific roles in their language uh learning situation so that they can play out those roles kind of try them on see if they fit and perhaps adopt parts of them or the wholes of them as part of who they become in the target language.
Well I think people very greatly in a number of issues in developing a language ego for example a person’s motivation to assume a particular set of uh characteristics as common to who that person is in a language. Uh I don’t think we’ve done enough with deliberately selecting who we become in a foreign language. Do we in fact try to translate our native language personalities into the second language or do we make choices and become yet another person in the other language? I think that probably the most important force in the development of language ego is who the person is in L-1. Are the the who person is for example very um articulate and has a very positive personal force in L-1 will try to do that in L-2. On the other hand the person who is shy, the person who timid in L-1 can probably be encouraged to become far more out going in L-2. I will use as an example here, my own uh situation in English when I was a high school student I would sometimes stammer, stutter I was very unsure of myself. I began to learn German and became a character that was far more self-confidants. By the time I learned Turkish my concept of myself, myself esteem was greatly enhanced. Greatly enhanced by the fact that I was gaining more tools and I was in a sense emulating people who had a great deal of self-confidence and this self-confidence became far more important in my second and my third languages than it ever had in by first language and then it transferred back into first language where as to show that now a days I very seldom as I just did kind of search for words. I’ve become uh more articulate and I think it’s a result of exploring the personalities that I could have in these other languages. The German course that I took for example was um a basically an audio lingual course but the teacher that I had encouraged my classmates and me to develop our personalities and to become, he would suggest that we become public speakers in in German and and affect some of the mannerisms of of German rederitions and German public speakers and we had great fun playing with that and it was in this playing with the language and trying on different roles, different persona if you will but I began to recognize that I could step out of the shy person that I was in my first language and become something else. When I was a peace corp. volunteer in Turkey and learning Turkish I was required by the circumstances to act in the general role of teacher to take on authority to um to be in charge of groups of up to seventy-five uh male students in a class and therefor my persona in Turkish took on some aspects that were not common to be in my native language.
How might how language ego might be important in a K-12 environment? Uh, well when we’re teaching children and trying to develop a language ego in L-1 which is certainly something that’s happening in the K through six maybe K-8 environment. I don’t know that we want would want to try to develop particularly English aspects of a language ego. Right now in our field we’re doing a lot of talking about the importance of investigating what happens with young learners and young learners in particular have are developing their own language egos. They don’t yet have a firm sense of self and so I think it’s best not to tamper with that development until they’re pretty sure who they are. That’s why the English that I would teach and we know this is happening everywhere from Japan to Taiwan to Tialand eh throughout Central America, uh we’ve heard again and again how these things are happening is um in d-developing countries. They want children to be able to get a handle on English before they enter what we will call true English instruction that is in the sense of in of giving a skeleton of knowledge of the knowledge of grammar and things like that. They want children to learn language in the way that is very much like acquisition. So what I would do I would look for example to the Waldorf Model of Education. Rudolf Steiner did a great deal with teaching not one but two languages to children starting off in first grade and because he started with them so young and because he had such success teachings about language teaching language through song through various kinds of activities through through um enactment of plays. The children were able to continue in the natural development of their personal egos. Their development of who they are in their L-1’s while beginning to uh to meld in to blend in knowledge of two other languages simultaneously. That is in a Waldorf school children learn their native language study their native language and develop it in many ways they also study two other languages. Uh part of my extra-curricular activity is to work as the chairman of the board school board for Waldorf school in my home town and I watch how these children become aware of German and Spanish which are the two languages that we have a-at our school and how they are internalizing them without having actually to form new language egos but they’re learning it in the way that children do and the German language that they speak and the Spanish language that they speak is very much congruent with what they would say in English. After that as they move into High School I think we can look for opportunities to increase leadership potential. Opportunities to uh to teach critical thinking to add the reading and writing in the foreign language in ways that might indeed effect the development of a separate or at least identifiable language ego in those other languages.
