Sunday, July 24, 2011

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

James Pennebaker and Molly E. Ireland are two psychology professors at the University of Texas. In the September edition of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [1]they talk about Language Style Matching or LSM.  This is the where you take on characteristics of the person that you are speaking with in order to ensure a favorable conversation will result.  It is also observed after watching movies and reading books.[2]

So, one evening, I read about their study on Stumbleupon [3] (a website I recommend BTW) and then I get back to my readings for uni and I read about Bakhtin (1981) [4].  For Bakhtin, speakers learning a new language take words from other people.  They take them to be used for their own purposes.  And the more they bend the utterances of others for their own intentions, the more they enter the communicative chain.  This is the way that they gain confidence and find their own voice.

Are we underestimating the reliance that students have on mirroring?  We understand only too well that students need to have a language-rich environment in order to pick up the language but are we really making the most of the language-rich environment when we provide it?  Is there some way of encouraging students to mirror more?

Have you ever watched a child who is acquiring their first language, their imitations are almost enough to drive their parents up the wall.  Perhaps the greatest limitation we have in learning another language is our pride.

“Language and culture are no longer scripts to be acquired, as much as they are conversations in which people can participate.  The question of who is learning what and how much is essentially a question of what conversations they are a part of, and this is a subset of the more powerful question of what conversations are around to be had in a given culture.”  (McDermott, 1993[5])

[4] Bakhtin, M. M. (1981).  The dialogic imagination: Four essays.  Austin: University of Texas Press.
[5] McDermott, R. (1993).  The acquisition of a child by a learning disability.  In J. Lave & S. Chaiklin (Ed.), Understanding Practice: Perspectives on activity and context.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment