The Talking Cure revisited

There’s been some excellent quality criticism of some of the forces at work in language teaching from big business and edtech on the eltjam site recently. This week Scott Thornbury wrote a powerful piece about intersubjectivity, a phenomenon unique to genuine human communication which happens when in communicating with each other we don’t just exchange information but ‘get into the mind’ of our interlocutors. It describes the psychological relationship we have and emphasizes the social nature of our very selves. In short, no man is an island.
Scott’s point is that until a computer can not just mimic human interaction convincingly but really understand what its interlocutor is trying to say and therefore enter into the other person’s struggle to express themselves, then technology won’t be able to replace teachers or language exchange partners effectively.
So in the meantime, we need to make sure that we exploit those interactions as best we can. The role for teachers in class is clear: full engagement with learners’ communicative attempts in order to pick them up when they stumble. The role for learner coaches is also clear: we need to help them learn to do the same when we aren’t around, in language exchanges. A good language exchange partner is one who knows how to support, guide and correct you.
So three posts to get us thinking about what coaches can do about language exchanges, or intercambios:
First, a suggested framework for broaching the subject with your students from our blog.
Second, Scott’s account of a worthwhile intercambio that he took part in to improve his Spanish, what he called his ‘Talking Cure’. The description for me affords us a glimpse into what best practice might look like.
Finally, some great variations on language exchange from the UsingEnglish.com website. I suggest learners are encouraged to experiment with those that they find interesting, compare and recommend in class. My thanks to Alex Case for pointing this one out.

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