A good ESL teacher is first and for most a sensitive and caring knowledgeable and commanding human being. In order to be a teacher one must be able to um hold the attention of the students. So that we’re starting off with the personality of a teacher. The teacher has to have a a sense of of who he or she is. How he or she can relate to other human beings the teacher has to be open to other people’s ideas and also always sensitive to how other people are feeling about a particular um particular issue. The teacher has to have the skill of speaking English or whatever the target language is, in a way that can be understood by the person who is unsure of the language. That means a teacher must be able to control content. Must be able to control the level of language. The teacher must be able to control vocabulary must know how to reiterate ideas in different words and not fall into that common human fault if they don’t understand me I’ll say it again louder. That is the teacher has to be very sensitive to the other potentials for making the understanding occur. The teacher also needs to be able to recognize when the attempt to reach understanding has misfired and there hasn’t been a connection. I was with a group of ESL teachers just a few days ago at breakfast our uh wait-person was a young woman from Bosnia. She did not understand one of the ESL teachers uh orders and the teacher wanted eggs Benedict done more than the eggs Benedict that the other person at the table was eating and it was amazing how every teacher around the table came up with a different way of explaining having the eggs cooked harder than that then what we could all see. It was like somebody said okay go how can you rephrase this and make it simpler so that it will be understood by this person who’s language level is lower than we originally thought and I think that’s one of the skills that a teacher has to have. The disposition the teacher needs to be patient. The teacher needs to have uh resources for uh resources which allow a greater wait time. Now this concept of wait time is uh I think a very important one which every teacher in training really needs to understand. In our ordinary day to day conversation the amount of time that person A waits for person B to respond is culturally and unconsciously understood. The amount of time that the teacher waits for the language learner to respond is actually probably three times as long. How does the teacher make it appear normal? The good teacher of language can make it seem perfectly normal that it’s taking you my student much longer to respond than it would ordinarily seem natural and that’s a great gift not to avoid this waiting wanting to do back channeling trying to fill the void or the silence with language because more language will only confuse more and so the teacher needs to be ready to do that. I think also the teacher probably needs to know how to speak special English. We know from experience that a word is a chunk of sound that a native speaker perceives as having a little bit of space on each side. Well if I speak special English then the listener can actually hear each of those words. I can interject story. I remember once taking a group of Soviet citizens this is before the wall came down, on a trip out to the reservation. Uh they were I think about twenty of them actually it was a fifteen person van so it must have been fourteen of them plus a guide and I had written on the itinerary that on the way out to this school at uh Birdsprings (?) which is about a forty-five to fifty-five minute ride I was going to explain how as one left Flagstaff and went down into the valley one could what level of elevation one was at simply by looking at the plants that were available that that one could see from the ponderosa forest down into the into the um dessert grasslands and the guide the escort for this group said well you’ll never keep them uh occupied within moments of leaving Flagstaff half of them will be asleep and the other half will be talking to each other in low voices in Russian and I thought well I wonder and so I proceeded giving a lecture that I’d given many times uh to people on the how one can tell exactly what the elevation is by how high the trees are and what kind of trees they are and I spoke in special English. The only person who fell asleep was the guide which I think proved to me this very point that for native speaker the pace was much too slow. But for the people who were although they were all English teachers these these Russians, they were all English teachers listening to special English was effortless. They didn’t have to put anything into it and so they were fascinated and they began talking about us. By the end of the trip we were singing Home On the Range together. Um but it was in English that was very easy to understand of course I did my my own dissertation research on the principles of readability and I think that the principles of readability all so apply or obtain if you’ll use if you’ll pardon that use of word. Uh, obtain in orality that if a sentence is short that if there are pauses that is the clauses are in parallel structure that if it is totally accessible comprehension can be enhanced and I think if a truly uh gifted teacher of ESL works toward developing those skills and maintains that disposition of I am the channel of communication it’s easy for me to see when I can speed up and achieve more and it’s easy for me to see if I’m paying attention when I must slow because it’s going to be easier for my audience to understand. The teacher who has accountability to self of communication potential is watching for eye movements watching if the students are reaching up into the uh visual accesses whether the students going into auditory accesses whether the student is looking for kinesthetic access down in this area. How are the students eyes moving how do I know what the student is understanding as a result of my talking to the student.
