On 14 November at 16:15 Eva Ingerpuu-Rümmel will defend her doctoral thesis „Teachers and learners constructing meaning in the foreign language classroom: A study of multimodal communication in Estonian and French classes“.
Professor Birute Klaas-Lang
Professor Kalevi Kull
Professor Gunther Kress (University College London)
Something is happening. The video has no sound. However, I understand all that is going on: the teacher smiles, waves her hair and adjusts her shirt. Obviously she praises herself. But the learners look at her seriously or write. So… the sound is on, now. The teacher indeed praises herself. She says that she is the prettiest and the most intelligent and rare! She does all that with the soft nasal voice. The teacher shows in every mode that she is content with herself – with gestures, voice, words! And learners – grown-up students – do not seem to be confused. Now I start the video from the beginning and I see the same people engaged in a different activity – the teacher, her face serious, distributes papers to the learners which they read immediately. It seems to be an ordinary beginning of a language class. The learners study French. I also have videos of Estonian classes. In all the classes, students are learning a foreign language. Foreign language includes many unknown words – on the papers, in the teacher’s speech, in the other learners’ expressions. What do these words mean? In Estonian classes the learners for example need to know the meaning of “soo” (swamp) or “mulks” (bubble). In French classes it turns out that “remue-méninges” means brainstorming, “jurer” swearing, “vanter”… “Vanter” – that means to praise! The teacher explained the meaning of this word and used several ways for expression. I have recorded two Estonian and two French classes. The learners also explain words to others and use gestures and vocal expression in addition to the verbal expression. For instance, in an Estonian class a learner makes the gulping sound to explain the word “lonks” – to gulp. In a French class a learner even shows a fist to the teacher – he explains the word “colère” – anger. Therefore, the teacher and the learners communicate multimodally – they create meaning by the use of several means for expression. Words cannot be used in every situation. Gesture can be the only way for expression – who does not raise a hand cannot take the turn. There are many gestures and words and vocal expressions – some may say only one word, another may use all three means for expression. If a person just peeks into the classroom for a moment, he/she may not understand what is going on. To understand the communication between the teacher and the learners the person needs to be present during the entire class and it is even better if he/she has a little knowledge about their origin, age, language skills, and other similar things beforehand. A paper or electronic dictionary may not be sufficient. Translation is necessary when the word is totally incomprehensible or the time is too short for a longer explanation. Translation is still just one means for explanation among others. Humans can use gestures and vocal expression in addition to words in face-to-face communication. Although the analyzed classes did not demonstrate it, in some classes other means – for instance, music, color, smells – may be used to create meaning for novel words. I have completed a doctoral thesis about teacher’s and learners’ multimodal communication. The study is about more than a hundred communicative situations in four language learning classes. Three teachers and over thirty learners participated in this study. Every visual and audible communicative action of every participant has been written down. This is how it becomes clear that the teacher as well as learners create meaning for novel words and they do it in collaboration by using several means for expression. More information about the use of means for expression can be found in the doctoral thesis and in the articles. The thesis can provide inspiration for the practicing and future teachers who might be interested in more deliberate multimodal communication in teaching foreign languages (and also other subjects).