SANDRA J SAVIGNON
Sandra J. Savignon and I’m at the Penn State University or Pennsylvania State University, I guess. Penn State they call it.
It’s a new term but it’s an old idea. Um, some people think that, you know, we just developed communicative competence within the last 25 years. If you look back into the history of language teaching and language learning, way back into the Middle Ages when Latin, not English, was the, you know, language the lingra fanco, the language of communication among different people. Um, there were many people who advocated the—the importance of learning language through using language, through doing things with the language. And it’s—to me it’s very interesting that it was only um later on that Latin seized to be used so wildly and it became, you know, the—the uses were narrower and narrower. It used to be that all the scribes that nobody read and wrote but they spoke Latin and communicated with each other this way. Um, when Latin seized to be used so wildly, um the teaching of Latin changed until eventually it was taught like a dead language. That is, you know, these are the parts of speech, these are the vocabulary words, and you never hear it spoken and you’re just suppose to learn to analyze it. And the idea was that this is good for your, you know, intellectual development kind of thing. So now to come back to—to modern times, I think that what happened was that um in the 20th century, there was a great concern for breaking things down into tiny pieces and try to analyze scientifically language. OK? And this is known as structuralist approach to language study. And that meant that you looked at very tiny pieces like isolated sounds and isolated bits of meanings what we called phonemes and morphemes. OK? And then these were put—attached together to make sentences. OK? And we became very, um through the work of Gnome Chomskey, who has dominated um, modern linguistic thought; uh we came to uh think in terms of the ideal native speaker. OK? That ideal native speaker is non-existent. It’s—it’s a chimera. It’s something that we think, “Oh, we wish we could be like,” or it’s perfect, knowing the language perfectly. But in fact, none of us knows the language perfectly. None of us uses the language perfectly all the time. Um, so we have returned recently, more recently to looking at language in social context, looking at how people use language to—to communicate with one another, to read, to write messages, and now, of course, with the uh computer-aided communication, we’re writing e-mails and we’re learning that e-mails are sort of a mix between speaking and writing and we’re not quite sure—I’m still not sure what—you know, what form I should use. Should I say to my colleague, you know, “Hi, Barbara,” or should I say, “Dear Barbara,” or what—you know, just what’s appropriate? And I—I—it’s going to take some time to work that out. Um, so it was—actually what happened was it was because of structural—the domination of linguistic—the structural linguistic paradigm in terms of—of looking at language and trying to be very scientific about it, it went uh—I mean, this happened at the same time that there was a very um strong interest in also measuring human ability in terms of discrete points and coming up with measures of various things and trying to isolate traits and so forth, that what we did, we—we decontextualized language and we took away from language the thing that makes it what it is which is social interaction conveyance of meaning. OK? So if we—if we the—in reaction to—to Chomskey, instead of talking about linguistic competence, which is what he was concerned with your—which is essentially a focus on—on grammatical structures is what I call sentence level grammar, OK, just the structure. It’s not the meaning, but just the way that—how we know grammar, how we’re programmed to learn grammar. We went from that narrow focus to what became uh termed uh, communicative competence. And actually the origin of the term is under dispute. Many people when they hear that term, they attribute it immediately to Del Himes who was an American uh sociolinguist who took issue with Chomskey, but you also find other uh philosophers and thinkers at the same time uh Huberness, for example, in Germany who was using the term in German. Um, and there are other people and—and Halladaise, all of Halladaise work on meaning potential. So the idea was in the air. The idea was—we got to put language back in context. Um, and so we came up—uh this was the—the actual definition of—or—or description of communicative compentence—competence that we are working with right now is a four component model. And these are—these are integrated, they work together simultaneously so its not one and then the other and that you string together like you might string um beads on a pearl necklace, for example—pearls on a necklace. Um, and we think in terms of linguistic competence, which is the sentence level grammar, that’s what Chomskey is concerned with. But in addition to linguistic competence, you have to look at I would say sociocultural competence. Um, what’s appro—what is this situation? Who am I? Where I am interacting? And what’s appropriate? Um, and in terms of—well, just looking at children’s language uh, children learn very early what’s appropriate when they’re talking with their friends and what’s appropriate when they’re talking with their teacher in calls. Or what’s appropriate when they’re talking to their parents and if they do something that’s inappropriate, they’re likely to be corrected and told, “Don’t talk that way to your father.” (laugh) Um, so the sociolinguist awareness is something that—that children in their first language develop immediately. OK? Um, and the other—and we can talk more about that in a minute if—if you like. Um, the other com—another third component is um discourse competence. And discourse competence has to do with beyond sentence level grammar. So we’re not dealing with, you know, the subject goes first and then the verb, then you have the direct object perhaps inside the individual sentence. It has to do with recognizing what the text is all about. What is this anyway? Um, to give you an idea, um children recognize very quickly on the—the backs of cereal packages that they’re trying to sell them something, that the product or something they can order. OK? So it’s a sales pitch. That’s quickly recognized. Um, we recognize the—the weather report on television. Just by hearing it you know that it’s the weather report. Um, if you have a grocery list, that’s also