Special report: Sophie Loumanis

Special report: Paris Colloquium 2005, Agir pour apprendre

Sophie Loumanis on “Free Expression as a Pedagogical Medium for Total/False Beginners (+) Learning English in a Professional Environment”

By Rachel Pérotin

This year’s TESOL France Colloquium held in Paris and entitled Learning by Acting in a Professional Environment, was an exciting opportunity to participate in a number of challenging and stimulating workshops. Sophie Loumanis’ workshop on Free Expression as a pedagogical medium for total/false beginners (+) learning English in a professional environment was certainly one of the more cutting-edge presentations as Free Expression falls into the category of alternative approaches to language acquisition.

So what is Free Expression or “Expression Libre” as it is correctly known given that the approach was discovered in France? Free expression is defined as a communicative pedagogical approach in which oral free expression is the dominant medium and objective. The approach is based on the idea of an innate learning mechanism and implicit grammar and exploits the acquisitional model as shown in children by beginning with oral language expression without any support from the written mode during the first year of language learning. Students are free to express their own ideas in their mother tongue. The teacher then translates student expression into the target language and provides the linguistic support system by being totally bilingual.

During the workshop, Sophie gave us some hands-on experience and we all joined in as total beginners in Greek, the “total” certainly being relevant in my case! The approach was exploited with respect to the functional areas typical of a professional environment and a series of images was used to build up the professional environment theme. The slides showed little, if any, written language and any language that did appear was in L1. Student recourse to L1, through translation, is encouraged as a learning tool whereas any written language in the target language, certainly during the first year, is considered a hindrance.

A lot of questions were asked notably about how to launch a Free Expression class and how to evaluate students’ progress fairly and effectively.

In any free expression class, there has to be a pedagogical pact between the teacher and the students based on trust. Students freely express their ideas relating to the image/images presented and no model phrases are introduced by the teacher. Teacher presence recedes over time as students themselves begin to respond to their own language needs and the language needs of their fellow students.

Evaluating students’ progress has its difficulties and the method applied during Sophie’s research was to start from a zero grade and, over time, evaluate students’ oral expression during lessons. This, of course, led to much discussion!

On a personal note, Sophie’s presentation of the theory and practical realisation in class of the Free Expression approach provided an interesting insight into the positive and constructive use of L1 in the language learning process. The approach challenges the idea that recourse to L1 during lessons is negative, if of course the teacher speaks both the students’ L1 and target language fluently. In the future, I will certainly try to positively exploit use of L1 in the classroom. Thank you Sophie for providing us with some serious food for thought.

Contributed by: Rachel Pérotin
In-house English Language teacher
Kodak-Trophy, 77437 Marne la Vallée
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