Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Do Students Really Learn a Foreign Language through Role-Playing? (Language Teaching & Learning)

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Do Students Really Learn a Foreign Language through Role-Playing? (Language Teaching & Learning)

Article excerpt


The pedagogical value of role-play in second language acquisition has theoretically long been acknowledged. However, here, it is intended to look at this type of interaction with a more practical approach, ie., considering the role-play as an interaction by itself. A micro-interactional analysis is conducted, based on a corpus of spontaneously performed role-plays by young Chinese adults in a class of French as a Foreign Language in Hong Kong. Various individual and collective learning strategies are shown, thus confirming the idea that it is possible to learn while role-playing.

1. Introduction

The pedagogical value of role-play has long been acknowledged by English-speaking scholars (Maley & Duff 1978; Jones 1982; Livingston 1983; Porter Ladousse 1987; Van Ments 1989) as well as by French practitioners (Care & Debyser 1978; Ancelin Schutzenberger 1981 ; Dufeu 1983). Only a handful of authors analysed classroom role-play as a verbal interaction in itself: Cicurel (1990) conducted a study on stereotypes in role-plays whereas Tabensky (1997) dealt with the feature of spontaneity. Yet, to my knowledge, no studies, so far, have closely examined, through an interactional analysis, how the learning process practically takes place in classroom role-plays.

2. Research objectives and method

The purpose of this study is to observe whether role-play is an interaction which can effectively trigger the learning process in the foreign language and to see how the learning occurs by looking at the various learning strategies students use while role-playing.

3. Data and setting-up of the role-play

The data comprised of a set of role-plays video-taped in a French class in a university in Hong Kong. Participants are all learners of French at different levels: beginners and intermediate (around 350 hours of French). All are Hong Kong Chinese, aged between 19 and 21. The role-plays are improvised in class: students agree with the teacher upon a common situation to role-play, randomly allocate roles and have a few minutes to imagine the characters. Depending on the situation, the participants' group size varies between 2 to 6 students. The role-play is performed in front of an audience (the non-playing classmates and the teacher). The teacher is video-taping and informs students beforehand that she will not intervene during the role-play.

4. Conclusions of the study

The interactional analysis of the data highlighs learning mecanisms which occur during the role-play. Indeed, participants do not only monitor their own speech, but also assist each other in making the communication more effective, by using various individual as well as collective strategies.

4.1. Individual learning strategies

The data being an oral discourse and speakers having limited competency in the foreign language, the data reflects abundant indicators (ie., hesitations, self-repetitions, self-corrections) showing their difficulties in communicating and their efforts to put their thoughts into words. Moreover, participants introduce in the role-play elements learnt previously in class or outside the class. Below are some examples of how these individual learning strategies occur:

4.1.1. Self-repetitions

Example 1

(Situation: a young couple tell their parents they intend to travel with 3000 F of savings)

la mere       TROIS MILLE FRANCS ? NON::: c'est: trois mille francs ?
              c'est quatre mille euh::: cinq cent:: (rires des autres)
              cinq cent Hong Kong dollars ce n'est pas assez::: (rites
              des autres) euh ce n'est pas assez pour le:::: (rires
              des autres) pour:: pour le bilet euh:: / d'avion

The mother    THREE THOUSAND FRANCS ? NO::: it is: three thousand
              francs? it is four thousand hum::: five thousand::
              (laughter of the others) five thousand Hong Kong dollars
              it is not enough::: (laughter of the others) hum it is
              not enough for the::: (laughter of the others) for the::
              for the ticket hum:: / for the plane ticket

Despite the fact that Janet's numerous hesitations trigger laughter among the other participants, she remains serious and involved in her part as well as in the learning process. …

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