Keeping a Language Log

Introduction

Most of the time, students' work in English is assessed by things that they write about things that they have read. For example, their exams may consist of writing about a Shakespeare play they have studied, or perhaps some non-fiction texts like advertisements or extracts of journalism from a newspaper or magazine.

This project is different. Students will still have to write about language, but this time they'll be writing about spoken language. For many, this will be a new experience. But if you think about it, we generally speak a great deal more than we write (some of us a lot more). And even some of our ‘writing’ – like texting a friend, updating a status on Facebook, using chat on the internet – can be quite close to a spoken form of language.

Part of getting used to looking at (and listening to) spoken language is learning to make sense of the different types of spoken language we hear around us all the time and how those forms can be similar and different. One way to track all the different forms of spoken language is to create a Language Log: a record of all the different things that you hear and all the different things that you say over a period of time. You couldn’t hope to write everything down – after all, most people probably speak over 10,000 words a day and hear many more – but if you track the different kinds of talk you hear, you’ll start to build up a good picture of the rich world of language around you.

Below is an example log that can be distributed to students (you can download and print it as a Handout from the bottom of this page). You can consider distributing the handout to them with no introduction and asking them to consider what it is doing, and why, and what the project entails. They should see that it appears to be a record of spoken language over the course of the day.

Used Heard
7.30am: conversation with mum about last night’s episode of The Apprentice
Informal conversation with a bit of business jargon
7.00am: woken up by brother
Listened to Radio 2 (mum’s choice)
Mostly casual chat between presenters and intros to tracks
 

7.50am: conversation with friends at bus stop and on bus to school
Mostly informal conversation with some slang. One friend did an imitation of a teacher from yesterday’s lesson. Another friend talked about characters in Eastenders

7.55am: overheard conversation between bus driver and controller on radio
Mostly information and instructions about timings of service and traffic disruption

11.10am: presentation to class of Powerpoint on Romeo and Juliet character development
Used notes (prepared) but also answered questions of other class members (spontaneous)
11.00am: Listened to teacher’s introduction to our lesson. She gave us instructions about how to time our presentations and what to leave out
5.30pm: various sales calls as part of evening job
Semi-scripted with some variation depending on person I was calling - also chatted with friends there when not on phone
 
  7.30pm: Listened to Choice FM while doing History assignment
Talked to friends on phone and via Facebook. Casual chat and gossip mostly - some more formal talk with one friend, relating to assignment

Project

Now students can create their own Language Log. Determine a time period over which you’d like them to collect their data - it could be a day or a week, or perhaps a few weekends in a row. They should try to fill the log regularly, rather than trying to remember it all ten minutes before the deadline. The more seriously they do this, the better their final work could be! Blank language log forms can be downloaded below.

After they've completed their logs, they can ask the following questions about the spoken language they've heard around them:

  • Was the communication spoken or electronic?
  • Was the talk formal or informal?
  • Was the talk face to face or at a distance?
  • Was the talk between two people, or between three or more? Or was it from one person addressing others?
  • Was the talk scripted/planned or spontaneous?
  • Did the talk use technical vocabulary or colloquialisms and/or slang?
  • Are there any non-fluency features in the speech, such as fillers (like uhm), false starts or pauses?

What other features of spoken language can they identify? Consider other lessons and materials related to spoken language by browsing Spoken language under the Language in Use menu to the left.

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