a text. So now we’re talking about the text. What is the purpose of this text? Why does it exist? Who is the intended audience? So even if you’re just writing down for yourself, milk, eggs, brown sugar, and—and you tack it on your refrigerator, that becomes a text and you know it was written—you wrote it for yourself or maybe you wrote it for your spouse to be sure to pick these things up or whoever does the errands. Uh, this is what it is about. It’s things that we need for the house. The same thing with a story. What’s a story? Well, a story has a beginning, develop an ending and we know most children learn very quickly how, you know, how to tell a story. It’s called—we call that story grammar or—or narrative grammar. And that’s an example of discourse competence. So it’s beyond sentence level grammar, the text, what’s the purpose of the text, why does it exist, um and what are the rules that we recognize that enable us to recognize it as such. It—it—it greatly facilitates our interpretation of a text by understanding that, “Well, this is the purpose of this. This is a news report,” and I know how to scan, I know how to look for the things that are important to me. Um, and so we—we recognize right away that this is a text for a certain purpose. We recognize it uh in—in great part by the context because we know what kinds of text we’re likely to find in a particular context. Now the fourth component is—and these were identified by Cannali and Swayne and—and uh—well, three of them were identified by Cannali and Swayne in 1980 and the—the fourth—and we continue to work with these components although you know exactly what they are and where the boundaries are. It—it—it’s all very integrated and I think that’s the um—sometimes we use the term holistic to talk about language and that’s what—so that’s what you have to keep upper most in mind that this is something—it’s all intermeshed. You can’t tease out and say, “Well, this is the boundary for this” and so forth. But the very important um competent of communicative competence is strategic competence.
Um, and that’s where I come in, actually, because I—I began my career as a teacher of French. I learned French and I went to France and I came—I returned home and I spoke fluently. So I decided to—because I was looking for an easy degree that instead of pursuing in my degree in political science, which was my first interest, um that I could just end up with a French degree and my dad said, “Get a teaching certificate because that’s safe, you know, good insurance policy,” you know, and—but basically I was looking for a husband. Of course, at school that was my generation. You know, looking to get married. Um, so I get the degree in French, but then I was very good in French and I spoke like the—people said you talk like a native speaker. People would ask me, you know, where I’m from in France. I—I couldn’t really speak like a native speaker but I could give that illusion because my pronunciation was very good. And then subsequently I married a Frenchman, so now I have a French name, Savignon, and so it, you know, creates that impression that I must be, you know, French—or might be French or something like that. But the—so in my experiences as a teacher of French, I was at the University of Illinois, I was teaching advanced learners in what we call then conversation classes. And I had taken a conversation when I was an undergraduate and I remember it well because I had just come from high school, we didn’t speak French in the classroom, and when I got to the conversation class at the university, we had a professor—he was Greek but his French was fluent—he spoke and we didn’t speak. So it was kind of what you might call the silent way. I mean all the students were silent. And the professor talked and talked and talked and he gave us long lists of vocabulary items. It would have been—we would have been so embarrassed to say anything because we didn’t know how to say anything. And this is what, when I started working with learners, I found that—these were adults. In fact, I began by working some summer institutes with um high school secondary school teachers of French and some of these NDEA—they were sponsored by the National Defense Education Act to um improve the language—the second language skills of teachers of French and they did it for German and Spanish as well. And these were adults who’d left their families at home for the summer and were at this institute and they had—this was—this—we did a lot of pattern practice that you might be familiar with, um, rep—memorization of dialogues. OK? Uh, and all this—this was—this was very classic, what’s known—it was known then as audio lingual methodology, which I thought was great because at least that you heard the spoken language, which before we never heard. It was all grammar and translation so you didn’t hear the spoken language. So we were speaking, but the minute—we—we wanted to have—well, we said, “Well, we have to have some occasions for these uh adult teacher to use French in a natural sense, in a natural context where they could just have some conversations, some general conversation. So we came up with the idea of—of having a um a coffee break where’d we serve donuts and coffee and we’d have language table and we would sit with one instructor per table and maybe five participants and we were suppose to talk in French. The trouble was nobody could talk in French and they were under great pressure uh and we would sit there as the—the, you know, the teacher and ask somebody um, uh maybe the dialog had talked about um (speaks French) and you—which meant, “We have rice and sausage,” you know. So I could—I didn’t want to say, “Well, do you like sausage,” because there was no sausage, but I could say, “Well do you like donuts?” You know, (speaks French). They didn’t know what’s—what’s a benai, “What are you asking me,” you know, so—because they had memorized dialog. OK? And so all they knew they could talk about was sausage and rice and they couldn’t talk about donuts and coffee and about how nervous they felt trying to speak French. So what happened was nobody ate donuts, everybody sat there kind of, you know—or they tried to eat donuts so they wouldn’t have to talk, that was the other thing. I mean we had these—this phenomenon. So, we finally had to abandon that idea. We tried it for a little while at lunch, but that was—it was awful because nobody could eat or then—especially the teachers couldn’t eat because we were trying to, you know, get some conversation going. But they couldn’t do it.
