At the same time that popular media is evolving to support increasingly complex learning activities, educational media is also evolving to recognize the importance of story, play and social activities. For example, math educators are finding that even the stories used in fictitious word problems have a dramatic impact on students math abilities; models are emerging allowing students to play out mathematical concepts.
For Foreign Language educators today, the importance of story, play and social activities is hardly radical; for many teachers those three activities already form the core pillars of a foreign language curriculum. Our task now is simply to reflect upon the ways in which these activities relate to language acquisition and consider how the evolution of these activities in popular culture could allow for the production and distribution of even better curricular materials.
Like math problems, the stories that surround a foreign language exercise have long been recognized as "not just a frill"
In order for input to serve as a basis for the acquisition process, we must insure that there is:
(1) a focus on the transmission of relevant information and
(2) a means of facilitating comprehension
It is quite possible, for example, to provided utterances which have some semantic content, but which do not communicate anything of importance. Suppose an instructor says, Roger is going to the store to buy a loaf of bread. Such a sentence carries meaning, but it may not communicate anything unless we know who Roger is and are concerned about his trip and its purpose. If the instructor merely wishes to use such a sentence as an example of the progressive tense in English, the utterance will be of little value as input for language acquisition (although it could be part of a learning exercise or drill). To draw students' attention away from the linguistic form of an utterance, we need to go beyond a simple meaning and focus on transmission of relevant information. This requirement implies that what is talked about needs to be truly interesting. Discussing topics that are of interest to the students is not just a frill; it is essential if language acquisition is to take place. No matter how "meaningful" we try to make grammar exercises, by their very nature they will not qualify as optimal input for language acquisition since they are not being used for real communication.
What's more, we recognize that stories need to be told across multiple media forms in order to best provide contexts for introductory language students to orient themselves.
A second way to help insure optimal input for language acquisition is to provide means for aiding comprehension. As we discussed earlier, caretakers help children's comprehension by limiting the topic to the "here and now." This provides extra-linguistic support and gives children an idea of what adults are talking about, allowing them to understand language that is a little beyond their current level of competence. Similarly, the language instructor can provide second language acquires, children or adults, with extra-linguistic support. As we mentioned in Chapter Three and exemplified in Chapter Four, this is one of the reasons for the use of pictures and other realia. Good visuals are more than an interesting adjunct; they are an integral part of the equipment needed to encourage language acquisition, especially at the beginning level.
A skilled teacher, then, is able to take advantage of a variety of different media forms to tell the same story, using each media where it is most appropriate to do so pedagogically. For example, one might begin with a video of a play to orient students with a visual context, then read the play to engage students with written language, have them then act out sections to fully internalize it, then write their own extensions to the story to practice production.
Currently, however, this all relies on the skill of a particular teacher to appropriate different media into pedagogical activities. With a surge of opportunities for new-media to provide countless new ways of engaging with stories, it becomes increasingly important that curricular designers explore ways in which remix techniques can be applied to new-media to facilitate pedagogical use by all teachers.