What Makes a Good Teaching Dialog?

If you think that your mobile phone is only for getting in touch with people, think again. Mobiles are not only becoming an entertainment center, allowing access to music, video, games and other content but also allowing real-time access to educational content as well. What does this mean? Simply put, you no longer need to be in any type of classroom to learn. Students are able to access language learning materials and to communicate with their teachers and peers, at anytime, anywhere.

So, you want to teach students how to speak the way English speakers talk to one another? The best way is to allow students to listen to and practice saying natural dialogs.

What makes a ‘natural dialog’? Well, this is actually a more difficult question than you may think. After all, if you close your eyes and listen to a real conversation in progress between two native speakers, you will notice that it is much less fluent than you imagine. There may be interruptions, or small hesitations that a speaker makes while thinking of what to say, or ‘false starts’ and ‘repairs’, which are snippets of speech that the speaker began saying about one thing and then changed his or her train of thought midstream in the conversation. So, real speech is often fraught with inconsistencies and small disfluencies, but yet this does not detract from the flow of information between speakers. Quite amazing, isn’t it? Of course, film and movie writers have known this for a long time – if you listen carefully to dialogs written for TV or film, the writers try to put these types of artifacts into the script in order for the conversations to sound natural.

So, how do we teach English if, in the real world, there are often incomplete sentences, hesitations and interruptions? The answer is to try to maintain some elements of naturalness, and weed out others. For example, in a natural dialog there are many discourse elements that act to make the dialog flow more naturally. Words like ‘well, sure, ok’ often serve this purpose. So, pedagogical dialogs can maintain such words in a teaching dialog, but should not allow scripts where one speaker interrupts the other or where a speaker is blatantly disfluent.

In addition, the dialog must maintain a consistent level of vocabulary, grammar and ease of pronunciation. Thus, basic level users should be provided with dialogs that have lower level words, easier grammatical structures and shorter words and sentences. More advanced users can be provided with enriched vocabulary, more complex grammar and longer words and sentences.

Want to try making up pedagogical dialogs? It’s not as easy as it looks!


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One Response to What Makes a Good Teaching Dialog?

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