Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Interrupting Cow? No, Interrupting Student.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Interrupting Cow. Interrupting Cow wh– MOOOOOOOOO!

I find it challenging to interrupt others when they’re talking. I’ve read that it’s a gender thing, and I can see the truth in that–my husband has no problem interrupting me, and when we were first married, I used to let him. Now, sometimes if he interrupts me, I keep talking, and he does too, and there’s a comical, conscious battle of who will allow the other to finish their thought. Inevitably, he realizes that he interrupted me and apologizes, but more often than not, our socialized natures shine through. He doesn’t allow others to interrupt him, but likes to interrupt. I allow interruption, and don’t like to interrupt others. (I always manage to get myself heard though, never you worry!)

If interrupting is so challenging in my native language of English, it should come as no surprise that I really have a hard time in my second language, Spanish. Is it that Spanish speakers are even less likely to let me get a word in? Or that my processing is just a step behind? Or perhaps I carry inauthentic expectations from the classroom that conversation partners will permit me the full measure of my turn? It’s hard to say. Regardless, I find it really hard to jump into conversation, and it’s equally as hard to pick up my thought after being interrupted, since the words come out more clumsily the second time.

Interruption is a part of interaction, and interaction is a main motivator of language learning. But Samuel Crofts wrote of his Japanese students that they had similar, unrealistic expectations for interaction that I (still sometimes) do: “Students’ seemed excessively concerned with making sure each person spoke for the same amount of time and nobody disagreed with anybody, nor showed any sign of misunderstanding.” His students also avoided eye contact, and had low listener participation.

As a result, Crofts tried to teach some standard behaviors of English interaction by 1) raising student awareness of interactive norms, 2) providing authentic input, and 3) providing explicit instruction. He showed them videos of awkward interactions to call their attention to the importance of eye contact and body language, and had them prepare guides for foreigners to participate in Japanese interactions. Then, he showed videos of natural interactions between English speakesr and had students pay attention to various aspects, such as backchanneling (signs of agreement) or expressions of disagreement, interruptions, and the negotiation of turns. Finally, he had his students play games in pairs, during which one student had to describe their day in great detail while the other tried to prevent them from succeeding.

 While Crofts is still following up on how successfully his classroom instruction transfers to outside interaction, I think he’s onto something. Considering how adrift I (still) feel in Spanish conversation, despite a high level of fluency, I wonder how newcomer and migrant students, especially high schoolers, feel? Certainly, youth pick up aspects of social language more quickly than adults, but helping students be cognizant of different cultural tendencies when it comes to interaction can get them on track to comfort in English in no time.
Do you try to teach interactive skills to your students? How do  you do it?

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