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Psychological Emphases in Communicative Language Teaching

One of the common factors in the ‘P’ approaches is the reaction that we find here against the mechanical elements in traditional methods. In contrast to the low entertainment value of, for example, the audio-lingual method, the element of play, when introduced into the classroom through the employment of drama techniques, almost automatically raises the interest value of the teaching. At the same time, play and drama techniques lower the affective barriers that prevent the learning of a strange language: anxiety, tension and conflict in the classroom are recognized as being detrimental to the performance of students. In psychological terms, such factors prevent learners from allowing their “performing selves” to outbid their “critical selves” (Stevick 1980: 11). Stevick contends in this regard that several psychological reasons for the resulting lack of performance in learners are ably predicted by a ‘humanistic’ or existentialist psychology.

Drama techniques usually include games and activities in which language plays a crucial part. In the case of language activities (cf. Rinvolucri 1982, Frank and Rinvolucri 1983 , Moskowitz 1978) the emphasis is often not only on creating greater self-awareness on the part of the learner, but also on the grammatical structures that have to be learned. The following dialogue (adapted from Weideman 1985: 11) illustrates an adaptation of the kind of exercise suggested by Rinvolucri (1982: 53f.):

Who are you?

Senior: Who are you?

Junior: I’m Elizabeth.

Senior: Who are you, silly?

Junior: I’m Elizabeth Cronje.

Senior: But who are you?

Junior: I’m a law student.

Senior: Come on now, tell me who you really are.

Junior: I’m from Balfour.

Senior: But who are you now?

Junior: I’m a resident of Roosmaryn.

Senior: But who are you really?

Junior: I’m me!

Students are asked to take turns in playing the role of senior and junior while attempting to find different answers to the variations of the single, repeated question. The one playing the role of the junior must try to hold out for as many turns as possible (six are just about the limit!) before finally yielding. On the final answer (“I’m me/a human being!”) the activity stops. We have an example here, in other words, of an activity that is concerned with self-knowledge as well as with knowledge of language structure; the focus, moreover, is not in the first instance on language, but on the whole human being.

The same is true of games )hat are used in communicative language teaching today. There are many interesting ideas for games to be found in books such as

Maley and Duff (1978) and Wright et al. (1979), two popular resources that became available at the outset of this interpretation of the approach. In a game such as ‘Alibis’, for example, the grammatical forms of the simple past and past continuous tenses are practised in a context that is non-threatening and apparently uncontrived: learners work in pairs, deciding first (without writing anything down) on a series of imaginary events in which both of them were supposedly involved during the previous week, so that each has an alibi. One member of one of the pairs is then sent outside while the others in the class have the opportunity of interrogating the remaining member. When this has been done, the other is invited back and also questioned, until the alibi is eventually cracked. Games like these are often utilised to practice a point of grammar; ‘Alibis’, for example, provides for ample practice of the past continuous and simple past tenses. Games can be much simpler, even, if they are to be used for practising grammar, in a way that nonetheless makes use of an information gap , and, hence, makes the language unpredictable. For example, using a pack of cards, and turning the cards over one or more cards at a time, the teacher may ask, and expect the following answers, that all give learners practice in that function of the present continuous tense that is used to indicate future time in English (Weideman 2002: 50):

Teacher: What is the next card going to be?

Learner(s): It’s going to be a diamond.

Teacher: It’s not. It’s a spade. What is the next card going to be?

Learner(s): It’s going to be a heart.

Teacher: That’s right. What are the next two cards going to be?

Learner(s): They’re going to be a club and a spade.

Teacher: They’re not. They’re a club and a diamond.

The same exercise could be used to practice singulars and plurals, or the simple present tense.

Most of the games available today are in fact helpful in teaching grammatical forms in new ways, and are powerful instruments of persuasion for those teachers who have doubts about communicative teaching because it supposedly does not teach grammatical structure. Of course, the structures used in such games are not entirely predictable, as in traditional and audio-lingual teaching, and if one is concerned with advanced students who need to be prepared for coping with a second language in contexts where a high level of skill in the second language is required, this is a desirable characteristic.

In my own teaching to advanced level students at a tertiary institution, I have found the various versions of co-operative board games made by Jim Deacove’s Family Pastimes extremely helpful in practising the various functions of persuasion, judgement, argument (cf. Wilkins 1976: 44ff.) and negotiation. All of the language forms that are practised here are in fact necessary for a second or foreign language speaker to function well in a professional environment, where problems must be solved jointly to arrive at a successful completion of a task. Into the same category falls a structured discussion, in which the design of the task maximizes learner talk, as does the use of ice breakers and Total Physical Response (TPR) exercises (Weideman 2002: 50-53).

TPR can also be put to good use for beginners. The following example is from a course for second language beginners, called Starting English (Rousseau and Weideman 1996: 15). The activity begins where the teacher asks the young learners to sit down in a circle:

Come here and sit next to me, behind me, in front of me

... Ask your pupils to “sit down”, and gesture for everyone to sit down. Call one of the

pupils: “Stephen, come here and sit next to me.” At the same time, use gestures to help him

understand. Then call on other pupils, and give different instructions. These could be:

Come here and stand (sit) in front of me.

Come here and stand (sit) behind me.

Go there and stand in front of Max.

Go there and stand next to your friend (chair).

Like all other communicative activities, it is based on an information gap (the learners neither know who the teacher is going to call, nor what exactly the instruction will be). But it evidently belongs to the ‘P’ interpretation of communicative l anguage teaching because it is designed to be non-threatening. Learners are not under pressure to perform verbally (and so make mistakes in producing the strange language). Similarly, jazz chants (Graham 1978; 1986), stories, rhymes and songs may be used. Here is a jazz chant, from taken from Graham’s Small talk (1986: 63) that helps learners deal with telling the time, and in an interactive, dialogue format. In order to echo the structure of the dialogue, the teacher divides the class into two groups of learners, with the one group chanting the questions, the other chanting the answers:

Is the post office open tomorrow?

Is the post office open tomorrow?

It’s open from nine to five.

Is the post office open tomorrow?

It’s open from nine to five.

What time does it open?

It opens at nine.

What time does it close?

It closes at five.

It opens at nine and closes at five.

It opens from nine to five.

Are the shops open tomorrow?

They’re open from nine to five.

Are the shops open tomorrow?

They’re open from nine to five.

When do they open?

They open at nine.

When do they close?

They close at five.

Are the shops open tomorrow?

They open at nine.

They close at five.

They’re open from nine to five.

All the techniques and materials described here are, however, merely the surface realizations of a more fundamental undercurrent constituting choices regarding the relationship between applied linguistics and language teaching. This current is represented not only by techniques that can be successfully employed in mass-learning settings, such as play and drama techniques, but also by those trends that constitute what has become known as ‘humanistic’ teaching, to a discussion of which we now turn.

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