5 Steps to Use Emergent Language in Your Lessons
One tactic to introduce language, correct errors and build rapport.
Emergent language is a fantastic opportunity to improve your students' learning.
Using language that 'comes up' during activities can improve student accuracy, introduce new language and build rapport. It can also help them to express themselves with spontaneity, individuality and creativity.
Let's have a closer look!
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What is emergent language?
Emergent language is spontaneous, personal, and unrehearsed language that comes up during interactions.
It happens when students are trying to express themselves and communicate a meaning or a concept. Emergent language usually occurs in freer, fluency-type activities.
Emergent language is different from target language. Our target language in our lesson aims is usually taken from a pre-planned syllabus (known as an a-priori syllabus). We typically decide on the target language before each lesson so we have time to analyse and prepare to teach it effectively.
The opposite of this is an a-posteriori syllabus - this has become known as the Dogme approach, explained well in ‘Teaching Unplugged’ by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury. It involves only teaching language that emerges from the interaction of the teacher, students and context.
Luckily, we can use elements of both.
While most of us teach an a-priori syllabus, we can mix in emergent language when we think it will benefit our students, using affordances.
What are affordances?
An affordance is a learning opportunity in class.
So when you hear emergent language, you can decide if you want to use it to help your students improve. Teaching literature usually references two types of affordance.
1. Affordances with errors
This affordance is with an error you haven't considered, and that isn't related to the target language.
These can be incredibly useful in helping students overcome errors. It might be that the learners have fossilized errors or are making consistent mistakes with the same language.
2. Affordances with new language
This type of affordance is with language that one student uses that the others don't yet know.
The context has been provided by the students, the topic is hopefully interesting, and the students are focused - it could be the perfect time to introduce this new language to the rest of your students.
I would also argue that there is a third affordance:
3. Affordances to build rapport
This is an affordance for you as a teacher to learn more about your students or about their L1.
Where emergent language arises because students are trying to express something they haven’t been taught and are taking risks with the language. When they do this, you get to learn something new about them, their interests, and perhaps their L1 (in how they phrase their utterance).
As well as responding to the language they use, remember to be human and respond to the content of the language they use. If they’re telling you about something that they cherish, or is important to them, don’t ignore it and jump straight to correction. Take time to show interest and build rapport.
How to start using emergent language
1. Start by noticing
Practice raising your awareness. Pay attention during fluency activities, especially when students are talking with other students. See if you can start to hear new language or errors unrelated to the target language.
2. Decide whether to use it
Once you can hear emergent language, decide whether you want to use it or not.
Consider how many students it will help - if you think only one student will benefit (i.e. only one student is making an error with off-target language), then it might be easier to deal with it differently (i.e. during monitoring).
3. Decide how to use it
How do you want to draw attention to the emergent language? What kind of activity do you want to use?
Take some time while your learners finish their activity to decide.
4. Use examples that will engage
When considering the point above, try and use activities, examples and stories that will be interesting and relatable for students.
5. Balance emergent language with the target language
Ensure that the emergent language activity doesn't overpower the lesson.
Advantages of Using Emergent Language
Errors are worked on.
You respond directly to your students' needs.
Students learn new language in a natural context.
Students feel heard and appreciated.
It builds rapport.
Disadvantages of Using Emergent Language
Even if used correctly, there are still some disadvantages to addressing emergent language.
It takes time away from your lesson plan.
It takes time away from the pre-planned syllabus.
If misused, it can be a waste of time for students, as they might not need to be corrected or already know the emergent language you pick up on.
Remember to start slowly, and good luck!
If you’d like to learn more, I can help:
1. Plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (117 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (23 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (9 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).