So I thought to myself, “Well, how can we help learners from the very beginning get the feeling that they can use this new language for communicative purposes and we don’t expect them to sound like an accurate native speaker with that perfect grammar, coming back again to the ideal native speaker. You can use French—you can use your French to say something or tell me or let me know something and I don’t expect it to be perfect. OK? That was a bit—so—so I actually did some research then on um developing strategies of communication in beginning language learners and that’s where—where my research and my findings, which were quite significant in terms of uh the need to show learners—these were college level uh—college age students, beginning students of French, how they could learn some strategies. Uh, something as simple as saying uh, “Well, what’s the word ‘for’,” you know, or “I’m sorry I don’t understand,” or “Could you repeat that.” I mean, simple things like that, “It’s all right. You can say that, it’s all right.” Because the—the impression had been—and—and I’m afraid that in many language teaching context around the world today, they’re still that very dominant impression that you have to say something, it doesn’t matter what, but if you say it, it has to be grammatically accurate. And the teacher is looking at the form and not at the content of what you’re saying. OK. So communicative compentence is looking at content. Form is important—form is very important because you can’t have content without some recognizable form. I mean, form—but that form includes the text, it includes the purpose of the text, it includes the context in which this text is—was or is being created and exchanged. Um, and it involves not only the one who prepares the text or expresses the meaning, but also the—the one or the ones who are interpreting the meaning. But the focus is on meaning. Essentially it means, “Focus on meaning as opposed to form.” Form remains important and this I think is important to understand because many people think, “Oh, you know, if we’re talking about communicative competence, that’s me Tarzan, you Jane, and we don’t care at all about grammar.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Um, you have to have grammar, but it can also be text grammar and it’s not those fine little things like the endings on the um—the verbs that are going to, you know, make the difference. It’s more the context and the purpose of the interaction that—that is going to convey the meaning. OK? So that’s um—have a done enough on—on (interruption) I don’t know if I should do more because I could talk about children’s languages to and, you know…
Um, well let—let me talk a little bit about my grandchildren if I can. OK, and I have gr—I actually have seven grandchildren. Uh, the eldest is age five, the youngest is about six months and I love to talk with my grandchildren. And they’re—they love words, they love language, they’re learning some French now, depending on who their—some—some of them are exposed to French, some English, um some have a British father so they’re hearing British English and then they’re hearing American English. So they’re exposed—they’re—they’re aware and they interact with lots of international people. So they’re aware of languages. Um, and the thing that’s so important about their language use and that’s so—so crucial to—to my interaction with them or any other adult is the fact that they have things they want to say to me and they want to tell me and they want to explain or they want to request things and they have to learn how to do that effectively and they are learning how to do it. Sometimes they will say um we had uh a four-year-old who said you know, “That was the bestest pie we’ve ever had. That was the bestest pie.” OK? Well, that child eventually will say, ‘That was the best pie I ever tasted.” But for now he’s saying bestest and granny did not say, “Oh, no you must say…” um at—at the same time um kids all over the world now are—in English are saying, “Me and my dad went to the store” or “Me and my mom are late for this meeting.” Um, so that’s an example I think where the language is changing because I’ve told my grandkids, “You should say really, you know, my mom and I are doing this or my dad and I are doing it,” um but interestingly, sometimes its their own mother or dad who’s saying, “Me and my boys are going to go…” So that—I mean that’s an example of how language changes and I think as language teachers or—or just teachers who feel we have some responsibility for grammatical formality or accuracy or helping these kids develop their communicative ability, we’re—we’re not always sure when we should jump in and say, “Well, you should really say this um, this is not good grammar.” OK? Or—or just relax and realize that, you know, some of these things are not decided by teachers at all. They’re not legislated; it’s how the language changes. So I guess in—in looking at how communication is dynamic, you have to understand first that language itself is always changing and if it didn’t why we’d probably all still be speaking Latin today or maybe Greek (laugh) um because uh it was through—you know, and people use to be so unhappy when Latin was deformed and gave birth to French and then Spanish and it was known as uh vulgar Latin. That was the term for these more popular forms of um Latin that emerged and then actually developed uh as languages in their own right. So what do you call a language? OK? And what’s the dialect? And what’s the proper way to do something? Uh, so much of this depends on where you are and um who you’re with and how they’re going to interpret what you’re doing so that if you are—let me give the example, for example, of um—I have a colleague who is um—he is African-American and he’s one of my best colleagues and we spend lots of time talking about um issues in both uh Black English, Black-American speech, and also I’m very concerned with women and how women learn to speak and how they interact because I’m a bit of an anomaly, at least my generation. There aren’t many women that have provided role models for me as to how can you be professional and be a mother and be a grandmother um because you look around the table in many, you know, professional settings and when I began they were mostly men. So I knew I couldn’t tell jokes like the guys did, I mean, that wouldn’t be fitting. I can’t talk about the same topics that—I mean, I could but it wasn’t really related to my experiences or interests. So you learn to develop a style or something that works for you. So in that sense, um we change roles and in—for someone who is speaking um—who—who can speak Black English and can also use Standard English, uh there’s a very conscious shifting of style depending on who the other participants are. So if you’re talking to a mainly white audience, you’re going to probably use Standard English, if you’re talking to your friends in your neighborhood, you’re probably going to use Black English because you would be outcast. You would—they would say, “Well, who are you to act so um uppity.” It’s like if I affected a British accent and I would start speaking with a British accent and they’d say, “Well who, you know—why are you talking that way?” We all know that British English is very prestigious. I have a son in law who’s British and he speaks very nicely um but I can’t do that. That’s not my—that’s not who I am. So you’ve got to be who you are first of all, and language is such a um—it’s such a rich um—how do we say it, it’s such a rich, um—uh, it’s such a wonderful, rich resource for being and doing and things—being and doing things. That’s—that’s what you do with language. And you present yourself to others.