Language learners needs at the beginning level uh are really to try to get them to articulate what they want to know. Now the teacher who’s bi-lingual who can interview the students and say uh what topics are you interested in what do you like to talk about. Can create what I consider ideal, that is that if if I’m working for example one on one with a student I want to talk to that student in ways that that that student will know I’m truly interested in what he or she is interested in. Now, I do a lot of teacher training and one of the things that I tell my students is that I have IEP’s, that is individualized education plans for each of you even if I have thirty of you in a class there’s something as specific terms articulateable that I could say this is what I want you to learn. Now if I’m teaching at a beginning level and I have a class at let’s say the ideal size which I think is twelve or sixteen students and all those students share some common interests I would try to make that class kind of like uh an ESP for specific purposes and my purpose would be to hook the student into learning language. If I have a group of teenage boys who are into those little scooters and think that they’re just about the coolest things on earth or if I have a group of people who really want to become secretaries because there are lots of really good jobs in the secretarial pool which happened to me when I was in Poland. I’m not going to teach them to say something as inane as I have a red book. I’m going to teach them to say I need a pencil, uh uh where’s the computer keyboard or this is a new computer keyboard or something that’s related. It’s like turning any language le-lesson into a language lesson about what they want to talk about. There’s no sentence as useless as I have a red book. Try to think of a context in which that’s a natural utterance. It really really really strange. You might say well I have a red book if somebody says does anybody have a an ah have something that have a book that’s an unusual color and you might say well I have a red book but in a really we don’t say sentences like that and so at the beginning level the essence for me is to find something that’s going to interest the students that’s going to make them want to talk. I just recently heard a couple of people debating where we should start. Should we start teaching language with introductions? Uh hello my name is Gean uh I’m fine how are you. Should we start of with something as silly as that or should we start off with uh something as as meaningful to the students as we can possibly find. Uh perhaps starting of with uh with using model because that empowers a students greatly if the students can use models and can say things like uh um I can ride my bicycle five mile an hour or fifteen miles an hour. Maybe that’s going to be more useful to a student and more encouraging. In other words at the beginning level I think what we need to do is to find ways of motivating students. Find things that the student really want’s to say. When I was working with peace corp training in Poland the first day of school we learned uh and I was doing language training right along with them. We learned good morning, how are you, please, thank you. The second day we learned uh please wait I’m in the bathroom. We learned where is the and then a whole bunch of nouns because people wanted to know where is the soap where is the, because we had these volunteers living with families and all of the sudden our curriculum was very clear they had to learn the things they needed to know in order to live comfortably in a home environment with a Polish family and so the lesson from day two took on a completely different kind of uh of of tenor. It became very definitely needs oriented. Now what does the intermediate student need? The intermediate student is at the phase of language learning where the greatest hunger is the hunger for vocabulary and at least this has been my experience, and so what you need to do as a teacher is to recognize that developing these different domains of knowledge with in uh students active vocabulary like a whole bunch of words around maybe celebrating celebrating a birthday celebrating a holiday a bunch of words around the school environment which they have probably learned already but there maybe some that they really uh need beyond that basic vocabulary of paper, pencil, book, and and teacher and student. Uh maybe a whole group around um sports and entertainment something about spiritual development that is uh uh I remember once going to a workshop by Harris Winits in which he said, this is just about the time that his book on the comprehensive comprehension approach came out, and he said all areas of human endeavor can be divided into fourteen areas and of course we said well okay um Doctor Winits tell us what these fourteen areas are and he said no you tell me and I have done this exercise with every group of students that I have taught since hearing him talk and I remember it was in San Francisco. Uh and every year we come up with fourteen, and by golly it, we can reduce it to fourteen. And I suggest to the students and my teachers uh these should be the topics for your picture files these should be the topics in which you develop beginning level, intermediate level, and advanced levels of of vocabulary. These are the topics around which your student’s interests are going to center and so their vocabulary and language development at the intermediate level is going to develop. For the more advanced students we get into areas of really strong critical thinking and sometime I think that critical think is something we don’t teach very well in our own native language and so I think that we should continue to have students doing puzzles, teach them to do natrases (?) to do graphs to use all kinds of puzzle solving tricks so that they can become stronger thinkers in English then they were in their native language and of course and then there’s slap over it goes back to their native language because what we’re doing is actually teaching them to make ------(?)draw conclusions recognize sequences and we can go through all the full gamete of of the the reading strategies and the reading skills and that’s what I think we should be doing with uh with the advanced students so that’s basically my answer how to how to order the kinds of activities that we do at those three levels.
