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What is talking for any more?

In the last few days, a number of posts and blogs have settled into my consciousness and started to jostle for attention. I read somewhere – a #besig tweet probably – that more and more people are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of stuff that keeps pinging and buzzing and tooting and whooshing into their various inboxes. Today, from the same source, came an article that declares most bloggers are turning to facebook and Twitter because they prefer microblogging or what they want to say can be said in 140 characters. Nik Peachey posted a blog which had as its subject the crisis in eduation, possibly occasioned by the rise and rise of techno-tools in classrooms,  which are peopled in the majority by “digital natives”, but guided by techno-innocents, and probably quite a few techno-virgins.

But all this has led me to wonder – not idly either – about the art of talking. Perhaps indeed it has become, or shortly will become an “art”. How much talking  do we do each day? I mean actually face to face intelligent, meaningful talking, using proper words and complex sentences and following a line of thought or argument through to the end. I mean talking that conveys experience and feeling and thoughts and ideas and reactions and plans and dreams and wishes. How are these things conveyed in 140 characters? Are we reducing our lives to what we can and can’t fit into a tweet? What will or will not be deleted by some overworked, stressed out colleague with an overflowing inbox? What we feel we can expose about ourselves on facebook and our reactions reduced to “liking”  someone else’s revelations?

But none of this is talking – it’s all texting and tweetspeak and symbols and emoticons and all that rich and beautiful vocabulary we used to use is locked away. People don’t talk any more.

And what of our students who want to speak in English, who want to be fluent and accurate and confident and funny and open and amiable and persuasive and ardent and passionate and clear and effective and engaged? How are we going to help them to do this when the world is demanding something else, when talking takes up time that no -one seems to have enough of any more, when the language of dreams and hopes and life itself seems no longer to be needed? When tweeting and posting and blogging and microblogging have taken away the deep resonance, the unique timbre, the glorious prosody that is speech?


7 responses »

  1. Hmmm…

    Well thing is, in part you are right, but in part, not getting it.

    In some cases, some who may have felt their words are never listened to can actually gain voice on these mediums. I have my students blogging (and micro-blogging/chatting/discussing in forums) and depending on who they are, these activities actually give them the first safe opportunity to really express their true thoughts in English albeit with fingers!

    And with the students I also teach physically, often what they’ve been working on (or what they’ve read on someone else’s blog) becomes a part of the talking in class…

    In some cases, with the students I work with only online – in that I don’t actually know them, they live in countries like Iraq or Malaysia, but I work with them on MyEnglishClub – they suddenly have an opportunity to talk back to me on a wide range of subjects and I’m their only (other than the other tutors there) contact in terms of English “conversation.”

    I dunno, while I do really understand your point that for some of us, tweeterse, blogggers, we aren’t speaking face2face with real people as much as we may once have… but I would have to be so bold as to ask if all that talking we did back then was actually so very necessary… or perhaps may have often bordered on the trivial filling up of air space.. which sort of reminds me of a conversation I’ve had with Tao of teaching’s Diarmuid Fogarty on his blog…

    In many cases, also, for example your blog feeds into my faves section of my reader – I don’t miss any of your posts so sometimes even if I don’t pop in to actually comment, I’ve heard your voice that day and while walking around the city may have had a mental conversation (the DELTA post comes to mind :-)))… and also, the days when I only lurk on Twitter I also listen to the voices there and it’s nice, it’s very warming and very engaging – even when I have nothing to talk back on.

    I guess, my philosophical question is in return, is talking really only something that is heard and spoken – can not be also read and written?

    Dunno if this makes sense at all but there you go!


  2. Hi Karenne
    You are so lucid! Yes indeed – I, for one, am much more vociferous (ironically) as a micro-blogger, blogger, chatter etc etc than I am an actual “talker”. I would happily spend hours on facebook that I would find very hard going in “real talk” time. It was more the fluency, body language, prosodic features and individual idiosyncracies of lexical choice and idiom that are losing currency, I feel. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, just a shift that needs recognising, I think, in what we as language teachers do. Pronunciation, for example, ceases to be an issue in texting or tweeting or blogging which may well free up those who have difficulties in this area; but it also means that we as teachers need to rethink what it is we mean when we say we teach English and where it is our students wish to go.

    It’s such a broad and wide-ranging issue – fascinating, open and not a little challenging!!

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. the main difference in my opinion seems to be that what Candy misses is spontaneous talk and what Karenne finds as a potential substitute is planned talk. When we write there’s editing, proofreading, and all that. There’s also more self-censorship as well. Imagine both of you discussing this same point – Live! or some more controversial issue, like why Candy doesn’t’t like CELTA (just an example 😉 ) And then I pop up and barge into your talk and in that case I won’t have the records, like I do here and now. And most likely, I can speak my mind and I can name names and expose intricacies and swear (and that swearing will definetely cause some reaction)that I wouldn’t on a blog or twitter, sometimes not only because they’re public but also because when there’s someone looking at you in the eyes while you talk, well… it’s a whole other world.

    Now, Karenne’s point of what you actually verbalize being sometimes as frugal or trivial as ‘written talk’ is a valid one, but doesn’t justify. If I stopped to think what bits of what I say is attentively heard, I wouldn’t bother to talk anymore, mouthly or fingerly.

    • Hi Willie

      Thanks for this. Yes I think that is what I am talking (!!!) about – the spontaneity, the laughing, the raised eyebrows, the questioning looks when we aren’t sure, the eye contact. And of course the ability to fiddle and play with the language as we speak “live” to each other in the same room and also what we can actually do with our voices to get the point across.

      Hopefully these things will always be an important part of what it means to be human and to engage with each other through the spoken word. All the other techie- means of communicating are wonderful: I am addicted to most of them and they have brought me closer to people from around the world. But the students I teach come here to the centre because they want “real talking”, the personal contact, the opportunity to interact with colleagues in real time in a real place and to make actual connections with people. And this too seems to be a big part of their needs – to learn to speak English, to use the voice effectively, to increase their fluency and improve their pronunciation. In short, to speak better English. I honestly don’t think that can be done through Twitter or micro-blogging or in chat rooms. We are looking at two different skills – I think.


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