Lauerbach, Gerda
Institute of English and American Studies
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitaet

Gerda Lauerbach
PO Box 11 19 32
D-60054 Frankfurt am Main

Strand: educational or discourse English

Title: Learning how to mean in the foreign language classroom

When the foreign language to be learnt is the only one used right from the start, how is it possible for beginning students to understand what is going on in the classroom? How do they know what the teacher is talking about, or what they are supposed to be doing, and how are they enabled to become (inter)active linguistically? The problem is different from the situation of native language acquisition in a number of ways: Not only do the students already have a language (which can interfere or serve as a source of meaningful transfer), but they also possess some knowledge of non-verbal communication, of the world in general, of their culture and of many of the culture's social, textual and discoursal schemata.

By detailed analysis of a video-taped sequence of teaching English in a German elementary school, it will be shown in this paper that there are many types of knowledge that the teacher relies on for the students to activate in order to follow and take part in what is going on. We work with the concept of an action schema which can be shown to incorporate different layers of social and discoursal organisation: School in general, foreign language classrooms in particular, and the schema being constructed for solving the specific learning task at hand. The schema, which bears some resemblance to Hasan's generic structure concepts, has obligatory and optional elements in the content, relational and discourse organisational domains, and it can work recursively. Students must know how such schemata work in order to understand the foreign language discourse, or they must be enabled to participate in their construction on the basis of "genre borrowing" from the native tongue and culture. Generic conventions, prosody and non-verbal communication play a great role in enabling student participation right from the word go.