PRINCIPLES OF INTERACTIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING , WILGA M. RIVERS
Principle 3: Language learning and teaching are based on normal uses of language, with communication of meanings (in oral or written form ) basic to all strategies and techniques
To learn a language naturally, one needs much practice in using the language for the normal purposes language serves in everyday life. This is in contradistinction to the artificial types of drills and practice exercises to which many learners are still subjected. Manipulation of structural patterns in some presumed logical order in a sequence that is semantically incoherent does not prepare the learner for normal uses of language. Language practice should already be as close to real communication as practicable. Even practice exercises should be designed to elicit an exchange of new information of interest to the participants. In 1904 Jespersen, the Danish linguist, observed that language textbooks often give the impression that Frenchmen" (substitute Americans, Germans, Russians, Hispanics) "must be strictly systematical beings, who one day speak merely in futures, another day in [past tenses], and who say the most disconnected things only for the sake of being able to use all the persons in the tense which for the time being happens to be the subject for conversation, while they carefully postpone the use of the subjunctive until next year." Little seems to have changed in a hundred years.
It is useful to reflect on the ways we use language in normal interaction. Sometimes the use is phatic or ritualistic, as in conventional greetings and rejoinders and in ceremonial discourse. Beyond this, we use language to give and get new information; to explain, discuss, and describe; to persuade, dissuade, promise, or refuse; to entertain or to calm the troubled waters of social contact; to reveal or hide our feelings and attitudes; to direct others in their undertakings; we use language for learning, teaching,. problem-solving, or creating with words, and these are only some of its uses. Facility in conveying meanings in purposeful acts, appropriately tailored to the cultural context, is the true end of language learning, and use of language must reflect this end from the earliest stages.
Language in natural interaction requires more than correctly manipulated structures and lexicon, uttered with comprehensible sounds and intonation. It requires also conformity to the accepted forms of natural discourse within its associated culture: students need to know how to open and close conversational interludes; how to negotiate meaning; how to assert conversational control, fill pauses, interrupt or not interrupt, and navigate within the exchange so that the conversation is channeled in a direction of interest to the interlocutor. It also requires appropriateness of language use for particular situations and relationships. Even gestures of our own culture can betray us. All of these features of natural interaction are related to the wider expectations within the culture (see Principle 9).
There are many problems for teachers to solve if this principle is to be respected. How, for instance, does one promote normal conversational interaction in large classes, particularly among students whose cultural upbringing inhibits them from expressing their opinions freely in the presence of respected authority figures or persons of the other sex? Some students in any culture are open and outgoing, even chatterboxes, while others are taciturn or shy. In some cultures students have learned not to waste words on comments that do not add substantially to the discussion and find it hard to natter on about trivialities.. This leads us to Principle 4.
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