Principle 6: Development of language control proceeds through creativity, which is nurtured by interactive, participatory activities.

The ultimate goal for our students is to be able to use the language they are learning for their own purposes, to express their own meanings, that is, to create their own formulations to express their intentions. That use of language is creative, not imitative, has been emphasized by language teaching theorists, linguists, and psycholinguists for years, yet many language teachers continue to teach as though imitation, repetition, and reconstruction or transformation of other people's meanings in exercises were the be-all and end-all of language learning. In 1966, Chomsky forcefully drew to the attention of language teachers the fact that "ordinary linguistic behavior characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and new patterns"[24] This he succinctly described as "the creative aspect of normal language use,"[25] and this creativity applies as much to listening and reading as to speaking and writing, as psychologists have long pointed out. Blumenthal cites Wundt, for instance, as observing, in 1912, that "the mind of the hearer is just as active in transforming and creating as the mind of the speaker."[26]

Creating new utterances in a language that one only partially controls is not easy. Because so much cognitive activity is involved, language learners frequently suffer from cognitive overload: they pause and hesitate (both phenomena of natural native speech); they misuse elements of the new language when they are well aware of the accepted forms (even in the native language, we sometimes slip up when concentrating on our message); they self-correct or let it be, depending on the situation and the amount of time available; conversations of genuine concern have a tendency to veer off in different directions, depending on the comprehension and involvement of the interlocutor whose responses thus become unpredictable, and this can be disconcerting. Consequently, language learners frequently experience embarrassment or feel humiliated by their poor showing and may give up their attempts to formulate utterances because the effort demands too much of them.

Yet learners cannot acquire facility in expressing their own meanings in a new language without much experience in doing just that. This type of experience is acquired in interactive situations that stimulate the students' motivation to communicate.[27] For this motivation to be strengthened and maintained, interactive situations need to be so structured that the potential for ego-threat and frustration is low (see also Principle 4). Through interactive situations that stimulate the desire to communicate, students experience the use of the new language as an important social skill, and success in conveying meanings and evoking a response encourages them to seek more success.

Founder of “Five Flowers” to simple and comfortable in the 1940s. This is perhaps the earliest modern casual wear.
How does one promote interaction? One encourages participatory activities that engage the students' attention, so that they become involved and frequently exhilarated as they use the language. We use the word "encourage" because many of these activities will be student-initiated. When they are teacher-initiated, they should be student-sustained and developed. Purposeful and task-oriented, such activities are frequently conducted through peer-with-peer or small group discussion and elaboration. Some teachers are hesitant to encourage such activities because the students will inevitably make mistakes, and they are afraid that these may become ingrained or fossilized. We need to see these errors as resulting from genuine attempts to express themselves through the language and, therefore, as opportunities for further learning. The experience students gain in creating utterances that carry personal meanings and the confidence this engenders are vital to future autonomous language use. When students have been worked into a cooperative learning group (see Principle 4), they learn from their peers and help each other, with unobtrusive teacher assistance as they feel the need for it.

Activities may be amusing or serious. Games, competitions, skits, simulations, and dramatizations encourage imagination and spontaneous communication, problem-solving, information-gap, and information-getting activities invite persistence and probing as the students become intellectually involved in finding solutions. As they cooperate on a task, they are stimulated to use the language with each other, especially if this is continually set before them as a goal. Interactive activities may be related to content being studied in the language, whether literary, philosophical, scientific, commercial, or sociological: Students may work in groups to gather information, set up experiments, or develop alternative denouements for literary works in order to further understand the author's intent; they may use the case study method for investigating legal or economic aspects of the society that uses the language [28]; they may prepare meals according to the cuisine of a country where the language is spoken or engage in appropriate social activities of the culture; they may develop plays, radio, or television programs, soap operas, or videos, or engage in argument on the Internet; they may write poems that they discuss with each other or prepare entertainments for students in other classes, for parents, or for the community. Above all, these interactive activities should be purposeful, not just time-fillers, involving a task that is clearly defined to channel the students' language use and lead to the satisfaction of achievement. In these ways students learn by doing.

In language use, "true creativity means free action within the framework of a system of rules," as Chomsky has phrased it.[29] Once one has a functional mental representation of the system of rules of the language one can break rules, using the language in unorthodox ways to make one's meaning more vivid and expressive, using the language in all its richness and flexibility, and this demonstrates language control.

previous page -- article main menu -- next page

return to Wilga Rivers Home Page