And, I guess, in talking about what uh language is, I could um retrace a little bit uh to um—just kind of strengthen what I said about the components of communicative competence to recall that in language teaching in—in the 20th century, um we use to talk about active skills and passive skills. And that terminology may be familiar to some that remembered being—talking about active and passive. What was active? Well, that was when you were speaking or when you were reading. Um, no, have I got that right? Speaking and—no, excuse me. I got—I got that wrong. We’ve got to start over again. (interruption) Yeah—no, I’m thinking ahead of myself and (interruption) In talking about passive skill and active skills, the—the active skills were the acts of speaking and writing and the passive skills were seen to be listening and reading. Now you could smile at that today because you’d say, “Well to read a text that’s not passive.” You’ve got to be very involved. You’ve got to look for the central medi, you’ve got to figure out, you know, what the purpose of this is and read for the content and the message that’s in it or react to it in some way. Either like it, don’t like it, know why you don’t or what—what your feelings are about this text. So we—we eliminated active and passive as—as descriptors of—of language skills. OK? And we replaced them with receptive and productive skills. OK? And the productive skills were seen to be speaking and writing and the um, receptive skills were seen to be listening and reading. OK. And that—that definition dominates lots of discussions of language teaching and people will talk about the four skills and still thinking in terms of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. And I—I—it’s important to—to make the point that if you talk about receiving and producing messages, you’re missing the point of what language is. Um, that receiving and producing reminds me—I come from a Big 10 university school, football’s very big at Penn State University. Um, receiving is what they’re—you know, the—the receiver does and the quarterback is—is throwing the ball and the receiver catches the ball and heads on down the field. Um, and it—the ball stays the same. The football is the same. The football is—is thrown, it’s received; it’s still the same football. If I produce a message, if I say something and someone interprets what I say, they may not and most likely will not understand exactly what I had in my mind. OK? So rather—I would suggest—I think it could be very useful if we could change some of the terms and—and if you—if you’re accustomed to talking about productive and receptive skills, I would suggest you consider changing those to expressive and interpretive skills. So you express meaning, you interpret meaning, and then there’s the negotiation that comes in because uh—and this could be quite visible. I mean, you say, “Well, I’m not sure what you meant by that.” Um, but usually it’s not that overt, that we think we understood and we say something else and maybe that is—is in tune with what the other person was intending and they respond, “Or maybe it wasn’t,” in which case they add some clarification and all this is very—it’s very intricate and we do it spontaneously. We do it all the time when we’re talking to people. And we do it with the people we’re closest too. Um, in intimate relationships, you’re saying things, you think the other person understood, then you find out that no, that’s not—and then sometimes, you know, you have to go down to a level of well—and this is, of course, you may uh be familiar with Debra Tannin’s work in talking about how men and women speak. And I—I think her book has been—it’s been on bestseller. It’s the first time that a linguistics book was actually on the New York Time’s uh best seller list and it’s wonderful reading any of her—her books to um just get a sense for the styles in how we speak, in how we assume that other people may have the same style that we do, but in fact they don’t. And so in order to understand each other, in order to—to come to some consensus, we have to work together. And I guess that—that interpretation um represents the—the working together and some people talk about the co-construction of text, which is kind of a fancy term. But it means that you—you don’t have—an individual doesn’t have communicative competence; you and some others can have communicative competence. It’s a community phenomenon. It’s something that community has and it has to exist in a community. We don’t use language for ourselves. We use it as social action. So language is social action. It involves negotiations like every other social activities and we learn how to do it in a social setting for social purposes.
