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Jun 30, 2017 Author: sharekcentre
Just for the record..

Camping on Culross Island, Prince William Sound, Chugach National Forest, Alaska. (MR)

In this week’s post, I’d like to share with you a technique that I’ve been using ever since I first started teaching English more than 25 years ago, and which is now being used as a student-centred tool for teaching Arabic to people like me at Sharek. Community Language Learning (CLL) was developed by Charles Curran in the 1970’s as a way to draw out language from what the learners in the room wanted to say, perhaps as a reaction to the very controlled, imposing drills of the audio-lingual approach that was in vogue at the time. I first read about it in Earl Stevick’s A Way and Ways (1980) and I’ve been experimenting with it ever since. The basic procedure is as follows:-

  • Students sit in a circle so that they can communicate easily with one another. Between them they need a device for recording audio (most mobile phones can do this now of course)
  • Their task is to create a short, recorded conversation between themselves. If anyone wants to say anything they have the option of asking for support from the teacher before recording their utterances. If they’re lower level learners, they may choose to say something in English first and the teacher teaches them how to say it in Arabic.
  • The recording of the complete conversation is played back to the learners and the teacher checks that everyone understands everything – perhaps by asking them to retranslate each Arabic utterance that they hear back into English.
  • The teacher transcribes the conversation onto the board and invites the learners to ask questions about form and meaning. He or she may also set up more practice activities to activate the language in the

This approach also works quite well in one-to-one classes. Here’s a conversation in Arabic that I recorded in this way with a friend of mine Saif, a native Arabic speaker. You can listen to it here

As you can see in the transcript below (with English translation added) the dialogue contains a lot of useful everyday conversational Arabic –  the kind of things I really want to learn how to say.

Nick: شو عملت في العطلة؟ What did you do during the holiday?

Saif: انا خيمت في العطلة  I went camping during the holiday.

Nick: وين خيمت؟ مع مين؟ Where did you camp? With who?

Saif:  انا و اصحابي  خيمنا في منطقة بعيدة ساعتين  عن توتنيس Me and my friends camped in an area two hours from Totnes

Nick:شو اسمها القرية؟ شو اسمها المنطقة؟ What’s the name of the village? What’s the name of the area?

Saif: ما بعرف بس هي قريبة من اكستر I don’t know but it was close to Exeter.

Nick: قريبة من البحر ؟ Close to the sea?

Saif: لا، ما في بحر هناك بس في نهر  No, there’s no sea there. But there’s a river.

Nick: شو عملتوا هناك ؟ What did you do there?

Saif; شربنا شاي وطبخنا اكل . عملنا اكل وشوينا جاجWe drank tea and cooked food. We made food. We barbecued chicken.

Nick: سبحتوا في النهر ؟ Did you swim in the river?

Saif: لا هما ما سبحوا  . انا بس  سبحتNo they didn’t swim. Only I swam.

Nick: لانو المي كان بارد Because the water was cold?

Saif: المي كان كتير بارد وانا مجنون بحب المي البارد The water was very cold. And I’m crazy. I like cold water.

Nick:  انا كمان Me too.

Saif: انت بردو بتحب تسبح في المي البارد؟ You also like swimming in cold water?

Nick:  ايو . بحب . انا بحب اسبح في البحر في الشتاء . بس ما بطول. بسرعة Yes. I like it. I like swimming in the sea in winter. But not for a long time. Quickly!

Before recording each of my utterances I was able to ask Saif for language support so that I could say everything as accurately as possible. Of course there are still some mistakes in what I say, but as a learner it’s really nice to have a record of me speaking in Arabic that I can listen to again. In fact, because it is my own voice that I hear, I think it makes the grammar and vocabulary contained in the dialogue much more memorable and learnable.


Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways (1980) by Earl W. Stevick; Newbury House


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