Dialogues in Foreign-Language Classes

A Time-Honored Practice — Because it Works!

When the Jesuits began opening schools in the 16th century, they of course, taught Latin to the boys that attended. Latin was the language of instruction in universities — even a living language among European intellectuals, who were mostly, but not all, clergy.

Latin was the gate through which they had to pass to obtain all other knowledge of the subjects then taught: the traditional trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). Of course, Theology capped the university education and was for a long time, the only subject in which one obtained a "Ph.D."

The method the Jesuits used was to require the boys — at every level — to compose and perform plays, entirely in Latin.

The method and procedure I am about to present is inspired by their work and is designed for intermediate to advanced classes:

The oral presentation of a dialogue happens on the fourth class session. Along the way, there are numerous opportunities for teachers to assess their work and offer feedback.

Day One

At the first class session, pair students who will commit to work together, in and out of class. Have them exchange all contact information and class schedules. Then tell them they are going to write a dialogue and present it — three sessions from now. The topics of the dialogues should be about themselves, their lives, families, hobbies, etc. Most students will be intermediate-mid to advanced-low in terms of an OPI score, so talking about "ME" is what they are best at — and it forms a baseline for improvement and enables the teacher to assess them individually quite well. They need to pick a topic, discuss what they will ask and say — they need to be encouraged to avoid making the dialogue a Q&A interrogation — it needs to be conversational. Much of this stage is devoted to setting up and they can be allowed to speak English as they plan their strategy. The teacher can ask them questions (in the target language) such as "How do you say that in ….?"

Day Two

On day two, they must bring a written outline and begin practicing it orally, in pairs, not in front of the group. The teacher should circulate and begin to "mark up" their scripts. Leave as much as 15 minutes for general Q&A from the class about "how to say this and that." The rest of the class may benefit from the questions others ask, so encourage them to take notes, putting them in a linguistic diary or journal.

Day Three

On day three, the scripts should be polished — they have to have been working out of class. At this stage, edit them closely, group to group and have them present a part, at least, to you as you circulate.

Day Four

Day Four: They present.

All along the way, you have been able to provide individual attention, make particular observations and grade their work at every stage. And, having practiced and having the confidence that their work has no big mistakes, they will have a rewarding experience presenting it.