The “Languaging” of Taro Ball

The concept of “languaging” was introduced by Swain and in simple terms, it’s a form of “talking-it-through”. You know, the experience when you might be frustrated with a problem or dealing with a lot of stress in your life and you just want to talk about it with someone. And more often than not, the simple act of talking it over with someone, helps you feel better or even helps you figure out a solution to your problem. More often than not, the person you talked to wasn’t a psychologist or an expert in anyway. Rather, it was the process of running your thoughts through language, or as Swain puts it, “languaging” that helped you come to a new understanding.

According to Swain (2009) defines “languaging” as “the process of making meaning and shaping knowledge and experience through language. It is part of what constitutes learning.” So how does languaging work? Can students really learn by simply talking it out? From Swain’s studies (2009), she explains languaging in two parts: firstly, “languaging articulated and transformed their thinking into an artifactual form, and as such it became available as a source of further reflection. Secondly, languaging was the means of that further reflection. Through it, these students created new meanings and understandings – that is, they learned both through and about language” (p. 106)

The reason why I’ve become interested in the concept of languaging is because I’ve seen some of my students use “languaging” and the interesting results it has produced. Of course, my students have no idea what “languaging” means. Even though they are undergraduate TESOL students, they most likely haven’t come across this term. The example that I remember quite vividly in my memory is a video recorded by my students and posted onto Facebook for a “Tourism English” class. The video consisted of a group of students visiting a popular Taiwanese tourist site, describing some of the culture and history of the site, and trying out some of the food the area is known for. In this particular video, one student was trying out a “taro ball”, which is a chewy, mochi-like ball, usually cooked and eaten with a sweet soup. He introduced the name of the food item and proceeded to take a bite. However, because of his pronunciation, it actually sounded he said “This is a terrible”, rather than “This is a taro ball”. What happened shortly after the student posted this video onto Facebook was, as expected, a lot of his classmates, making fun of him for his pronunciation. When I had the student in my class a few days later, he seemed fine and he seemed to simply take the jokes as good fun. However, even in class, when I asked them how their weekend was, when one student said “terrible”, the entire class started laughing. It became an inside joke.

Now, I want to be clear that I definitely don’t think that making fun of someone’s pronunciation is a good way of help someone improve, and I definitely don’t think that public shaming or ridicule is something teachers should encourage. And even though it was just light-hearted fun, when the entire class is laughing, you could see the student feeling uncomfortable. And while I don’t think this is exactly what Swain meant when she introduced the idea of “languaging”, I do think that simply through the talk of the student’s pronunciation, all of the students collectively became more sensitive to it. By joking about “terrible” with each other, they’ve come to a greater awareness of the word, and even a reflection of how “taro ball” should actually sound.

Now, it’s also important for me to point out that I didn’t do any follow-up studies to see if that student actually retains what he learned about pronunciation from this incident. However, I use this example because I do believe that for this situation, the students took that single moment of pronunciation from the Facebook video and made it into a artifactual product around which further reflection and analysis occurred. And through their discussion of the mistake, creation of an inside joke, and future references to the inside joke, they’ve reshaped their experience of the word “terrible” and “taro ball” and created a new understanding of it.

References:

Swain, M. (2009). “Languaging, agency and collaboration in advanced second language proficiency.” Advanced language learning: The contribution of Halliday and Vygotsky, 95.

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