Processing Image and
Thought in Speech
Lev Vygotsky’s Theory
And How it May be Implemented
Dr. Gary Carkin, Ph.D.
The Institute for Language Education
Southern New Hampshire University
At the Northern New England TESOL Conference
November 11, 2006
This means that the stronger learners, or higher-level students, play a
part in helping the less linguistically sophisticated students as they work
together on projects – of whatever nature. Of course, one can see how drama
can support such interactive process as the very nature of drama demands
negotiation, planning, communication for building the project – not only in
terms of subject matter – but also in terms of function.
Many of you are very familiar with this process – the process of
building a play and/or nurturing role plays in your classrooms. However, it is
Vygotsky’s next major contribution to language acquisition theory that remains
glossed over – and into which I want to delve today.
For a long time, I have been working with scripted drama in my
language classes – well aware that the ESL/EFL community to a great extent
negated the value of scripted works. It was all well and good to use role plays
and scenarios in which negotiation for effective communication occurred, but
not so scripted drama – because –“people were only memorizing”. Thus, it was
inferred, this was a mechanical process through which no language acquisition
actually occurred! A waste of time! I knew, intuitively, and by experience, that
his was not true. But how to debunk this outdated concept? And, how did
people arrive at this concept anyway!?
A study of Vygotsky provides the answer, for we will see that much
language teaching focuses on the upper levels of speech production rather than
the beginnings or its roots. Vygotsky’s penetrating analysis, I believe, leads us
to the core.
The elaboration and sophistication of Vygotsky’s thought you will
have to delve into on your own through his seminal work, Thought and
Language (1986) and his earlier mentioned work, Mind in Society. Today,
because of time restrictions and the nature of this presentation, I will cut to the
chase: briefly, we turn to Vygotsky’s model of how language acquisition occurs
and then I would like to involve you in some exercises that stem from his
I am excerpting liberally from Vygotsky’s work in a synoptic
fashion. I urge you to read his works yourself to get a vital linkage. I can only
give you a grossly simplified – but I hope, accurate – rendition.
Vygotsky saw that “ego-centered speech” – that speech that we all
use and know so well, commonly directed to the duties we must perform (“gotta
go to bed now, wash the dishes next, sign this letter) “stems from the
insufficient individualization of primary social speech…It’s culmination lies in
the future…It develops into inner speech…Ego-centric speech represents a
transition from speech for others to speech for oneself. It already has the
function of inner speech (Thought and Language, p 235).
The rule of inner speech is abbreviation of syntax, as we have seen
above. “In another way, it is like writing a first draft. We have a mental draft
before the written one. This is inner speech. Predication is the natural form of
inner speech; psychologically it consists of predicates only…Inner speech is
speech almost without words…Inner speech works with semantics, not
phonetics” (Ibid. pp. 236--244). These are the peculiarities of inner speech.
“The first and basic (peculiarity) is the preponderance of sense of a
word over its meaning -- the sum of all the psychological events aroused in our
consciousness by the word. A word acquires a sense from the context in which
it appears; in different contexts, it changes its sense. This enrichment of words
by the sense they gain from the context is the fundamental law of the dynamics
of word meanings. A word in a context means both more and less than the same
word in isolation.”…In inner speech, this prevalence of sense over meaning, of
sentence over word, and of context over sentence is the rule” (Ibid. p. 245).
“In inner speech, a single word is so saturated with sense that the
title, Dead Souls, becomes a concentrate of sense. To enfold it into overt speech,
one would need a multitude of words” (Ibid. p. 247).
Vygotsky goes on to say, “We can confidently regard (inner
speech) as a distinct plane of verbal thought…It is evident that the transition
from inner speech to external speech is not a simple translation from one
language into another. It cannot be achieved by merely vocalizing silent speech.
