Do you get this?
- I have some trouble sending things from my old account. I am trying again from a different account.
Yesterday I tried out a rather adulterated, "dialogic" version of
your CI on my single advanced class, the English majors, and I'd like to
know what you think, both of the procedure and the results.
Here's what we did. I gave everybody a comic I had produced from a
bit of anti-drug literature we use in first year middle school here in
Korea. The situation has a young child recovering from a suicide attempt
in hospital (the original had a drug overdose, I changed it in order to
introduce the problem of exam pressue, which is more relevant to my
students at the moment).
A doctor instructs a male nurse that the child's parents are not to
be notified yet. When asked why, the doctor explains that the child has
collapsed due to excessive parental pressure.
This portion of the dialogue is presented in English. The students
read the dialogue aloud, then re-enact it from memory in pairs, just to
Then the next, far more difficult, part was presented; an interview
between the parents and the doctor. Because of the conceptual
difficulty, I presented it entirely in Korean and we read through in
pairs, entirely in Korean.
Well, that was the plan! But when you ask these kids to do something
in L2, they do it in L1, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to
see them picking through the dialogue, which I had asked for in Korean,
in English! When Allwright was here, he noted that
the Brazilian teachers had complained repeatedly of the tendency of
groups to use Portuguese in groupwork. He had once suggested that
teachers make this tendency the object of conversation in groups, allow
the groups to use Portuguese, and see what explanation they came up with
Allwright's Brazilian teachers had said that they tried the experiment
and found that when you tell groups to use L1 instead of L2, they use L2
instead of L1. (Swain and Lapkin also report, in the latest LTR, that
only about 12% of L1 turns are off task).
They were only able to pick through bits of it in English, though.
As you will see, it is not something you can get right away. So after
they had tackled it in Korean, each learner then chose a part, doctor or
mother, and worked out a rough translation of that part only using
notes. They did this without consulting the dialogic partner, referring
only to the text.
I instructed them to be flexible enough so that they could pick up and
respond to nuances and even mistakes in the way their partners
translated the other part. I told them that if a partner makes a mistake
in his/her translation, they were to adapt to the mistake in their
response; the interaction was the end product, not a correct target
I suppose I need to justify this dialogic use of CI, as the
resulting information exchange is not going to be solely about differing
interpretations of the source text and in fact it can develop in very
free-wheeling, unpredictable ways quite distant from the source text. In
your contribution you argue that CI has wider applications than training
translators, and I think you are absolutely right.
In particular, I am supposed to be teaching conversation to these kids.
They are already very good at short turn highly interactive
conversations, and they are also good at writing long speeches and
delivering them. But they are a bit complacent too; perhaps because they
are the only English major group and they are virtually guaranteed good
jobs as English specialists. As a result, they have become simplistic,
often sub-grammatical, in informal conversation, and non-interactive and
speechifying in formal debates. It is a matter of too much improvisation
on the one hand, and too much planning on the other.
So I have been waging a campaign in which I try to make their
conversations more like speeches and their speeches more like
conversations, and latterly even twitting them with yawing precipitously
from Gush to Bore. (As an occupied country, we are in thrall to the
American elections here.)
Here is a rough translation of the Korean source text, partly my own
and partly my students, just to give you a sense of the level of
MOTHER: My life has been sacrificed to hers. It was always my dream that
she have a good education, that she pursue ennobling hobbies, and that
she meet and marry a well-bred man.
DOCTOR: What does Jin-hee mean to you, as a mother?
M: Why, she is like my second self. She is my only child, you know.
D: Has it occurred to you that you are possessing her?
M: Possessing? What do you mean by possession?
D: Madam, you and I are of the older generation. We grew up forced to
obey and submit, and knew nothing else. We had no lives of our own, and
could only act as part of a machine. But without creative development of
individual talents, there can be no progress of society. The new
generation seems selfish to us; but their selfishness is part of a
larger transition for our whole nation. Yes, the younger generation
appears to our eyes to be wandering into evil. Yet these wanderings are
necessary evils. We soon find that if we attempt to restrain them from
wandering, they will fall into more exteme ways.
D: What's wrong?
M: Nothing, Doctor. It's just that...my childhood suddenly comes back to
me. In fact, as a child I had many aspirations. I longed to study, to
play music and apply myself in the fine arts. But my parents opposed
these selfish desires. They said that as a woman my duty was to
housekeeping and to my in-laws. I see that with my regrets I have
tortured not only myself, but also my own daughter almost to death.
D: Please don't blame yourself, madam. Your daughter is alive and still
young. Together we must help her. Let's open a new path for her.
(This is preparation for their mid-term examination next week, which
will focus on the use of "performance evaluation" instead of
As I predicted, the long turns were too much for the students, and we
had to break them down into very very short turns. I did this by asking
them to use clarification questions, rather like this:
M: My life has been sacrificed to hers.
D: What do you mean by sacrificed?
M: I had many dreams for her.
D: What do you mean by that?
M: I dreamed that she would get a good education.
D: How do you mean, a "good" education?
M: I wanted her to go to a good university, and meet a good husband...
This looks rather like a drill, but it resulted in very interactive
exchanges, which nevertheless tended in the direction of the big idea
explored by the text and did not simply descend into lexicalization and
communication strategy (as I had feared). This was not exactly the "long
but interactive turn" goal I had set for the class; it was something
more like co-construction of a long turn.
Naturally, breaking the conversation down like this made it even
more likely that they would branch off in unexpected directions and the
repeated breaks in turn. In particular, the conversation immediately
veered in the direction of Jin-hee's father, who all the kids agreed was
probably the greatest, unspoken, disappointment of the mother's life. We
noted his conspicuous absence in her speech, even in the phrase "duty to
housekeeping and to in-laws".
In whole class, we talked a little bit about what the
phrase "well-bred husband" might mean. At first the students assumed
that it meant wealthy, but this rather contradicted their assumption
that Jin-hee's father, clearly a man of means, was a disappointment to
Jin-hee's mother. Some of the students then argued that the real
disappointment was unspoken; it was that the father was not physically
attractive. (I have noted elsewhere the obsession of my young students
with good looks....)
Clearly there is a lot more going on here than translation. Now,
partly it is because of a phenomenon similar to the serendipitous choice
that Scott made in his Barcelona singer dictogloss; my students are
almost all formed under intense pressure, often from parents whom war
and dictatorship robbed of youth.
But I think there is a dogme point here too. By using L1, it is
possible to set up target meanings of far greater cognitive complexity
than the superficial, purely instrumental exchanges in L2 only which are
set in most monolingual global coursebooks. The global coursebooks are
hamstrung by their inability to get into the learner's L1 skin. The user
of CI is able to set new heights for nuance and subtlety by starting
from a point far nearer the learner.
Oh, the poetry exercise I talked about last time yielded some
interesting results too. I set the original Korean poem for homework.
Many came up with this:
What do you live on?
A person who/he who/you who/they who live by the sea eat fish/catch fish
We decided that the generality of the sentence was difficult to realize
(Korean is a pro-drop language, while English is not), but that whatever
subject was used had to be consistent. Then the learners had to create
lines for "the classroom". Here are some of what they came up with:
The person who live in the classroom must eat knowledge to live.
The people who live in the classroom must love children.
Those who live in the classroom must eat agenda.
Interestingly, these can be divided into "student" lines and "teacher
lines". Do not be misled by the last one, however. I use an "agenda"
instead of a lesson plan, which I distribute for negotiation before
every class. I think the learners correctly see this exercise as
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