Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, November 05, 2004

Narrative is Vital

by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

If comprehension is King when it comes to language acquisition.... narrative form is certainly another powerful issue. Another quote from “The Tipping Point”:

“Narrative form, psychologists now believe, is absolutely central [to learning]. It’s the only way [children] have of organizing the world, of organizing experience. They are not able to bring theories that organize in terms of cause and effect and relationships, so they turn things into stories.... If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well, and it doesn’t seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over.”

I’d argue that the power of narrative extends to adults as well... for while we can theorize, adults still organize most experiences into stories. When working as a counsellor to abused children (back in my social work days), I often used a form of counselling called “narrative therapy” (do a google search on Michael White)....a means of helping clients restructure the stories they tell themselves about their lives. It is very powerful and effective-- and not just with children.

Its not that we avoid abstract thought... its that we learn and remember abstract concepts best when they are nested within a narrative structure. One student is taught the past tense through rules and memorization. Another learns it through stories (drama, movies, TPR Storytelling, etc..) told about the past. Is it really a surprise that the storytelling students do much better? And even if they didn’t... even if both methods were equally effective: obviously it is MORE FUN to listen to stories than to memorize grammar rules! Of course, stories are not told randomly. The vocabulary and structures should be geared to the level of the students. Its not that you don't teach grammar-- its that you teach it intuitively through storytelling.

One of the research-proven advantages of TPR & TPRS & Focal Skills (and other similar methods) is that they dramatically improve program retention. In other words, students like those classes more; they stick around and continue to study the language longer than students in traditional programs. Again... no shock. Which would you prefer-- to sit for an hour memorizing abstract, incomplete, obtuse rules & translations.... or to sit for an hour participating in an entertaining storytelling session?

Furthermore, the storytelling approach is more authentic. Listen to your friend’s conversations.... a good chunk of everyday conversation is storytelling: gossip, description of events, explanations. Even arguments are story-laden... each person pressing their narrative version of the event or idea in question. The human mind is wired for storytelling.....

And so TPR Storytelling...the Focal Skills Movie Technique... and other narrative approaches are fully in accord with the “wu-wei” school of language teaching: effortless action in harmony with the essential nature of the human mind. Storytelling is a powerful tool for the language teachers toolkit.