RE: Thinking in a foreign language

From: Elina Lampert-Shepel (
Date: Mon May 05 2003 - 20:10:32 PDT

Dear Phil, I'm very interested in the curriculum you mentioned. Here are some ideas you triggered...
Phil Chappell <> wrote:
This topic is becoming more and more interesting by the minute. Elina, the curriculum that you partially describe sounds very much like an approach to teaching EFL that I am working with and doing some exploratory research on. It is based on a genre approach to literacy development that has evolved in Australian schools. I am interested in how it can be used to develop oracy. It views such factors as the interlocutors' relationships, roles and purposes, as well as the institutional, social and cultural values and expectations that influence the emergence of particular genres as the points of departure for planning and executing activities such as role plays. I found it quite important to question the approaches to teaching literacy vs. oracy through speech genres. As we know, Bahtin argued that there was a difference between primary and secondary speech genres (simple and complex): secondary speech genres (i.e. novels, dramas, all kinds of scientific research, commentary) "a!
 rise in a more complex and comparatively highly developed and organized cultural communication (primarily written) that is artistic, scientific, sociopolitical and so on. During the process of their formation they absorb and digest various primary (simple) genres that have taken form in unmediated speech communication. These primary genres are altered and assume a special character when they enter into complex ones. They lose their immediate relation to actual reality and to the real utterances of others". The question is whether we create the dialogic situation where both genres are present and analyzed, or teach them as separate and disconnected.
Your comment made me go back to some Bahtinian premises we considered important when developing the EFL curriculum for Russian children:

   language is learned through contextualized social interaction ( See Voloshinov)
   any language, as it is lived, socially, over a variety of social, professional, class and so forth positions, is really an interacting and at times contesting amalgam of different language uses. Hence every language instance is marked by centrifugal (heteroglossic, socially distinguishing) as well as centripetal (monoglossic, societally unifying) forces. So this is one type of a dialogical space, which should be present in the classroom, when children are involved in the expreience of the interplay of centrifugal and centripetal forces.
   "Only polyglossia fully frees consciousness from the tyranny of its own language and its own myth of language."

Just today, as I was reading Leontiev (A.N.) on activity theory (a plug for the xmca course ;-), I found an interesting intersection between "goal directed processes or actions in activity" as described by Leontiev, and a broadly held view (in Australia) of genres as "staged, goal directed, purposeful activity" that results in text (spoken or written). Russian group of educators, who called themselves "Dialog of cultures" ( Vladimir Bibler, Sergey Kurganov, Igor Solomadin, etc.) , who developed original approach to development of dialogical consciousness, were questioning the traditional forms of Leontiev's concept of goal-oriented activity. I believe that there should be further discussion of the notion of Bakhtinian speech activity with its post-structural stance and goal directed classical version of Leontiev's activity. It seems to me the accents are different, therefore the webs of meanings too.
I am finding that these more holistic focuses develop a diverse range of motives during role plays on the learners' parts. Some focus on the role relationships, others on the rhetorical staging of the encounter, and others on problematic language (grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation) that is impeding the success of their role play. I haven't directly investigated the role of inner speech, but it is interesting to see in some transcripts the role of L1 (Thai) as almost an exasperated outburst during a problematic stage of the role play. It is also interesting to see how "peer scaffolding" in L1, in what I would say is one of the interlocutor's zone of proximal development, helps the learner manage the role play to unfold more meaningfully. These instances are with adult learners. I wonder how this would differ with young learners, particularly with respect to their level of conceptual development vis-a-vis everyday concepts and scientific/schooled concepts? Oh, well...It was!
  interesting that for young children language became the mediator of learning the social role and not vice versa as with the adults. And it was a very powerful turpsy-turvy magic transformation...One child told his parents that he needed to learn the difference of magic in English fairy tale vs. Russian one to become and English "magic-maker"...:-) School learned concepts in my situation were pseudoconcepts or in their best empirical generalizations, so children did not relate to them at all. But I see the posibilities here.


I have on my table a violin string. It is free. I twist one end of
it and it responds. It is free. But it is not free to do what a
violin string is supposed to do - to produce music. So I take it,
fix it in my violin and tighten it until it is taut. Only then it
is free to be a violin string.
               Sir Rabindranath Tagore.

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