Why is negotiation of meaning important in language learning and why isn’t input enough? I’m reminded now of a friend of mine who told me recently about a family that he visited. His friend happens to be uh Taiwanese um gentlemen, good friend of mine and his wife is also a good friend of mine. And he was talking about spending some time in—in a family um that lives in Philadelphia, a couple that had a child who was three-years-old and he said that he was very alarmed and concerned about this child because the parents both had jobs, they were both very involved professionally with things that they were doing and he said the child, this little girl who’s three-years-old spends all of her day at home between the video, television, or between a computer, action of some kind of game or programs or CD-ROMs or whatever. In other words she spent her time between the television and the computer and that when he would want to talk with her, she didn’t know how to talk to people. She didn’t know how to talk to people. She was getting lots of input and this is, I think, I mean, this is—this is a crucial issue for um society. I mean for the years ahead and I think as teachers we need to—to recognize this that—that the nature of the interaction um, do we have uh a dinner table conversation, do we have family times when we get together and actually have discussions about things. All of those activities are essential to the development of language abilities. Um, so maybe if we’re just in front of a computer, you know, we could—if we’re exchanging e-mail, we will develop some strategies for communicating by e-mail, but maybe—I mean and some people are not very comfortable talking to other people. Some people are not comfortable getting up in front of a group and expressing their views because they haven’t practiced it, because it’s not something that’s familiar to them. And so they’re reluctant to try and to develop the ability to do that. But, in order to be a social participant, in order to express your voice and your—your views and to create the social context, you have to have some voice; you have to have to be able to participate. And I think that’s where—I mean, for me, um as teachers that’s our biggest role and that’s the most satisfying role is that we are empowering learners to participate in—in a Democratic context where they can have a voice, where they can be heard, where they can agree or disagree of propose um and our society is so much the richer for the diversity of the perspectives that then can come to all of the—the social issues and problems and uh quandaries that we—the we confront um, so the negotiation—so to come back to this little girl—the little girl in this household who wasn’t getting the opportunity for negotiation. She was working with a—with a machine and—or seeing it on video, hearing lots of language. But that’s not satisfactory. That’s not the way to develop.
Um, and I’m—I’m reminded too of some research that was done on—uh, several years back on—with Native American uh children on let’s say a Navajo reservation where there had been a move to introduce English in the schools and because the children were speaking Navajo at home and they wanted to give up their English language skills. And so they—all the signs, everything was in English at the school um and some of the children were having a great deal of trouble with English. Uh, you might think that’s understandable if they’re speaking Navajo at home and this is a new language for them, but in fact uh some of the researchers went to visit the families and were—was talking to the parents. And one mother said, “Well, you know, I don’t speak to my child because all I can speak…” she said this in Navajo, “… all I know is Navajo and since my child is suppose to learn English I’m not going—I don’t want to, you know, confuse them so I’m just not going to speak to them.” Now what happens when a mother doesn’t speak with her child because she feels that her language is de-valued and is not the one that—that the child should be learning. That somehow society has dictated that we have some other—and this could be a—a different language, it could be just a style of speaking, it could be a dialect, however we call these things. Um, I mean they’re—linguists can debate what’s a dialect and what’s a language but um there are many other sociolinguists who would argue that when you just switch style, for in other words, if you’re talking to—to your colleagues and you’re being uh very familiar and friendly or you’re talking in a public setting, that—that’s already a switch of styles that you need to be able to do to belong to various groups because we belong to various groups. And so you can’t—one style’s appropriate in one setting, another setting, you have to switch to something else.
Um, I raised three children. Um, and I remember one time we were sitting at the dinner table—we did have since my husband’s French, we always had family dinners. That was one of the things that we imposed upon our children—our American raised children is that we’d have five to six would be dinner time and their friends should not call or if they did we wouldn’t answer or we’d ask them to please call later. So we had this dinner table conversation—the five of us, and I remember one time a child was saying something, expressing some opinion and I said, “Well, isn’t there some better way you might say that.” Suddenly I forgot that I was at home at my dinner table and I saw myself as language teacher. Well, those of you who’ve had children know that they don’t let you get away with that. The—it was my daughter, Julie, who blurted out, “Ding-a-ling-a-ling uh language arts time. Bell just rang.” And I’m thinking, “OK.” It’s like we don’t care now about the content, we’re just going to focus on the form. So that—that anecdote, you know, was very revealing to me in terms of um—with the role that I’m playing and they still—if they see me, you know, thinking about things and not attending to what I’m doing, they’ll call me. They use to say, you know, that I was out in space and, you know, contacting Sandra out in space because I would be thinking about something and not attending to the task or the activity at hand. And sometimes I, you know, it’s difficult judging those different identities as mother, teacher, um researcher who’s suppose to know answers about some things. Well, my children don’t want to listen to me be pedantic and explain things. They don’t want me to explain anything to them. They’re going to find out for themselves. And so my role with my children is much different and—and in order to get along with children and watch them uh grow to adulthood and start families of their own, you learn ways of interacting so that you can change your relationship and you can grow. I’m still learning how to be different people in different settings and I’m still learning ways of—of behaving, ways of being. Um, the culture is changing, language is changing, and my role is changing and as I get older and older, I’m going to have other ways that I will have to um learn to—to develop strategies for coping, not so much with who I am but perhaps how other people see me because often it’s the others that will define who we are in many respects. So if you see someone with skin of a certain color and this is in the black community, there was a talk the other day by John Bow from Stanford University talking about being black but being light skinned black. And that caused him to have some problems in the black community because he was perceived as light skinned and then kind of uppity and—and there—there were certain distinctions there and he was made to feel that he wasn’t welcome in some settings. OK? So—and then as a—as an old woman—as an old woman or granny—I like to say I’m a granny. I’m very proud of that, and—and—because the term granny for many people means, you know, little old lady and I’m going to be, you know, a modern granny. I have my—my thinking ability is great, I love my grandkids, but I also have lots of ideas for things that I’m writing books, I have a—a book that’s in press now with um Yale University Press, as a matter of fact. So I—my professional identity is very important to me, but I also want to be a granny and my—my interactions with children are a constant source of inspiration and amazement for me in terms of the wonderful things that they can do and how they develop their language skills and I would say the most important thing you can do is to be their friend, to interact with them, to give them opportunities to develop those language skills so that they can be themselves, so that they can assert their identity for others who may not see them as they really are and may want to ascribe and identity to them out—out of ignorance, basically. It’s not nec—It’s not meanness, it’s just out of ignorance and—but it’s very difficult, particularly if you’re a minority or you’re someone who’s not mainstream and you’re made to feel different. You’re—you’re so often having to assert your difference and say, “But, you know, I’m not the way you think I am,” or “Don’t treat me this way because that’s not who I am really,” that it makes them have to be assertive sometimes in ways that we would see as unwelcome, but for their own identity it’s essential that they be this um—you know really find themselves as they are and be who they really are for others.
