This article was posted to continue my previous posting. It was about Language and Communication. This article is about Language as self-expression.
The functional perspective on language discussed in the last section emphasizes the role of language as a means of achieving pragmatic goals, e.g. reading specialized material in the target language, performing professional or academic tasks, settling in to another country, and so on. Language is not, however, used for only this purpose. It is also the medium by which we build up personal relationships, express our emotions and aspirations, and explore our interests. In other words, language is not simply a tool for achieving specific transactional goals, it is also a means of self-expression.
A functional perspective on language portrays the learner primarily as a social actor and language as a form of social action, which is certainly a valid perspective. Language learners are also, however, individuals in the personal and affective sense of the term, which means that language is also a means of personal and affective expression.
This casts a different light on language and also, on the nature and goals of language teaching. A view of language as a linguistic system says that the goal of language teaching is to help students learn this system. A functional view of language says that the goals of language teaching are defined by what the learner has to do in the language. When language is viewed as self-expression, learning goals are defined by what the learner wishes to express, and this means that each learner has his or her own unique and personal learning agenda. As a consequence, this perspective on language sets objectives which are internal to learners as individuals and relates to the concerns and aspirations of learners as thinking and affective beings. Language in this framework of ideas is a means of personal expression and a tool for personal fulfilment. Self-expression is a fundamental component of language use and the “opening up” of a course to at least some degree of self-expression can help learners find a sense of personal meaningfulness in their language study. Or, to express this negatively, the absence of any scope for self-expression can make students perceive a course as being something “out there” and indifferent to them and to their individual concerns, and thus make it difficult for them to relate to it in a personally meaningful manner.
Moon (2000) summarises some of the important abilities which our pupils are able to make use of in learning a foreign language and which indicate the active nature of their learning: using language creatively, going for meaning, using “chunks” of language, having fun, joining in the action, talking their heads off, feeling at home. Children will only be able to make use of these abilities if we create the right kind of learning environment in which they can draw on them.
This means we need to consider how to:
- Create a real need and desire to use English.
- Provide sufficient time for English.
- Provide exposure to varied and meaningful input with a focus on communication.
- Provide opportunities for children to experiment with their new language.
- Provide plenty of opportunities to practise and use the language in different contexts.
- Create a friendly atmosphere in which children can take risks and enjoy their learning.
- Provide feedback on learning.
- Help children notice the underlying pattern in language.