In integrating thinking skills into the curriculum we are concerned with making sure the student understands the basic situation. We are concerned with the development of vocabulary. We’re concerned also with uh with helping students make connections between thoughts. One of my favorite techniques is what I call the think aloud protocol. If I give you a a riddle and you you plural my class don’t know quite how to go about solving it I’ll give a riddle one sentence at a time and ask you to talk all around that one sentence until you feel like you’ve understood that sentences by paraphrasing it by summarizing it by asking questions about what it means by maybe imbedding clauses together to try to understand each sentence and then as and I’ve even had students record what they do while they do this think aloud protocol, and then play it back to them or have another group paraphrase what they just heard until they have stated this this critical thinking problem or this dilemma so many times that all the sudden they begin to understand the answer and where the answer could come from. Uh, would you repeat that question so that we ……
I think as far a technique for integrating critical thinking into the curriculum there are many things that we can do, puzzles that we can present to our students that can happen at a pre-language level. You know like things that little puzzles like connecting the dots and um and creating creating boxes I could give you many examples of um almost parlor games or games like tic tac toe where students don’t have to have a lot of language. In which you can encourage language by having them say what they’re doing and why they’re doing it as they being to solve the puzzle. Uh the things like find pictures within a bigger picture you know like there’s a hidden rabbit and there’s a a flower a po—a flower and there’s an apple and there’s a knife and there’s all these other things hidden inside this picture. It’s a very good exercise for students and it’s a good set of principles to have them attempt to articulate and recognize also that something of this find the pictures within the picture kind of exercise can work for the very simplest level of language where all the student is saying is rabbit or shoe or fork or pencil uh to the more advanced students saying the rabbit is hidden within the knapsack on the back of the mountain climber that is actually talking about where to find that and have it then be a listening and processing kind of exercise. I collect puzzles and things of this sort for my students uh particularly because I work with a lot of teachers who need to have practical examples like this and encourage them to to use them in uh their classes and to try to figure out how many different ways they can use some of these puzzles. Uh, it is teaching, speaking, and listening as well as critical thinking.
