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Movement & Drama in ELT
- by Juliet du Mont
- 3

It seems clear that far from the existence of a dichotomy between speech and movement, as is sometimes imagined, there are instead, parallels:

Movement Speech
Rhythm Rhythm
Shape/flow of movement Intonation (shape/flow of language)
Phrasing (based on breath) Phrasing (based on breath)
Internalization (automation) of movement/actions

Automation of language chunk

Furthermore, it would seem there is also a parallel between the conditions necessary to achieve fluency of movement and that of speech by way of the need in both cases to suppress the self-censoring action of the conscious brain which otherwise leads to

  • self-consciousness
  • anxiety regarding accuracy of memorized language & speed of recall
  • fear of making a mistake rather than getting the message across

all of which bar access to knowledge which lies at a deeper level.

It is in this context I suggest incorporating movement into learning a language in order to:

  • encourage a learning-receptive state when used as a class warm-up
  • facilitate access to the ‘back’ brain, promoting fluency
  • reinforce learning of language structures, connecting them to implicit movement and body language

In learning a language we all commit to memory a lot more material, more correctly, than we think we do. It is self-consciousness, the fear of making a mistake in public and consequent self-censorship which impedes the ´back´ brain from uninhibitedly producing the knowledge of the target language which it possesses. In a drama-cum-movement learning context the pressure to get the message across not only reveals knowledge which learners have suppressed but prods them into discovering language which they need in order to communicate. Drama situations actively involve the learners and their emotions, putting responsibility for communication squarely on their shoulders, presenting an excellent vehicle for trusting their resources and stimulating risk-taking with language which may be only just beyond their reach.

In the traditional classroom, it was believed that control was maintained by keeping all the action in the hands of the teacher, while the students passively took notes. Pen on paper and the steady dipping and lifting of heads whilst note-taking was the only movement sanctioned. This thinking was based on the following equation: a static classroom situation permits control, which in turn promotes learning. Conversely, movement causes mayhem, which means that little or nothing is learnt. It follows very easily that movement in the classroom was kept to a minimum.

Apart from the perceived practical advantages of the static classroom, another reason for this line of thought may have been the old belief in the separation of mind and body: it was thought learning had to do exclusively with the mind which sat in splendid isolation atop the volatile processes of the physical body below. This already damaging assumption goes a step further in the language classroom owing to the idea held by some, of a speech/movement, i.e. mind/body, dichotomy. But, as Abercrombie [1967, p.24] implies when he says, ´Speech may be said to consist of movements made audible´, the voice is inseparable from the muscles. Furthermore, Barker [1977, p.188, p.26], states ´…no muscle, or group of muscles, can act in isolation. The whole body apparatus is involved…´ and, ´The processes of mind and body are inextricably linked.´

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