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Learning to Use Language and Issues of Profound Importance to Teachers

In: English and Literature

Submitted By aydenp1231
Words 1424
Pages 6
Topic: “Language defined: Learning to use language and issues of profound importance to teachers”

Language, roughly, can be defined as communicating with others. Language is more than speech and writing, it is the making and sharing of meaning with ourselves and others (Emmitt and Pollock, 1997, p.19). For that meaning to be shared the language signs and symbols are selected and used according to rules. These rules have been developed and agreed upon by the language users and must be learned by new language users (Emmitt and Pollock, 1997, p.11). The rules of language come from our every day lives, and from the environment in which we live. I will attempt to explain further how I learned language using examples of primary discourse, secondary discourse and literacy. Our first contact with language is our primary discourse. Of the three theories of how language is learned according to Lightbown & Spada

(1993, pp.23-30), I would like to consider the third, which is the interactionist theory. Interactionist theory states that language develops as a result of the environment in which children live and their interactions with others. For example I was one of five children brought up in a small country town in a Catholic family. My father was a wharfie and my mother a house wife - she never ever went out to work. Much of my childhood was spent with cousins on their farm, or at home with my brother and sisters. We had very few books in our house and no television. We played in the paddocks, climbed trees, swung on rope swings, played in the creek, caught tadpoles in the swamp, played cops and robbers, and cowboys and Indians. I did not go to playgroup nor did I go to pre-school. Mum decided I did not need them because I had enough to keep me occupied. So most of my early language learning was done with close family. Mum had the power of control over what I learnt up until school age, because she was the one who chose my companions. By choosing my playmates until I went to school, mum controlled my language acquisition. This pre-school acquisition of language will be basic to my primary discourse as a teacher. I would like to consider one aspect of this primary discourse which is, because of my Catholic background, how will I relate to particular children? For example I was taught to be humble, you do not 'big note yourself', you do not brag about your achievements. If you are good at something let other people find out, you do not need to tell them. I have to acknowledge as a teacher that not all the students I will teach will be Catholic, some children will have been encouraged to be positive about their achievements. It is important to recognise that children come to school with ideas, experiences and expectations that are different to mine. For instance there will be children that will have had the opportunity to travel, experience different cultures, and to interact with a variety of language users (Allen, 1998, p.8).

Secondary discourse is what has been added to a primary discourse. The older I get the more layered my discourse becomes. I add to my discourse by walking, talking, 'thinking, feeling, valuing, acting, interacting, dressing, gesturing, moving; and being - places, activities, institutions, objects, tools, language and other symbols' (Gee, 1997, p.2). Discourses are not taught, they are acquired (Gee. 1990, p.21). I did not learn a student discourse or a sporting discourse, I acquired them by being a student and by being involved in sports. I added to my primary discourse when I commenced school in a Catholic primary school in a small country town in Victoria. I had to learn that there was a time and a place for everything: school was the place to wear a uniform and stay clean. We were expected to be more lady like, which meant being quiet and not as boisterous or free. Then I moved to the city where I rarely got to run free even after school. There were no more trees to climb: no more playing in the dirt: no more leaches and tadpoles in the creeks and swamps. Secondary school was not as strict. I went to a public high school and found more power to choose my friends. My after school activities were focused on sport and my friends were like-minded. Consequently I wore "sports" clothes - loose fitting clothes, like tracksuits, that allowed freedom of movement. I realise that I am who I am because of where I have been and who I have interacted with. As a teacher I will need to understand that even though my students are all in the same room they all arrived there in different ways. Thus their discourses will be various. As a teacher it will be imperative for me to take time to obtain background information on my students. As Norton (1980, p.61) suggests, I will have to ask myself: "What language competencies do the children already possess? What language skills must be emphasized to improve oral communication? What are the

children's interests? Can these interests be used to motivate language?" Which children have been exposed to books at home will be vital. Language is reading as well as talking and discourse. As I mentioned earlier, there were not many books in my house. I only ever saw my parents read the daily newspaper. Being the fourth child in a family of five children my mother did not have time to read me bedtime stories. My older sisters may have read me stories while playing "school", but most of my language learning was based on social interactions rather than books. According to Heath (1996, p.97), the ways of taking and making meaning from books and relating that meaning to the 'real world' is not naturally acquired but learned. He says 'Few parents are fully conscious of what bedtime storyreading means as preparation for the kinds of learning and displays of knowledge expected in school' (p.99). A great deal of language learning at school is based on questions and answers from books. The children who have not been exposed to that kind of interaction with texts at home find it difficult to do it at school. At school children are expected to be able to answer questions about a story generally when the story is finished, anticipate what comes next or retell the story in their own words. Those who have had experience with this at home are soon labeled competent and those who have not are soon labeled incompetent. As a teacher I will need to be sensitive to all the children's background in reading and devise activities to meet their separate needs. I believe just because children are unable to answer questions relating to a story does not mean they are incompetent language users. I need to be able to encourage the use of language in all its forms. 'Isn't it amazing that we can send rockets to the moon, fly non stop around the earth, transplant human organs, create artificial snow storms

and cruise under the north pole, yet the language we have known and used for centuries defies complete explanation' (DeHaven, 1988, p.4). Because language is individual it is learned from many interactions within our environment and it is ever changing. As a teacher this must be uppermost in my thoughts.

Allen, J. (1998). Sociology of education. Katoomba: Social Science Press. DeHaven, E. (1988). 3rd ed. Teaching and learning language arts. USA: Harper Collins Publishers. Emmitt, M., & Pollock, J. (1997). 2nd ed. Language and learning. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Gee, J. (1990). Social linguistics and literacies: ideology in discourses. The Folwer Press. Gee, J. (1997). A discourse approach to language and literacy. Buckingham: Open University Press. Heath, S. (1986). What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school, Across cultures. In B.B. Schieffelin & E. Ochs (eds). Cambridge: University Press. Ligthbown, P., & Spada, N. (1993). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Norton, D. (1980). 2nd ed. The effective teaching of language arts. Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.

Luke, A. (1988). Functional literacy in the classroom. Australian Journal of Reading, 11 (1), 3-10.

Smith, A. (1998). Boys in an integrated, inclusive curriculum. In P. Gilbert (ed.), Masculinity redefined. (pp. 34-57). Townsville: James Cook University Press.

Smith, A. (1993). Writing for education students. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.…...

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