Language Play as a Site for Challenging Beliefs in an English Classroom

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paperpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPresented - 22 Jun 2019


TitleInternational Society for Language Studies 2019 Conference (ISLS 2019)
LocationThe Open University of Hong Kong
PlaceHong Kong
Period20 - 22 June 2019


The present study aims to explore the ways language play allows students to not only display their knowledge of language forms and functions, but also establish a carnivalesque atmosphere that transforms and/or disrupts the conventional, normative classroom interaction. According to Cook (2000), ‘knowing a language, and being able to function in communities which use that language, entails being able to understand and produce play with it, making this ability a necessary part of advanced proficiency’ (p. 150). Particularly in learning an additional language, language play is often viewed as an important indicator of learners’ proficiency in the target language as it involves learners’ understanding and manipulation of linguistic form, meaning, or use. Therefore, the nature of students’ play with language is closely connected to their language awareness, which involves more than a mere cognitive knowledge about language (Ahn, 2016). Capturing multiple aspects of the notion of language awareness, Svalberg (2009, 2012) introduces the ‘Engagement with language’ construct which demonstrates learners to reflect on explicit knowledge of language forms and functions as well as to become affectively and socially active through their engagement. The study also draws on Bakhtin’s (1984) notion of carnival and double-voicing insofar as Cook (1997) argues that ‘like fiction, play is a kind of carnival reality (of the kind described by Bakhtin 1981), parallel to the real world but having its own meanings’ (p. 227).
With the understanding that such language play can yield insights into the ways participants understand and envision the broader society, the study examines how Korean students aged 11-15 produce and maintain language play during their participation in two-week English immersion camp programs in South Korea. Investigating both the video recordings and fieldnotes, the study paid attention to teacher-student and student-student interactions that occurred both in-class and during breaks between class sessions. The findings argue that language play episodes offer a prime site for language learners to not only demonstrate their language awareness, but temporally establish a carnivalesque atmosphere to disrupt the discourses found in the conventional and traditional classroom. Several language play episodes present how the playfulness of language play aids students to deviate and resist the seemingly fixed relationship between the teacher and students, and further signal their awareness of the broader social and cultural context of language use. Particularly, students’ collaborative semantic play functions as a means through which they can temporally subvert and challenge the normative hierarchy that exists in a Korean EFL classroom and the societal belief imposed upon teachers and students. Therefore, the production of a carnivalesque atmosphere in the language classroom seems to provide students with a milieu where they can manipulate other voices, create purposeful tensions, and temporarily shift the fixed hierarchy, demonstrating their awareness of both linguistic and social use of language.

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Information for this record is supplemented by the author(s) concerned.

Citation Format(s)

Language Play as a Site for Challenging Beliefs in an English Classroom. / Ahn, So-Yeon.

2019. International Society for Language Studies 2019 Conference (ISLS 2019), Hong Kong.

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paperpeer-review