Have you ever written down one of your entire conversations verbatim? Probably not. Now, when you read the dialogues in coursebooks outloud, do you think they sound like your conversations? Also, probably not. Something’s off. Determining the difference can be an interesting exercise, both for students and also instructors.
I am always frustrated with how fabricated the coursebook conversations are when trying to demonstrate vocabulary or grammar in some sort of realistic context. They are very linear (speaker 1, speaker 2, speaker 1, speaker 2). They are grammatically straightforward. How realistic… (I hear there’s been some attempt at improvement) but as an alternative, one day I copied some authentically written MSN chat messages between myself and a friend to try out in class instead. Due to the nature of these chat situations, they resemble spoken dialogue. However, like many entire conversations, they were also filled with backchannel utterances and stuff that would bore you to tears, so I picked out sentences that all have some peculiar constructions or colloquial usage that you’d rarely, if ever, find in a coursebook task.
Take this first one, for example. See you if you can decipher much about it.
“I enjoy playing these two one after the other.”
What is the speaker talking about? What helped you realise this? What peculiarity within this sentence might perplex learners?
You probably figured out that the speaker is talking about either games or music. This is due to the verb ‘play’ and what’s collocated with it and because of the adverbial ‘one after the other’, it’s more likely something short where order can be remembered by the player, possibly chess moves or songs?
There are three different points you can get from most of the sentences:
b) Look for contextual clues.
Certain words give the reader or listener hints as to what’s being discussed, even if what they read/hear is isolated from everything else. Critical thinking is a biggie here.
c) Identify peculiar points within the sentences.
Each of the sentences has some odd occurrence in it. In this case, it’s the sequence of nominal nouns in a row. If I asked you to make a sentence with two numbers in a row, you’d be hard pressed to create one naturally I’m sure. Breaking language into chunks can help learners figure out how this happens.
I’ve used these sentences with higher level students both for language awareness and critical thinking. Several a-ha moments ensued. Of course, because it’s an unusual task, it took some modelling before they really figured out how to decipher them on their own.
- I enjoy playing these two one after the other.
- Who knows what I’m gonna need money for before Friday.
- She was so not into working for that company.
- There’s no way that I could ever think of doing what you think I’m capable of.
- I don’t suspect that the meeting will go down the way anyone expects it to since my boss and coworkers didn’t see eye to eye in the first place.
- I wanted to sleep in but I also wanted to get up early to get stuff done, but with someone ringing the doorbell at 8:30, the choice was made for me.
- When I was little, fishing always seemed too ‘dad’ oriented for me. But, now I like it too.
- There are so many things possible to do this weekend that it might be the case that we do none at all.
- If nothing else, David Suzuki was a crusader for the environment before it was the ‘in thing’ to do.
- We have to take it outside, down the back stairs, into the rotty, dark, dingy basement of the building where there’s just one coin-operated machine for each load and then back up again. If it was inside here, I’d be apt to do it.
- We should make a trip out to Halifax this summer. Then again, as broke as I’m looking at being maybe that should wait.
- All of my cousins are either much older than I or their kids are much younger. I’m sort of sandwiched in the middle.
- She wants to move to NYC and become an opera singer. The girl couldn’t even move 5 miles away from her parents’ house. I don’t know how she plans on pulling that one off.
- I’m glad you’re not saying I’m wrong despite your real feelings just to spare mine.
- We got two two weeks ago and they’ve grown heaps.
- You have 20 of the same picture. Why can’t you bring yourself to get rid of three?
- It wouldn’t have been difficult had it gone the way I was told it would.
- Everyone missed the bus on that business opportunity. Too bad for them.
- You say you’ll get the position like it’s a sure thing.
- I’d suggest not saying that as it would just come off rude.
- It’s not that that’s not expensive, but I’d rather buy it here than spend the next two hours shopping around for a deal. (NEW)
At request, I’ve recorded these sentences in as natural a tone of voice and speed as I could, just in case you want to use them. I love my recorded voice, not.