Frames, Footing, and Teacher-Initiated Questions: An Analysis of a Beginning French Class for Adults

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Sarah Creider


Unlike children learning to speak, adults come to the language-learning process with years of life experience. They may be beginners in a new language, but they are not beginners in their own lives. Yet, some of the most common types of teacher/student exchanges, especially those that follow a teacher-initiated question, may lead to situations in which students who are speaking about familiar topics still feel, act, and are treated as novices. This paper explores a beginning French class for adults, asking how the class participants deal with dual — and sometimes conflicting — roles. On the one hand, the teacher‘s knowledge of French puts her in the role of expert, especially in comparison to her beginning-level students. At the same time, teacher and students are all adults who, outside of the classroom, would meet as equals in terms of general knowledge and experience. These shifting roles can be seen especially clearly in interchanges following questions about students‘ own lives. While it seems evident that a student would know more about her background than anyone else, such questions often seem more like tests of how well students can answer in French than actual requests for information.

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