Um, what is communicative language teaching? Uh, it’s known as CLT. Um, its had—it—it had its beginning with the identification of communicative competence, that is, the engagement in—in social action and language as a social activity that involves people in the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning both in oral language and its important to remember that that’s also true in written language as we read text, we bring ourselves to them, we bring our past experiences, our way of seeing the world and we interpret the meaning so that five people reading the same novel may have five quite different impressions of what that’s about and what it means. And that’s why it’s fun to have book clubs so you can sit around with other people, “What did you think of that? Well, how did you react?” And we need to do that so we can compare our interpretations and our feelings and through that kind of exchange we grow and we become more um aware of perhaps other ways of seeing things and that’s what education is all about. In a communicative classroom, the focus is on meaning. Uh, and there’s a very—in a very pure sense it means focus on meaning as opposed to form. That if I’m engaging someone in—in some kind of language task, I’m doing so for the purposes of—of focusing on exchanging information or defining or participating some way and the content has to be there. There has to be content and—and in a—in a from focus classroom, the learners know that the teacher doesn’t care what they say; it’s how they say it that matters. So you go around the room and say, “Did you have—what did you have for breakfast?” And the kid who maybe had a bowl of oatmeal but doesn’t know how to say oatmeal, but he had the word for orange juice in his lesson is going to say, “I had orange juice,” right? “I had orange juice,” because that’s what you know how to say. So you have what you know how to say and you don’t bother with things that you don’t know how to say. So you kind of shape—you know, it’s not—it’s not communicative in that sense that you’re letting the form dominate the exchange. In—in communitive language teaching on the other hand, you keep a—a constant focus on content meaning. Creating meaning, exchanging meaning um and that, again, I need to underscore that that doesn’t meant that you don’t ever look at form because you—sure, forms are important but you looked at them in respect to particular context in—in—so you look at con—at forms as an afterthought, not as, “Well, now we’re going to have a text in the present tense and you need to review what the present tense is. No, you have to have text that are engaging, that say something to the learners that they can bring their life experiences too. Um, something that relates to their lives and who they are and what they are, something that might uh cause them to think about something or react in some way to something. And it’s through that participation and focus on meaning that you can lead them to then looking at formal features and how they can improve. But the important this is to get them involved in actually writing or speaking. The—the kind of thing that we do in the show-and-tell in elementary uh school or kindergarten classes where uh just getting up and telling about something is what’s important and you’re learning how to speak to a large group, it’s not, you know—no, I don’t think any kindergarten teacher would say to a child who was doing a show-and-tell, “Well no, that’s not how you pronounce that word. Say it, you know, say that again, it’s not—it’s dinosaur instead of dinosaur,” or whatever uh correction that—it’s not the time to do that. They’re learning how to exchange meaning and focus on meaning in a much uh, broader way.