I would ask them why if somebody said why don’t immigrants just learn English I would say why don’t you just fly. Because I think that word just is truly uh the biggest discount, just learn English do they mean copy you, do the mean uh attend a class and hear language repeated do they mean they should watch television and not understand anything. Just learning English is is is so so so simple an idea that it’s not even worthy of anything other than why don’t just fly. Because with learning anything there is a process to learning and it’s true that some children seem to learn without much effort but what is required is a situation in which the language is addressed to that child. I grew up in an environment where there was Polish all around me. My mother spoke some Polish my father’s first language was Polish he spoke Polish to his mother my mother and father spoke Polish to each other but they never modified the input for me. Therefore at age forty-five when I went to Poland I had to learn Polish. Now I had excellent excellent pronunciation because my brother and I my brother’s and I would imitate the Polish that we heard and we could make all these sounds and we use to delight all those who could speak Polish by imitating what we were hearing of course we did not realize that there were three sh’s and three ch’s and therefor the only problem I had when I was learning to pronounce Polish was that I couldn’t tell the three sh’s apart and I couldn’t tell the three ch’s apart because they had never been explained to me that those were different but the problem was that is could pronounce it so well that they thought I should be able to speak it a lot better, understand it a lot better. But in order for a person to learn a language comprehensible stuff has to be addressed to that person in that language. It has to be modified in such a way that the person who is learning the language not just learning the language can understand it and so if they’re learn just learning the language there’s got to be a source of that kind of language for them to respond to. Crashin (?) called it comprehensible input. For me it works it certainly worked. I got the comp—I got the pronunciation I didn’t get the content I got specific words that I could understand and so I when I got to Poland I found out that I knew many many words but I didn’t know the grammar. I didn’t know how to plug them in. Then I started learning sentences frames and actually took control of my own language learning I created sentences that I wanted my teacher to to teach me how to say in Polish and she did and so I began to learn and as I say pronunciation was never the problem which I might add is a great problem for other people who are trying to many learn that language with it’s possity (?) of vowels.
Two decades ago English language teaching was emerging from what we’re calling the new direct methods and just recently I was looking at some tapes that were made of um things like um well the new direct methods they like suggested pedia-council language learning what uh Brown called the designer methods and I was watching these tapes which were made about 1980 and what I noticed was the strong, very strong heritage of the audio-lingual method. Now if I had to choose a method for myself to learn because of who am I who I am and my own language learning history. I would modify some ALM things and I would take control of the development of certain language domains and as I reflect on what we have learned about language teaching. We’ve learned first of all that the method has got to match what the person the way the person learns and kids today learn in a very wholistic way now that’s not whole language but they learn in wholistic ways and it’s communicative stuff that we are talking about matches the way kids learn everything. My children were with me in Poland and this is an example of how they learned because there were no other children around for the to be with they spent a lot of time with adults and this time they spent with adults was often involved in or listening to adult edu uh adult conversation. And one -- we were talking about the fall of the of the wall and the the changes that were happening politically and how Germany and German politics had evolved and all of the sudden I found my two teenagers, thirteen and fourteen, talking knowledgeably about the Nazi’s and I said where did you learn about this stuff? And they said oh it’s easy, Sound of Music, Diary of Anne Frank, you know our visit to Berlin and they gave me all the evidence of how they had put together a very firm view of what the Nazi uh philosophy was and I find that in language teaching the same kind of phenomenon occurs again and again that students who have for example participated in plays uh take part of a persona of the characters that they have played. They’ve watched movies and they’ve discussed the ways that characters get ideas across and they begin to meld these things so that we see what’s happening is not this homogenized which I referred to earlier in this interview this homogenized idea of a general language but a general language with a very strong over lay of what they are picking and choosing as the roles that they’re developing in their own language ego development and I thinks that’s where we’ve come the farthest. We’ve come to understand that grammar can be controlled but covertly that vocabulary can be taught and it can be taught deliberately but it’s taught as we develop domains, things aren’t taught in isolation. We don’t teach hot and cold at the same time we instead teach in the environment of real true thoughts, human condition and that’s what’s making the biggest difference.
What I see – one of the things that really makes me hot really makes me angry is I see a teacher who is oblivious to who hi or her students are. Who doesn’t consider for example that teaching is in essence a power play and that is has to be done in a way with mutual consent with mutual respect. I think that the humanistic aspects of teacher are the most important ones, that we should always be trying to bring out of the student the best that that student can ever can ever be and that therefor ought to be expressing the very best that we can be so that language development happens in a way that’s a very positive and resoundingly impactful consequence.