Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Four types of language interactor, part two

Following on from the last entry, this one looks at what we can expect and what we can do with our different types, and also what they bring to the table, learning-wise and how (or to what degree) they interact with the language.

The Tourist
From a teaching perspective, the tourist is not the most promising of pupils. They are unlikely to engage with the language to any great depth, nor attain a very high level of fluency. They may use only a few set phrases - indeed, they may actually be happy to achieve only this. This type of learner is likely to be encountered in informal learning situations, e.g. a tourist in the real sense of the word, or, dare I say, an EFL teacher on their first overseas posting, but also in more formal class environments, especially in primary and secondary education, where the focus is  on the language as a study subject.
The Tourist generally has little real motivation to learn a language - it has minimal 'value' as a medium of communication.
You might think that the Tourist brings nothing to and takes nothing from the language, but in fact this isn't the case. When you look at the number of loan words in English, for example, you have a demonstration of the Language Tourist in action.
In terms of engaging this kind of learner into a deeper understanding of the language, it's a difficult one. One way forward could be by making them notice the use of common vocabulary between the their L1 and the target L2. It may also be beneficial to point out the advantage being able to 'actively' use another language is. Ultimately, however, it really does boil down to the individual learner and their perceived need of the L2.

The Commuter
The Commuter type of language interactor is perhaps the one type of learner we are most likely to encounter in our classes - typically, they are motivated to learn the language, and will have a relatively low affective filter. They approach language, as it were, from a professional perspective - that is, they go into the language for specific purposes: getting an exam, entry to university, for work purposes etc. While this kind of learner is , from the teacher's perspective, ideal, the issue may be that they are technically very competent, but may not actually be that productive, except within their own range/width of knowledge. It is in this way that they resemble commuters: perfectly able to reach goals within the Language City, but a bit lost when outside their comfort zones.
In some ways, we need to encourage this kind of learner to be a little bit like a tourist  - that is, get off the beaten track of their own interests and explore a bit - but also they should be encouraged to believe that they can achieve mastery of the language - that is, they are able to become a citizen or denizen.

The Citizen -
Now, you might think that you won't get many Citizen-type language interactors in your class, and this could well be true if you're overseas in a monolingual group. However, when you're teaching in a so-called Native English Speaking country, you are far more likely to encounter this kind of learner. I deal with Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Ghanaian, Kenyan, Tanzanian and Singaporean students, to name a few and they all speak a variety of English already. Well, that should be easy then, shouldn't it?
Wrong. In fact the Citizen can be one of the hardest to teach. After all, they already speak English - what we are doing is teaching a different variety, with different conventions. What we can end up doing, if we are not careful, is make them feel as if their own variety of English is inferior, which of course is a massively demotivating thing. The Citizen has, as it were, their own map of the Language City, and know their own district inside out; When they come into the classroom, we are effectively giving them a new map of a new district, strangely familiar to the one they know, but soon disorienting, and this in turn can lead to disillusionment. For this kind of learner, we need to use their native knowledge of the language to help facilitate learning in others, and also carefully target the kind of language knowledge, whether in systems or skills, that they need, without devaluing their own language variety.

The Denizen
If you have ever taught ESOL/ESL, you will more than likely taught The Denizen - someone who needs to be in the Language City because of personal circumstances, and is required to engage with the language whetehr they like it or not. This group of language interactors can be problematic, as the range of motivation can be enormous. Some Denizens are highly motivated, and in fact are closer to being Citizens; Others are lost, confused and angry, and resent the language entirely. Some Denizens are fluent and efficient communicators; some retreat in acculturation and reach a level of language knowledge that is sufficient (but only just) for them. Denizens, unlike Commuters, may lack learning skills and strategies, or not be able to analyse language in the same way.
However, Denizens are perhaps the great bringers of variety into language. They introduce new expressions and phrases, or retool language into new and interesting forms. Over time, they become citizens in their own right, creating a new district in the Language City, as it were. From the classroom perspective, the more realistic the situations used - that is, real-life issues that the learner is likley to encounter, such as using Council facilities, or applying for a job - the more likely that their motivation will be kept high. Encouraging the confidence to tackle seemingly insurmountable situations is the way to drive this kind of learner towards fluency and, crucially, belief that they 'belong' within the language.

Well, this one way to look at how language users can interact with a language. It has the advantage of being a very flexible, dynamic model, as it should be clear that people's interactions over time can change: tourists can become commuters; commuters, denizens or citizens; denizens can create their own 'district' (=variety) of the language over time, and become citizens in their own right, and citizens can become denizens in another variety of the language, and so on. Give it a try with your own classes - which of your students would you say are Tourists, Commuters, Denizens or Citizens?

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