The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) describes three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational, and lists Can-Do statements in each of these modes. The presentational mode is for sharing information, opinions, etc, and usually consists of one person communicating with a larger audience, either in writing, speech, or multi-modal forms. The interpretive mode is what we usually think of as comprehension, understanding a written, oral, or multi-modal text. The interpersonal mode is when one or more people are interacting with each other, and again this could be in speech, writing, or multi-modal forms. In focusing on language functions and finding example texts, we try to find examples that are in both the presentational and interpersonal modes (and these all become the interpretive mode for our students at home, to recreate in their presentational or interpersonal forms in class). However, we have found that it is much easier to find texts in the presentational mode (either oral or written) than in the interpersonal mode. On the one hand, this makes sense (who records their conversations?), but this can also mean that it is challenging to find examples in this mode. Ones we do find, are often somewhat presentational as well, such as an interview where there are two people interacting, but there is an expectation for a larger audience as well that would not be there if those two people were talking in a more informal situation. The same thing would apply to something like a Twitter conversation.
I first learned about genre-based approaches to language teaching in a pedagogy class in graduate school, where we read two articles describing various aspects of the Georgetown German Curriculum. I was immediately attracted to this approach, and have been working to implement this type of curriculum for the last six years in our Arabic classes (it’s been a long process!). In this post, I want to focus on the reasons I find this approach so appealing, and why I keep coming back to it despite the challenges I’ll discuss, and also how I hope to expand it in the future.