In class, have you ever:
- changed the tone/inflection of your voice to indicate that the L2 word you’re using is a question word?
- made the tone of your voice sound angry in order to help students know that your L2 phrase meant you were displeased with something?
- added urgency to your voice to communicate that you wanted students to hurry in order to finish an activity?
I’m sure you have. We’re always using inflection or changing the sound of our voice to help us communicate what we mean. (See an interesting post about this on a public speaking website.)
So how does this apply to staying in the target language with your students?
Although I’m not sure about this (and I DO need help thinking this through…AND I would really like it if you could pass on the titles of previously published work on this topic)…
…it seems like another way teachers can help students make sense of incomprehensible L2 words and phrases is by using an extralinguistic form of input that (for now) I’ll call *inflectional input.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point:
I love eating something yummy in front of my students.
- It makes them drool and I love to tease them!
- Since my food is yummy and attractive to them, everyone in class is watching. It helps me get their attention.
- Even though they don’t consciously process the thought, everyone in the room knows that everyone wants my food and wishes THEY could be eating it too.
- If I suggest to the class that I’m willing to share, there’s an immediate and high level of motivation for them to use the target language in order to express their desire to have some. (i.e. I hold the food item out in front of them and say (in the target language), “Do you want some?” Then they all dramatically shake their heads, “YES!!!” Then I say, “Repeat: ‘I want some!’ Repeat: ‘Can I have some?’ Repeat: ‘Please, Sr. Howard'” Etc. It’s fun.
How do the students know that I’m willing to share my yummy food?
- I gesture. I hold the food out in front of them and maybe point to it. I might also raise my eyebrows. The term I’m currently using to describe all of this is *gesticulated input; using gestures to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2 words and phrases.
- I draw upon what I know everyone is currently thinking about. (i.e. “I want some of that yummy food.”) Since I made them think that thought (by bringing out the food and eating it in front of them) we could say that I was using *constructed situational input.
- I say an L2 word/phrase with the RIGHT INFLECTION. I DON’T say, “Do you want some?” in an angry tone. I DON’T say, “Do you want some?” in an urgent tone. I say, “Do you want some?” (in the target language) with a tone that expresses my willingness to offer/share. (Note: if I did use an angry tone or an urgent tone, the students would be CONFUSED. They would ask themselves, “Why is he holding out food but then saying angry L2 words? This makes no sense!” However, when I use the appropriate tone, it helps the students find meaning or confirm the meaning that they’ve found in the other extralinguistic forms of input. For this reason, I think it’s appropriate to include *inflectional input in the list of various forms of extralinguistic input that a teacher can use to help help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2.
*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice. The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.
Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!