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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 2; Issue 5; September 2000

Student Voices

Ways of belonging to a group- voices from Italy and Japan

The Student Voices in this issue explore some of the strong, idiosyncratic things that go in within people working in a warmed-up, person-centred learning group.

The first voice is from Japan. S describes how she has dealt with the invitation to correspond with the teacher.

" Maybe you thought I might be a bit shy when I told you that I had written some letters and I was going to give them at the end of the course.

You are right. I am shy. I have the feelings in my mind, but I find it difficult to express. What I want to express is deep inside. However I talk only something on the surface to my classmates.

Self control is one of the values I have been taught to respect.

I write letters when I want to put my mind into words and when I want to spend time thinking about the person. 85% of my letters are either unfinished or finished and not posted.

I enjoy writing , though. It doesn't really matter if I post the letter or not. Having the time to think about the others is more important for me.

I decided to give the letters to you because you said you had had difficulties teaching Japanese people when you started teaching. I thought you needed feedback from me.

Francesca, part way through a course on NLP in language teaching, writes the following analysis of how she has become a near native-speaker of English. This is a Student Voice describing a process that has stretched over 30 years or more. It is partly about being separate within the group.

Reconsidering my own experience as a language learner in NLP terms, I should say learning English was very much a matter of building up rapport between myself and the people who spoke that language. This meant tuning in to their wave length by understanding and tolerating their culture. [ 'Understanding' is probably a better word in this case as 'tolerating' suggests having to put up with something, which you don't have to do if you understand.] Intolerant people have always been bad language learners.

In terms of the Bateson logical levels, appropriate language behaviour stands between the sharing/acceptance of values and the impulses you receive from the environment , whether it is social ( with its cultural implications ) or natural. There has always been rapport between myself and the natural environment in this country ( England). The particular mixture of colours, the gently rolling shape of the landscape, its ever changing sky have always started internal dialogue within me , which is often in English. I have always thought internal dialogue is basic to language learning.

At an early stage learning English for me was a way of day-dreaming, getting away from everyday life, making it easier to be who I was. Teenagers are often too shy to give expression to their emotions and speaking a different language, was, at that time in my life like wearing a protective mask.

Finally, learning English for me was an outcome which I set out to achieve. Self-played drama was a lot of help in achieving the different smaller outcomes of the learning process. At an early stage speaking to myself in English was more helpful than actually speaking to other people. It may not work this way for everybody, though; I am very intrapersonal *

However, there is a risk in moving from this stage to the stage of interaction in a real context unless you are ready to cope with the necessary re-mapping. Of course there are other subjective aspects which vary across people and time and ability also plays a crucial part.

And this is my current fantasy.


  • might it be that the intrapersonal learner is actually better at language learning because s/he is able to overcome inhibitions about speaking at an early stage?

    How many Francescas do you have in your classes, girls and some boys who do not feel like making precocious outward noises in English, who are at work within themselves in preparation for later social talk? How well does the communicative classroom suit these people, with its insistence on pair-work, group work and role-play? Francesca's "silent period", as seen by her teacher, gave no hint of the extensive inner language work that was going on.

    Do we have enough inner dialogue exercises for the Francesca people in our classes. If you have a bagful, please send some to HLT.

    Beatrice writes this extract as part of a much longer letter and seems to brilliantly express what it can mean to belong to a group that is working in a warm, friendly,humanistic way:

    …… Perhaps, just our intrinsic differences made us a group, they create that particular feeling that has been transformed in friendship, or, perhaps, the curiosity to read in the eyes and attitudes of the other, feelings and new colours, strange but attractive, because they had been part of a mosaic that we have learned, with your guide, to complete, using the wedges that were in us: like if in each of us was missing what there was in the other, to complete the vision of the idea that was inside of each of us, but that it didn't find solution of completeness if not with what singularly we have put in play of our existences, of our experiences - some of all has remained in me, different appearances of each component of the group, small tones, fleeting expressions of souls, imperceptible attitudes and thin, vague thoughts that have not changed me, have not twisted my personality (it would have been too sterile and foolish if it had been), but that, instead, they have enriched me, they have added that "quid" that, perhaps, I looked for in things and different places and I could have added feelings to feelings, ideas to ideas, to complete pre-existent contents but incomplete, never satiated, however, of external and fidgety contributions of novelty! Is it also this the CREATIVITY, isn't it?

    Each of you has left a bit of yourself in me, each, I hope, has taken a bit of me: without this experience, perhaps, today, I would be different and instead, I have met all people that have touched my heart in special manner, in the good and not, and today I am like this, with my personality enriched with the bits that I have learned to appreciate in each of you, discovering them inside of me and appreciating them in the others that I then have met…………..
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