It is a complex, dynamic process involving the transformation of the
predicative, idiomatic, structure of inner speech into syntactically articulated
speech intelligible to others” (Ibid. pp. 248-249). In other words -- from the
sense experienced in language one to articulate(d) communication in language
“In inner speech, words die as they bring forth thought. Inner
speech is to a large extent thinking in pure meanings…Every thought creates a
connection, fulfills a function, solves a problem. The flow of thought has its
own structure, and the transition from it to speech is no easy matter. The theatre
faced the problem of thought behind the words before psychology did. In
teaching his system of acting, Konstantin Stanislavski required the actor to
uncover the “subtext” of their lines in the play…Every sentence we say in real
life has some kind of subtext, or thought hidden behind it…Just as one sentence
may express different thoughts, one thought may be expressed in different
sentences…Thought unlike speech, does not consist of separate units. When I
wish to communicate the thought that today I saw a barefoot boy in a blue shirt
running down the street, I do not see every item separately: the boy, the shirt, its
color, his running, the absence of shoes. I conceive of all of this in one
thought…A thought may be compared to a cloud shedding a shower of words.
Precisely because thought does not have its counterpart in words, the transition
from thought to word leads through meaning. In our speech, there is always the
hidden thought, the subtext.
…………………To overcome this problem, new paths from thoughts to word
leading through new word meanings must be cut. But thought is not the superior
authority in the process. Thought is not begotten by thought; it is engendered by
motivation, i.e., by our desires and needs, our interests and emotions.
(AFFECT). Behind every thought there is an affective-volitional tendency
which holds the answer to the other last “why” in the analysis of thinking…To
understand another’s speech, it is not sufficient to understand his words – we
must understand his thought. But even this is not enough – we must understand
……………..…The development of verbal thought takes (the) course from the
motive which engenders a thought to the shaping of the thought, first in inner
speech, then in meanings of words, and finally in words.
………………...The relationship between thought and words is a living
process; thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead
thing” (Ibid. pp. 248-255).
Drama, and the dramatic approach to language acquisition,
brings language to life, as it brings life to the language.
Burke, Ann F. and O’Sullivan, Julie C (2002) Stage by Stage: A Handbook for
Using Drama in the Second Language Classroom, Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH
Di Pietro, Robert J. (1987) Stratefic Interactions: Learning Language through
Scenarios, New Directions in Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press:
Carkin, Gary (2006) Teaching English through Drama: The State of the Art,
Carlisle Publications, Manchester, NH
Carkin, Gary, Hall, D. and Day, C (2003) Ten Plays for the ESL/EFL
Classroom, Carlisle Publications: Manchester, NH
Carkin, Gary (2004) Ten More Plays for the ESL/EFL Classroom, Carlisle
Publications: Manchester, NH
Finger, Alexis Gerard, (2000) The Magic of Drama, Full Blast Productions:
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1978) Mind in Society, Ed. by Michael Cole et al, Harvard
University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1986) Thought and Language, Ed. by Alex Kozulin, The
MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
For further reference, go to:
Processing the Image – Word in Context – Word and Sense
B. Short Poems
C. Adding Movement
D. Readers Theatre – Short blocks, chunks—Short Strories
II. Introducing Motive (Objectives, Intentions)
A. Through characters in plays – process drama—mantle of the expert
B. Through characters in scripted drama
III. Developing the Subtext
A. Test Time
B. The Office
V. Putting it all together
A. Strategic Interactions
B. Role Plays
C. Improvised Drama
Situations to role play:
A. You are an ESL/EFL teacher in a private language institute. You have
been working there for five years and have not received a raise. You
believe that it is high time you got a raise, especially as you have heard
that a colleague who has been working at the same institute for the same
amount of time has received an increase. You know your work is good and
can back it up. You also need the money for your daughter’s college
tuition and a number of increased expenses including those related to
health issues and medical care. You go to the director’s office determined
to get a raise.
B. You are the director of a private language institute whose numbers are
down and you are feeling the pinch financially. Recently, you have
received complaints that A’s not teaching well. The complaints stem from
three students in his/her class. In addition, A has appeared less enthusiastic
about her/his work and has been absent from class due to illness a number
of times. You are just about on the point of writing her/him a letter of
dismissal, when s/he comes into the office.