Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Dressing and Being: Appraising Costume and Identity in English Second-Language Drama

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Dressing and Being: Appraising Costume and Identity in English Second-Language Drama

Article excerpt


In many cultures, L2 students are reticent to engage in spontaneous oral L2 production. In Chinese culture, social norms tend to place value on accuracy, which tends to inhibit learners from authentic oral use of the target language. The purpose of this study was to consider the impact of costume, as used in L2 drama, on L2 selves, and attitudes towards specific elements of authentic language use. Costume has long been understood as eliciting imagination, and permitting the expression of possible and desired selves. Fashion ensembles of many kinds are experienced as having a semiotic "sparkle", which wearers connect to their own self, as they imagine and perform possible selves. In this study, 78 second-language actors were asked to write a brief commentary on how they responded to their costume. This qualitative data was analysed using Appraisal analysis, indicating a majority of positive evaluations. It was also analysed using possible self theory. Comments also showed that L2 actors felt that costumes impacted their emotions and imagination of self, which improved their second language use, cultural performance. They felt costume integrated their oral production with their choices of social register, and their paralinguistic and kinetic performance.

Keywords: drama, costume, second-language learning, possible self theory, appraisal analysis

1. Introduction

Drama is widely understood as an enjoyable language-learning activity. Yet there are few studies of drama as a language-learning vehicle, because few tertiary faculty have expertise in both areas. For this reason, "drama" is treated as a unitary entity, and the contribution of its multiple semiotic and communicative elements lumped together, rather than being independently investigated. This study is the first to consider the contribution of costume, in the context of second-language (L2) learning. Many studies emphasise how positive emotions help learners in the long-term work of acquiring a second language (Cook, 2000). Intrinsic motivation is crucial for investment, and pleasurable activities like drama are intrinsically motivating (Cziser & Dörnyei, 2005). Drama is rooted in the spontaneous fantasy play of children (Galda & Pellegrini, 2008). It scaffolds players in symbolically rehearsing new identities and social interactions (Cattanach, 2005). These aspects of drama immerse L2 players in the target language (Winston, 2011). Drama permeates the L2 curriculum (Taylor, 2000; Heldenbrand, 2003; Elgar, 2002). It facilitates the embodied, personal exploration of texts and contexts (Smith & Herring, 2001), supports oral production, and links oral with written language (Anderson, Hughes, & Manuel, 2008; Miccoli, 2003), and develops realistic cultural performance (Somers, 2000). L2 drama is now found in gaming and virtual environments (MUVEs) (Hubbard, 2002).

Drama engages learners socialised to be passive learners, who are reticent to speak in the target language, such as Chinese L2 students. In Hong Kong, past L2 teaching emphasised "formal features of the language at the expense of encouraging students to use the language" (Education Commission, 2000, p. 25). Hong Kong has recently adopted a Language Arts curriculum. New learning objectives include using English in authentic ways, to gain knowledge of self and others, for pleasure, personal expression and development, in real and imaginary situations (Curriculum Development Council & Hong Kong Examinations Assessment Authority, 2007). Drama is recommended for use (CDC 2002, Education Manpower Bureau, 2005). Many Hong Kong language teachers remain uncertain about how to bring drama into their classrooms. For Confucian learners, language learning is considered useful for future employment purposes (Cheng, 2002). Chinese L2 learners tend to focus on accuracy, devaluing oral participation (Shi, 2006). This study explores costume as an element of drama which helps Chinese L2 learners set aside culturally normative behavior, and immerse in authentic oral interactions. …

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