Using Conversational References

Far too often, the conversations that people have during language lessons feel stilted and not at all realistic. They feel forced, which means that people are less likely to really engage in them because they feel like something they must do instead of something they want to do.

This is pretty clear when you look at the kinds of questions that are often in the textbooks that people use for language courses. They more often mimic job interviews than actual conversations that you’d actually have with real people in most situations, which doesn’t really work that well for a lot of people learning language because we—like most people on the planet—absolutely hate job interviews. It feels like someone is judging us, and that’s the kind of structure these textbook-based conversations tend to have. They don’t feel genuine or authentic because they really aren’t.

However, in order to break up that monotony and frustration, I’ve started working with my students to create lists of questions that can be used as reference points. In doing this, it pushes us both to consider what kinds of questions we want to be asking other people. Do we want to put someone on the spot if they’re being asked about something? Do we want to make it feel like an interrogation or part of a conversation? These are all considerations that go into the development of these list of questions.

Of course, having these lists also benefits people who may get stuck for any reason. Sometimes having a script, or even a partial script, really is beneficial because it helps people to find their footing when they’re unsure about what to do. They don’t have to think about generating a question because they’ve already done that ahead of time, and they’ve done it in a context where they could discuss the purpose of the question.

All of this is great because it really builds relationships between everyone involved in that lesson. You get to learn about someone else, how people understand certain phrasings, and cultural differences. And even better? It makes the time go by much faster than if everyone was forcing each other to endure a faux job interview.

If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re probably learning more than you’ve realised!