Um, (interruption) Yeah, and I think that in talking about communicative language teaching, the—the important thing to remember is that you provide a linguistically rich environment for learners. Uh, again, I—I don’t believe this is a new idea, I think it’s something that many teachers have done and known for a long time. Many philosophers uh in the 16th century uh were aware of this. So it’s not a new idea, it’s that we’ve had to react to the tendency to want to break things down and look at the discrete parts. So it’s a reaction, if you will, to what has immediately preceded in terms of this—the supposed progress in the 1940’s and 50’s of, you know, looking at these little bits and pieces of language. We’re—now the emphasis is on whole language and—and uh the—the work by Ken Goodman, for example, is very well know for his focus on explaining what whole language is. You cannot take language out of a context and you must provide that context. It’s interesting to me, I’ve uh visited many classrooms, let say English classroom in international context and in a place like Hong Kong, the teachers are rather fluent in English. They can use English. But when they’re teaching English in their class, their using Cantonese because they’re explaining grammar because uh, they think that well, you know, if I use English it’s going to be to hard for the students. They’re not going to learn the grammar and of course, what’s on the test. Well, the grammar points that they’re suppose to learn. So they’re quite understandably will resort to using Cantonese, the native, the language of the learners so that they can help them. Um, in another country it may be that the teachers themselves don’t have the communicative ease with the language that they’re teaching. And that’s a more difficult problem to address. But I’ve seen too many uh fluent speakers of a language that are teaching the language in some other native languages simply to get through the grammar because there’s so much material they have to understand this so I better explain it to them in their own language. OK? A communicative um classroom is going to be focusing on providing a linguistically, very rich environment focusing on meaning, opportunities for using language and interpreting um—I like to think of a curriculum uh in terms of five components and one of the central components is language for purpose. Sometimes that becomes defined as content based, sometimes it’s defined as task based. There are various ways that you can—that you can think of or devise for focusing on—on meaning. Uh, and I pro—probably the content based approach is the most familiar where you’re focusing on learning something and not—you’re—you’re learning it through the language, by means of the language so that you can relax a little bit if they don’t understand all the language, you can repeat, you can use lots of illustrations and so forth, but involving them in some activities. Um, so that’s important. Language arts is also a component. Um, you focus on forms, but as they relate to meaningful experiences that the learner has had with the language. So it’s through those meaningful experiences. And you might say, “Well, how do—how do you get meaning if you haven’t learned the language.” Well, the point is, you cannot learn the language until you are focusing on meaning. And all the repetition of forms and all the corrections in the world are not going to enable you to understand and use that language. The only way we use—learn to use language is by actually using it. We learn to use language by using language. It’s as simple as that. Um, one of my favorite words in talking about learning is actually apprenticeship. In um—in French, the word for learn is apandra, which is very similar and derived—closely related to apprentice. And I think if you think of an apprentice, someone who is developing skills and is working with someone that is more skilled and has experience uh in helping them to develop their skills that that might be a useful analogy, instead of thinking about just teaching somebody. Uh, basically I don’t think anybody teaches anybody anything. I think learners learn and we provide the environment and we can respond to their motivations and interests and we can provide great encouragement. That doesn’t mean that learners don’t need teachers. Uh—uh, to the contrary. We—we’re very important and we all know of—of teachers in our own lives you have been instrumental in helping us become who we are and identify. So the teacher’s very important, but you’re working in more of an apprenticeship relationship, doing things with the learners rather than telling them how to do it. And so it’s very interesting because sometimes they’ve tried to um implement more communicative approaches in language uh programs in—I’m thinking now of several international context um that I won’t mention by name but where there’s a national test that uh is looking at the communicatively use of English and it involves a group task, a group conversation of some kind. And they found that they implanted this new form of the test and when they looked at what was going on in the classrooms then, the teachers were explaining to the students what a group conversation looked like. How you sit and—and—and how many were in the group and because she was quite conscious of needing to prepare them for the test. So she was explaining to them what you do. And they didn’t do any of the group conversations. She just explained what they were. And I think we all fall into that—that trap of wanting to explain something. And that’s when, you know, it’s useful that your kids says, “Ding-a-ling-a-ling, a bell just rang. Time for language arts and, you know, we’re suddenly we’re stepping back and we’re becoming our teacher role. And we may not be aware of how much we do this. We may think we’re letting the learners engage in meaning making and participate and—but if we take a good look at what we’re actually doing even through a um sometimes a recording—video recordings of teaching, teachers do a lot of talking and teachers do a lot of telling. OK? And we don’t need to do that all the time. We can let them come to us and bring their ideas to the—to the setting.
Um, for more advanced uh users of a new language and I like to call it a new language rather than a foreign language. I don’t like the term target language because that’s—that’s—to me that’s very militaristic. It means there’s the target and we’re going to shoot for it. And what is that target? Well, it was in the sense of the ideal native speaker that somehow there’s this mythical ideal user of this language that we’re aiming to be like. OK. And that has to be abolished. That whole notion has to be abolished and we have to understand that first of all you want to be yourself using that language and it may well be that you don’t want to sound like or be like the so-called native speaker. What’s the native speaker anyway? Uh, does that mean that you learn that language first or that you’ve lived in that country the longest? Or, you know, what is—native is sort of—it’s sort of something that—that you are born with. It’s like a birthright. You’re born into a context where there’s a language and that language becomes your native language and you never tested really on whether or not you know the language, but if it’s not native language and you move to a context, we’re always testing those who are trying to develop their skills in the language. So the non-native gets tested, the native speaker never gets tested for basic knowledge of the language. I mean, to me that’s the biggest distinction between native and non-native speakers is who gets tested? Who has to prove what they know continually? Um, and—and its been well documented that um in aspiring to be like the so-called native um learners develop an ease and a proficiency. There are wonderful commentaries, for example, of a um, uh Japanese girl was in California and she wanted to integrate. She came as an exchange student in high school and her English got very fluent and she felt very much at ease and suddenly she had this awakening that um, “I got California English, which is not me and I don’t want to be like that. I—I have to be myself. I have to be Japanese and speak English.” So it—it means, first of all, coming to terms and letting—letting learners know that they’re—first of all, that they’re bilingual—bilingual means using two languages. