The Use of Language
by Evangelidou Foteini, April 2014
Language is an important quintessence of people’s life. We could not imagine our lives without language. But what is language and how can it influence generally our lives and specifically the behavior of our students? How important is it as far as teaching and learning processes are concerned?
Scarino & Liddicoat (2009) described two dimensions of language. Language as code and language as social practice. The first dimension of language means the fact that language is simply made up of words involving grammar rules and vocabulary and has nothing to do with its role in a society. On the other hand, by recognizing language as social practice, we understand that language is very important for communication, expression and meaning making. That means that language should be viewed not simple as a body of words but also as a social practice in which people participate in their daily lives (Kramsch, 1994).
Moreover, Bernstein (1971) referred to two “codes” of language which are used by people in different context (home, community, peers, etc.), the “restricted” code and the “elaborated” code. Restricted code contains this kind of language which is used by people who share ideas and assumptions on a specific topic and in conditions in which there is a great deal of «shared and taken-for-granted knowledge» in a group of persons. On the contrary, elaborated code does not require prior knowledge on a topic. Everyone can understand and participate in a discussion without making wrong meanings.
Furthermore, language and the way we use it affects and shape our thinking processes. Boroditsky (2009) made a research with people from different countries and backgrounds. The results if her research proved that language influence significantly the way people think. She concluded that “It’s possible that everyone thinks the same way, notices the same things, but just talks differently”.
Since language has been recognized as a social practice, it directly affects people who live in a society and children belong to the population of a society. This reality and my new knowledge about the theme of language challenged me to reflect on the significance of language not only in my life but also in my students’ lives.
As far as myself is concerned, I use language in different ways in order to be suitable for every kind of environment, in which I need to communicate with other people. That means that I feel more comfortable when I discuss with my family or with my friends, as we have our “restricted” codes and we understand perfectly each other. On the other hand, my use of language changes when I have to deal with people from different contexts that have a specific background, which sometimes is different from mine. In these situations, I am more careful with my vocabulary and I try to make the right meanings. I know that there will be many times that I will not be capable of understanding every message that I receive, but I always try to use this kind of language which is understandable by everyone, so that they receive clear messages and make the meanings that I want to transfer.
My personal way of use of language, which was described in the previous paragraph, made me consider what happens with my students’ use if language and if it changes based on different contexts. In order to answer this, I thought that I should begin a discussion with them about their language and if they change the way they talk, when they are in different environments. The truth is that their answers were predictable, as my students behave in a similar to mine way. The following “maps of use of language” depict the answers, which were given by my students.
Based on these answers I continued the conversation with my students and I asked them to tell me how they find my language and the way I talk to them every day. I was pleased when they told me that I am polite with them and not strict. On the other hand, an answer challenged me to think deeper on my use of language and how I treat vocabulary during teaching processes. This answer was: “Mrs, Foteini, there are times that I don’t understand what you are talking about and I make meanings on my own, without knowing if they are right or wrong”. And when I asked this student why he does not ask me when he does not understand something, he answered that he does not want other children to make fun of him. This answer reveal to me another power of language between the students, as there are times that the way they use language makes other children feel uncomfortable to express their ideas or problems. Reflecting on this situation I totally agree with Wood and Freeman-Loftis (2012) who talked about positive language and how it can lead to positive behaviors between children relationships.
I would like to finish this essay by expressing my personal final conclusion. Children come to school with their personal different experiences and language “codes”. This means that we, as teachers, should try to understand their deeper world and give them space and time to express their ideas and feelings, in order to discover the most appropriate way to use language in our classrooms, so that meanings will be clear and every student have the opportunity to participate constructively in learning processes.
Bernstein, B. (1971). Class, Codes and Control: Theoretical Studies Towards a Sociology of Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 125–126, 127, 151, 143, 151–152.
Boroditsky, L. (2009). HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK. From WHAT’S NEXT? Dispatches on the Future of Science, Edited By Max Brockman.
Kramsch, C. (1994). Foreign languages for a global age. ADFL Bulletin, 25(1), 5–12
Scarino, A. & Liddicoat, A. J. (2009). Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide. Chapter 2: Language, Culture and Learning. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Wood, C. & Freeman-Loftis, B. (2012). Want Positive Behavior?: Use Positive Language. Education Digest, Vol. 78, Issue 2.