More Mind Games: Using one’s inner voice(s) to practice English

Click here to listen to this post.

Despite having quite a long to-do list yesterday, I decided to attend a virtual seminar. I threw my own advice back at myself and asked, “How can you develop professionally if you don’t make time for learning opportunities?” So I cleared my desk, put on my headphones, and joined Jeremy Harmer as he discussed “The Fluency Paradox Revisited.” What a good decision it was to attend this TESOL event! I would describe the experience as a group reflection on how our students gain fluency and what our role in that process is.

During his talk,  Jeremy Harmer highlighted the importance of a student’s inner voice. I appreciated his suggestion to allow students time to use that inner voice before putting them on the spot by asking them to make some kind of statement in front of the class. By giving students time to formulate a thought and practice saying it, we can increase their confidence as English speakers. In many of my own speaking activities, I like to include a step that allows preparation time. For example, students can discuss a question with a partner first before sharing their answers with the whole class. Similarly, I’ve had students go around the room retelling a summary of an assigned news blurb to a string of classmates, and they get to the point where the summary can be told concisely and smoothly. The process increases their confidence. (See also my post on creating “talkable” talks.) It’s interesting to consider both kinds of rehearsal: alone and with another learner.

Over the course of the seminar, Jeremy returned to the concept of the inner voice several times, and I began to recall practices I’ve recommended in the past. In Mind Games, I suggested that students engage in an inner monologue to promote thinking in the target language. A few readers confirmed that they, too, have applied such strategies with success. Regular observations made to oneself in the target languge no matter how mundane promote fluency in the L2.

What about an internal dialog? Could we recommmend going beyond a running monologue? I think so. Jeremy mentioned the humorous experience we all have after an argument with someone close to us. Don’t we all replay that awful conversation in our head as soon as we’re alone? Don’t we like to consider things we should have said or could have said? Perhaps students can be encouraged not only to replay actual conversations for analysis, but also they can imagine conversations before they happen or even conversations that may never happen. The exercise of mentally composing a script and mumbling one’s way through it a few times could be much like an actor rehearsing a role. And what is the purpose of the actor’s rehearsal? Why, to prepare for an amazing performance!

Here are some ideas to suggest to students:

  • REPLAY a recent conversation you had in English. Think about what you said and what the other person said. Can you recall the conversation line by line? If you could, would you change anything in the script?
  • IMAGINE a conversation you’d like to have with someone. This conversation may or may not ever happen. Think through the conversation line by line. Don’t just think about what each person says. Think about how you and the other person speak: your intonation, your gestures, etc.
  • JUMP INTO a conversation that you are hearing or that you recently heard ( you’re joining the speakers mentally, that is, and not in reality). This could be something on the TV or even in a public place, such as a crowded bus. Oh! How nosy! you may object.  Well, not really. Just be discreet about listening in. I did this a lot in Moscow. I listened and repeated people’s lines to practice my pronunciation in Russian. Students can be encouraged to repeat whole lines exactly as they were said and also imagine what they would contribute to the conversation.

Do you have any suggestions for promoting an internal monologue or dialog? Feel free to share them.

Thank you again to Jeremy Harmer for a morning of meaningful and practical professional development!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Nina Liakos says:

    I also used the strategy of listening to others’ speech and mentally rehearsing their phrases and sentences when I lived in Paris. It worked well for me.

    Thanks for the summary of Jeremy Harmer’s webinar, which I missed (“too busy”).

    1. Hi Nina!
      Well, I captured one of Jeremy’s themes, but I wouldn’t call my post a summary since it left out a lot of other tidbits for reflection as well as some insightful comments made by other participants from all over the globe. I also liked how Jeremy included some classroom activities. Perhaps he’ll share them on his own blog.🙂
      Ask him about the Fish Experts! (Or if you remind me, I’ll fill you in when we see each other at TESOL 2012.)

      1. Nina Liakos says:

        Fish experts? You’ve made me curious. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Inner Voice says:

    Wow its a very useful blog, Sure you all time create helpful topic. Keep up….

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