Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.
Purpose of Learning a Language
Do you know what words you said first when you were a child? Do your parents tell you what type of phrases you would come up with as a toddler? This natural process of learning to talk as a child is similar to the process you see in your language learners. First, they can only say words or phrases. Then they move on to being able to talk in sentences and have conversations, which brings up the communicative essence of language. This means the ultimate goal of learning a language is to have the tool we use in daily life to relate to others. For this reason, you want to develop your students' communicative skills. These are the set of abilities that allow people to use language to respond appropriately in a wide range of situations. Let's see how you can guide your students through three levels of language that are word, sentence, and discourse.
Particularly if you have students who are at the beginning level, you will notice that, sometimes, they tend to use single words to try to communicate an idea. Sometimes, your students who are at higher proficiency levels do not have the vocabulary they need to speak about a specific topic. This means that your students need to work on their word level. This is the most basic tool that language learners acquire. To illustrate, let's meet Fatima, a student from Kuwait. Fatima is a beginner, and this means that sometimes she uses those words she knows (e.g. 'need eraser'). Also, when Fatima gets ready to write a composition about her daily routine, she realizes she does not know some words she needs (such as an alarm clock or a toothbrush). To improve this, Fatima's teacher often designs lessons with the objective of expanding students' vocabulary for a range of topics. However, Fatima's teacher is careful to expand the vocabulary that is appropriate to her students' grade level.
Just like a child begins to form sentences by imitation, language learners begin to form sentences once they have the appropriate components from their teacher. This is the sentence level of language, which is the stage in which a person can form a complete sentence to convey an idea. For instance, Fatima learns from her teacher about the personal pronouns, verb tenses, and predicates that make a complete sentence. Now, Fatima can say things like 'I need an eraser.' and, progressively, Fatima can even form compound sentences such as 'I use an alarm clock because I have difficulty waking up on my own.' Your language learners need guidance in order to form sentences and, to guide them to this level, you can give them activities and tasks that require them to form sentences to participate.
Let's imagine what would happen if we only teach our language learners about grammar, sentence structure, or spelling of words. The minute they go out in the real world, they might not be able to communicate effectively with others. For this reason, it is very important that language learning teachers focus on developing the discourse level. This is the stage of language that people use to deliver a whole range of ideas in an organized manner, whether the choice is writing or speaking.
For example, Fatima's teacher helps her develop her discourse level in speaking while assigning oral presentations about topics Fatima knows. Today, Fatima presents 'Why Ramadan is important for Muslims'. Fatima uses appropriate grammar and vocabulary as she speaks, and she has no trouble answering the questions her peers ask.
Similarly, there is nothing like practice to develop the discourse level in the area of writing. Now that Fatima has the right vocabulary as well as the ability to form sentences, she writes a great composition about her daily routine.
Many linguists and educators use authentic discourse (written and spoken) to develop their students' discourse levels. Authentic discourse is the text or speech that native speakers deliver in order to communicate ideas. Examples of authentic discourse include a news report, an interview, a speech. Examples of authentically written discourse include things such as a magazine or newspaper article, a book chapter, or an advertisement.
As you teach language, you want to develop communicative skills in your students. They are the abilities that allow people to use language to respond appropriately in a wide range of situations. Your students can acquire effective communicative skills if they through three levels of language that are the word level (the most basic stage of language that includes loose vocabulary to communicate ideas), the sentence level (the state in which people can form complete sentences to communicate with others), and the discourse level, in which the communicator uses an elaborate product in writing or speaking to convey ideas.
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