Scaffolding Interpersonal Communication in a Foreign Language

Scaffolding Foreign (World)  Language Interpersonal Communication (French, Spanish)

Interpersonal communication can be one of the more challenging modes of communication for foreign language learners because it involved unprepared and  spontaneous communication.  I have broken down this type of communication into three levels of increasing difficulty to build confidence in students.

The first step involves initial preparation and a brief  performance or some sort of “public talk”  on a prepared topic.  This is followed by some unknown questions about the topic that requires the speaker to respond spontaneously, but on a topic that is very familiar.

Once students have done the performance level of spontaneous communication, I introduce them to transaction activities that involve giving and receiving information that is only possessed by or needed by the other person. These are the traditional information-gap activities.  Again, the questions and responses are somewhat anticipated at this point, but there is still an unknown element.

Once students have gained confidence with interpersonal communication by engaging in conversations on topics  that they are very prepared to discuss (performance) and on topics that are less familiar, but still someone anticipated (transaction), they have the confidence and skill to move on to true-to-form interpersonal communication.

Interaction activities are the most challenging because they involve topics that are brought up spontaneously and involve turn-taking with unanticipated responses and questions.  The teacher should make sure that students are aware that the identity of the speakers should be made clear, that there should be a decision about formal or informal language use, and that both speakers should contribute and respond to each other in a turn-taking format.  These details put the speaker at ease and raise confidence.

When engaging in interpersonal communication, many times we try to get students to go right to the interaction-type activities  without scaffolding the skill and confidence needed to communicate at this level.

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