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Movement & Drama in ELT
- by Juliet du Mont
- 2

Fluency of speech may be described as the ability to access chunks of language automatically and with ease, to sound ‘natural’, to communicate ideas effectively, all this with continuity, absent from communicative breakdown. Fluency is a top priority for many learners but often tends to remain elusive. The difficulty lies less in a learner’s level of knowledge of the target language than in the fact that fluency involves a skill in ‘performance’: the ability for instant verbal action/reaction. Inherent in this skill is the confidence to trust one’s language knowledge, coupled with a willingness to run risks, because unlike reading and writing, there is no private time just to ponder and figure things out. A lack of skill in performance leaves one a victim of self-consciousness, of anxiety with regard to the accuracy of memorized language and speed of recall, so that even when a speaker supposedly has the language structures and vocabulary at hand, there can be a fluency barrier. So how can drama and movement help?

Drama

  • Drama captures the imagination, emphasizing communication of the ‘message’ rather than the words that carry it
  • The urgency of the message pushes students past the fear barrier so they freely access language they already know. It also pushes them to experiment with structures they are less sure of
  • Performance skill can be acquired by learning language structures in the context of real life situations encountered using movement and drama

Movement

  • You learn with the whole body. The more totally involved the body in an ‘act of learning’, the more likely you are to absorb information
  • The possibility of absorbing linguistic structures, i.e. automating chunks of language, is now trebled, via the activation of three different sense mechanisms
    • oral
    • visual
    • kinaesthetic(muscle memory)

Keeping in mind what is needed to become fluent in a second language: accurate memorization, speed of recall and above all the confidence which must go hand in hand with these skills to reproduce effectively, let us think about something that may seem entirely different - what happens when dancers perform.

Dancers learn long strings of movement to be performed without a break over a period of sometimes more than one hour. They learn by repetition, by tying certain movement phrases to sound and lighting cues, to visual cues from other dancers. Dancing is sometimes a kind of wordless conversation. The odd thing is that the participants rarely´forget what comes next´. And they do not commit the movement to memory in any conscious way, i.e. by making a mental note: ‘I must remember this, then that’. Instead they use ‘muscle memory’ which is the committing to memory and reproduction of movement phrases through physical repetition. The body ‘remembers’ what comes next. As Barker [1977], points out, this implies that the part of the brain which is remembering is the ´back´ unconscious brain, rather than the ´ front´ brain which would involve conscious efforts to remember. If once the conscious brain interrupts the dancing process, then the dancer falters and not only fails to remember what comes next, but certainly loses the movement flow, the rhythm, the dancing itself - in other words, everything that really matters. By substituting a couple of words in the last sentence it can be seen how this could apply equally well to speaking a language: if once the conscious brain interrupts the speaking process, then the speaker falters and not only fails to remember what comes next, but loses the speech flow, the rhythm, speech itself. Just as in the case of the dancer, the language student hesitates, stumbles and in this case, may grind to a halt!

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