Building rapport and a sense of communal identity through play in a second language classroom

Hann, David (2016). Building rapport and a sense of communal identity through play in a second language classroom. In: Bell, Nancy ed. Multiple Perspectives on Language Play. Language Play and Creativity. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 219–244.




Many teachers would recognize that a certain amount of laughter and play in a classroom is one of the signs of a socially cohesive and contented group of learners. However, on the face of it, language play in a multinational second language classroom would seem to be highly constrained by an apparent lack of common cultural reference points and, at the lower end of the proficiency spectrum, by the linguistic abilities of the learners. This paper features an investigation into language play consisting of a teacher and two low-proficiency adult learners from different professional fields and nationalities, enrolled on an intensive Business English course. The analysis is informed by Goffman’s concept of frame, by Bakhtin’s ideas about the heteroglossic and dialogical nature of language, and by Bauman and Briggs’s notion of recontextualization. It shows how the learners build a common pool of prior talk and reference points, alluding to them humorously. The data consists of a series of short episodes which together trace the development of one such shared reference point. Over two days, the learners transform an incident which highlights their shortcomings in the language into a celebratory resource that they playfully use to build rapport and to help in the construction of a shared sense of identity and culture. I argue in this paper that the language play found in the featured data is very similar in kind to that in native speaker interactions.

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