Saturday, September 20, 2008

students & chat

I was set back in late June, maybe, when I chatted with students, then gave an exercise designed to have them use sources and argue for an opinion, for or against having students chat. I was dumbfounded when virtually all students came out against; only one was clearly for. Their essays ended up in their weblogs and I will try to recover them; I am aware that they could have been against simply because it was easier to construct an argument against, or easier to understand the quotes that were against; I was also aware that virtually all chatted in their own time and at least in their own languages, on the internet.

Chat has now evolved considerably, and three months off of posting here does not represent less interest on my part, but maybe less ability to keep up with the overwhelming volume of things written about chat. To review my original hypotheses, the reasons I started this weblog, I'll put their current variants here:

the explosion in chat worldwide is caused basically by people's ability to communicate instantly online; though it is driven by convenience, it has profound effects on both how we understand language and what will happen to most of ours as we know them;

First, and perhaps most important, the relationship between oral and written language as we have always been comfortable with it has changed for good; it is no longer true that the oral language carries most of the dialects, is most changeable, or even is the "primary" language through which the other is developed;

Second, our understanding of dialect will have to encompass "places" where people meet and chat, and which are isolated from the rest of human discourse, so that they have a chance to evolve with their own dialects, in such a way that people may have trouble, at first, understanding them. I am thinking here of places like Second Life and World of Warcraft, though I know little about them, but I know that when enough chat takes place continuously in a given environment it is bound to undergo dialectical modification

Third, as teachers of language (which I am) we are obligated to teach a language in the environment in which it will be used, and that to me suggests that our students should be practicing chat skills, which are similar in a sense to teaching basic conversational English, in that students need to practice responding quickly yet appropriately under pressure, and manage the medium of expression on top of that.

More to come.


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