Everything I learned from comics: Will Eisner and EFL

Will Eisner And EFL

Will Eisner is recognized as one of the grandfathers of modern comic books. His book comics and sequential are some of the best written introductions to the critical understanding of comic books. One of his examples from the book illustrates beautifully the advantages of using comics in second language acquisition (SLA).

The comic book is a multi modal medium. It provides more visual clues to the audience than just from the text alone, giving a second language student more information to draw conclusions from and to create context.

eisner_expressions

In the example above, it is almost possible to hear the change in tone that the character has due to the facial expressions. This is an area where a lot of SLA students suffer. They can understand the vocabulary and grammatical content of a text but find it difficult to attach these meanings to emotions or the wider context of the language, leading to a robotic style of expression alien to natural language production. The importance of meta-linguistic signals such as body language, tone of voice, and speed of speech are seen as subordinate to accurate production.

Students are not able to produce language that they have no mental models for. So how do students acquire mental models about how to speak?

The first way is through teacher modeling of language. Teachers often focus on accuracy above fluency, however, and may deliberately over-pronounce the target language to ensure accuracy of transmission.

The next way is through listening activities in the classroom. The listening activities normally associated with classroom English are almost exclusively focused on accuracy, and it is rare to find one that includes emotions, as this speeds it up thus decreasing the accuracy.

The final way is through reading. Sadly—with the exception of comic books—this is an information dense medium of transmission that must rely on specific literary conventions to carry expressive details. This makes it more complex for a student to understand and decode the subtext of a piece of writing.

As we can see this area of communicative competence is not supported by most classroom materials, but as is clear from the example above it is very prevalent in comic books, making them ideal for inclusion into the curriculum of an SLA classroom.

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