Role-play pedagogy has been around for a long time and the benefits of its application in a learning setting have been studied since the 70s. Best practices, guidelines and methods of implementation have also been around for quite some time and are applied on a vast scale of disciplines.
Likewise, in adult language training, role-play presents an invaluable tool for cementing knowledge of the language acquired as it helps the learner create deeper cognitive links to the content of their course.
Bridging the gap between being a receptacle of the language taught -where the learner amasses more and more passive knowledge- and being in a position to actually use the words, the syntax and the grammar in practice -turning said passive knowledge into active knowledge- is the key turn-around point in a learner’s journey. The essence of upskilling as a professional is encapsulated within actual performance, where you put into action what you have learned.
For adult learners, learning a second or third language is, more often than not, interconnected with shoring up their professional career and social status. The actual active use of the language, whether in oral or written form, signals an important milestone in their learning endeavor. Additionally, this new ability is often experienced as an appeasement of any worries of having invested time in learning a language at a later stage of life, given that at this point in the game, “time” is a precious commodity.
So, how do we support these milestones, these feelings of self-realization and being on the right track to meeting the goals set? The implementation of role-play activities during the lesson is a great tool and it assists the learner at all stages of their progression. From simple moderated discussions with practiced cues to more elaborate role-play scenarios such as simulations of presentations and meetings, there are so many instances that can be replicated in class to aid the learner self-assess, witness their own progress and take pride in what they are achieving.
When reproducing real-life situations during a session, especially in a group learning setting, creating a safe environment where the participants are encouraged to produce speech and engage with their counterparts is key to a successful run at role-playing. The facilitator, often the language instructor, needs to skillfully gauge the dynamics of the group in order to finetune any such activity to the benefit of all participants equally. The facilitator should ensure that the role play activity will boost their confidence, as this is often a missing chief component for many hesitant speakers and a marker in “unlocking” their oral communication skills.
Assigning roles to the participants when reenacting a meeting is the general idea of this type of activity, but to take it a step further and make it as engaging as possible, it is always great to sort out the specifics. Coming up with layered incentives for all the learners, including them in building their “character” and even adding some humor in the situation can have so many positive benefits for the learner! They will definitely retain key expressions more successfully if they actually enjoyed using them during the session. One-on-one simulations are just as easy to expand by incorporating more thoughtful details. For example, adding a twist or unexpected gag in a telephone discussion role-play can be such a fun stress-alleviator for the adult learner!
Allowing for appropriate preparation time is quite fruitful in more complex activities where the participants are encouraged to use a lot of the language taught. For example, when facing a mock negotiation in class, adult learners may feel better “doing their homework” first. Revision of the language they would be expected to apply during the simulation is a given, but with a reasonable heads-up for this activity, they could also take advantage of the preparation stage and incorporate some decent arguments in their performance. Feeling that both the appropriate language is being used and that maybe they have a chance of “coming out on top” in this simulated negotiation can lead to a wonderfully positive learning experience with space for humor and creating bonds with the rest of the team.
All in all, carefully and thoughtfully designed role plays can be great contributors to perfecting language skills and offering a rewarding fun experience in one’s learning journey.
Written by Hermione P., LTES Teacher