Appreciating Different Language Forms in the Classroom

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will talk about how teachers can help students appreciate varying forms of language and help students learn how to appropriately select and use different forms of language based on the communicator's purpose, audience, and context.

Navigating Neil

Neil is a teacher who is widely known as being personable and relatable. He gets along well with students, parents, teachers and administrators. He has a satisfying personal life and is popular socially, especially among his beatnik friends at the cafe. Neil navigates vastly different worlds and is skilled in communicating so that he is able to interact with diverse populations, making everyone feel appreciated and understood when he interacts with them.

Code Switching

Neil may be especially charming and smooth, but it's more likely that he has strong code switching skills. Code switching is a communication strategy that involves mindfully adapting one's language to a social context, to meet the needs of a situation or to promote connection within a group. This is not being socially insincere, disingenuous or inauthentic and it is usually not even a conscious process. This communication strategy recognizes that how we talk to each other can change based on the specific purpose, audience or context.

We talk differently to different people and students can learn to maximize the impact of their conversations
image of several conversations

For example, Neil does not talk to his romantic partner in the same tone or diction as he uses when talking to his grandparents. Similarly, if teachers talked to administrators and peers the way they talk to students, it might sound condescending. Talking with parents as though they are friends might be perceived as an unprofessional lack of boundaries. If students can learn these code switching communication skills, they can better navigate diverse groups to facilitate goal achievement.

To understand how to communicate more effectively, it helps to know about two forms of linguistics and the contexts in which one perspective may be preferred within a given context or situation, depending on the audience for the communication and the purpose or goal one hopes to achieve.

Prescriptive Linguistics

Prescriptive linguistics is frequently emphasized in language acquisition and grammar. In prescriptive linguistics, the focus is on proper use of language, recognizing rules of usage, punctuation, spelling, email etiquette and enunciated speech. A prescriptivist obeys all the rules so this is helpful when communicating with those who have greater power, like supervisors or administrators, or when trying to impress someone.

This kind of communicating with enforced rules has an inherent power dynamic The rules are established by those in a particular socioeconomic and cultural status and do not account for colloquialisms based on regional, racial or class differences. Additionally, correcting someone's grammar can be perceived as arrogant. Neil is aware of this divisive power dynamic and avoids it unless a class lesson specifically involves grammar instruction.

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