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect in two languages. That’s non-existence. There is no such person. There’s no such person as perfectly uh capable in two languages, absolutely perfect. It doesn’t—that’s non-existent. So we’re talking about developing the kinds of skills that you need in order to do the things you want to do with the language and developing those skills and keeping your own personality. And if you want to sound like your neighbor next door, fine. Uh, you’ll—you’ll find we all do and—and children do this too in deciding how they want to sound. They pick role models and they will sort of imitate the styles and—and they’re always looking around and seeing who they want to be like and usually it’s friends and things. So the language of the peer group is what becomes most important to them because that’s the group that they want to join, be part of, and feel part of that community. OK? So adults I think have to—first of all, our advanced learners need to address this issue, you know, do I want to sound like I’m native? Do I want people to say, “Well, you must be a native speaker.” Or do I want to be myself and use this language. And in the case of English, uh English has become today an international language. It doesn’t belong to the Americans or the British or the New Zealanders or the Australians or the Canadians. It belongs to anybody who wants to use English for international communication across nations, across cultures. And when that—when that is realized, then I think we can sort of let loose of our hold on the language of those of us who happen to have been in a setting where we learned English as young children because it was the language of our parents and in our own homes and understand that there are many—so many people that use English and that maybe we, because we speak American English, we need to learn how to also interact with the Australian speakers of English, with the Hong Kong speakers of English, with the German speakers of English, with the Japanese speakers of English, and I—I think this is crucial actually for um not only for mutual understanding, but for the economic future of the United States that um Americans are going to need to learn to be sensitive to other cultures, to other identities, ways of doing things, and a very real economic sense that um unless we do that, unless we are willing to meet the other half way in terms of—in terms of negotiating meaning with others and not saying, “Well, this is my language and you better use it the way I do or I’m going to not accept you.” If they want to buy something from us, it doesn’t matter how they express themselves. We want to make them feel that we value their opinion and we value the exchange that we have uh of going between us. So that—that recognition of different styles of using English in different context and enabling every learner in different context and enabling every learner to develop style to the fullest potential and—and giving learner then, the more advanced learners, the kind—the opportunities they need to develop specialized vocabulary or specialized style whether their field is medicine, whether it’s mechanics, um whether it’s nursing. Whatever the context of situation in which they’re going to be using the languages um, they—that becomes specialized and then they become their own special style of—of picking things up and we can provide lots of models, but we’re not going to tell them, “You’ve got to say it this way. This is the right way to say it.” There is no right way and wrong. What matters is the negotiation that takes places between the participants. And those are things that as teachers we don’t really know. We have to prepare learners to continue to develop their communicative abilities as they leave school, as they get older, as they move into new neighborhoods, new jobs, new situations, um, the world of the 21st century.
Um, I think—you know, no, I think you—I’m very—this economic issue is one that um—and I could have, I suppose, uh talked a little bit about um international business. Um, we have a problem in the United States because we have many people who are sent abroad and—and they’re to interact with local speakers of English and—and communities that are not familiar to them. And often times they don’t have the preparation that they need to um—to understand—to be sensitive to another culture. Let me—let me get some water to drink. Let me talk about cultural sensitivity just a minute. (interruption) It might be something good for your—your tape. (interruption)
Um, the issue is cultural sensitivity and how you become aware of other ways of being and doing things. And for me, the only way you can do this and—and I’m not the only one who—who feels this way, the only way you can develop that sensitivity is that if you yourself can be um—have the experience of using one other language and having had to adapt to one other culture, um study abroad, study in a different community, or just uh an internship or participation in another culture, is very important. Um, and you can’t—it’s not a quick fix. It’s not something you can do in two weeks. You can’t travel to Italy for three weeks and say, “OK, I know how the Italians are and I can go and, you know, I’m sensitive to other cultures.” No. There has to be—it’s the exercise, so they say, “No pain, no gain.” You have to go some place where you feel that you’re not like everybody else and somehow people are looking at you and you have things you’ve got to learn and you’ve got to negotiate and you encounter some communication problems. And sometimes you get discouraged and feeling kind of lonely and wish that you could just go home and be with, you know, everybody that knows you and that’s the familiar places that uh you like to hang out because it’s easy. It’s easy. OK. Um, and I—I have worked with uh some consultants for international business executives who has—who have told me that that other language and other cultural experience is crucial to the economic future of the United States and that—if that that doesn’t happen, she said that the um—a Venezuelan who’s using English and wants to buy something is going to be more likely to want to interact with a Japanese person speaking English then with the so-called perfect native speaker who makes them feel inadequate or somehow not worthy, or somehow has cultural um—whether it’s gestures or a way of being that is inappropriate or uncomfortable for that participate. So the whole world is going to be using English and so we have to—we want to become part of that world, we need to develop our sensitivity and I—I would like to see more bilingualism in the US from te—true bilingualism, in terms of being able to at least uh express yourself in one other language and having experienced another culture um, so that you—so that you understand. I think—I think you need that experience in order to understand. (interruption)
Yeah, yeah. (interruption) Well, my—my favorite saying is, “Monolingualism can be cured.” (laugh) And bilingualism doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. I mean that’s—that’s not even possible and you don’t have to parallel competence in two languages. But you have to have experienced the frustration of—of integrating another culture and using a language that is other than the one with which you are most familiar. And—and it’s difficult, it’s stressful at times, but it’s also extremely rewarding in—in terms of expanding your horizons and making you uh, uh better world citizen. (interruption) Right.