Was I just Dogmed, did I just Do Nothing Teaching?

The three commandments of Dogme ELT include being materials light, conversation driven and emergent language, e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_language_teaching.

The one principle in Do Nothing Teaching could be said to be an inverse principle, eliminate everything that is not necessary in a lesson instead of adding unnecessary things to a lesson – http://kevingiddens.posterous.com/pages/dnt-foundations.

What happened in a one-to-one class recently could be a case of no materials, all conversation. A class that eliminated everything but the necessities.

I had seen this student, who can be described as a B2/C1 level, the previous October. That time we had worked on verb + preposition, prepositional phrases, verb + to/-ing, adjective + preposition and written skills. Apart from the written work all the rest was based on two grammar books.

This time the class started off by her explaining the reason her company had sent her for some more English training. Her boss was apparently unsatisfied with the way she was managing her multi-national team particularly in conference calls. The student felt that she did not have the English necessary to resolve conflicts, motivate team members and get them to participate at meetings.

Yikes I thought! I ain’t no business coach! To imagine her situation I asked her about the primary stakeholders in her project teams which I white-boarded. She described four main ones. As she was doing this I was desperately trying to figure what book I could use to help. I soon realised that no book could help and when I did that I began to relax a little and decided to just see first what her real need was and see if we could explore solutions to it.

I found that we could do langauge work on the way she asked questions to her team members and the way she restated and summarised information. This language work turned out to be less important than the social skills and organisational factors at play in her “problems” in managing teams. This exploration took the large majority of the three hours.

In order to change subject we did talk about her family life, the education of her son, education in the UK and France, her passion for cooking and relaxation therapy. We also talked about the French elections and how in general people felt negatively about the meaning of the democratic vote. How their voices don’t seem to make a difference. This somehow nicely brought us back to how similarly people in work teams won’t feel invested unless they see concrete effects of their contributions.

This led onto whether her company had systems to publicly recognise contributions from employees, they did not. Which also reminded the student of an incident she had very recently where one of her project contacts was very surprised when she praised them for meeting a tough deadline. Finally she was stunned when I asked whether she recorded her conference calls, she had not thought of that, she would look into it.

To be honest I did not feel I had taught her anything but simply acted as a kind of facilatator and interested party. It was a strange feeling because at the same time we did use a hell of a lot of English with some minor corrections and recycling of language. It also did not feel like a lesson where I had coasted along, just going through the motions, watching the clock.

What had I just been through? Was it teaching? Was it just chatting? I am still at a loss to describe exactly how I feel about this “class”. Can I apply what I did to my group classes?

No materials? All conversation? Eliminate everything that is not needed?

Note – I had written this post some time ago and sent it for a possible post on another blog but obviously did not pass muster!


Mike Harrison articulates an interesting question regarding whether one does dogme or whether dogme does you!

Another update:

In fact post eventually approved for DNT challenge see here: https://kevingiddens.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/dnt-challenge-was-i-just-dogmed-did-i-just-do-nothing-teaching-written-by-mura-nava/#comments

Film extract to illustrate international communication

A quick post describing an activity that uses an extract from an independent light-hearted comedy movie called Big Dreams Little Tokyo.

The extract is from 1:01:19 –>1:12:08. It shows a business meeting between a Mexican business man and his Japanese counterparts mediated by two young translators (one of whom is the films’ hero).

Need to point out to students that since extract is from a comedy film some behaviour is exaggerated for comic value. Total extract length is about  11 mins and you can stop the video after the Mexican guy toasts everyone and drinks the sake.

Earlier in the lesson I had boarded the stages of a typical meeting (see photo below). Before playing the video I asked students to note down any communication issues/behaviour corresponding to the different stages – these are indicated in green in the photo)

  • Greetings/Introductions – [update *Cantinflas (what Mexican man says to Spanish interpreter)], Dress of Mexican man, not wearing a sombre suit, red shoes; Time – Mexican man annoyed to have arrived early; Japanese wearing dark suits; there are 4 of them; they make a small bow; they present business cards very formally; Mexican does not have business card
  • Small Talk – there is no small talk outside restaurant but there is in restaurant – Japanese guy asks Mexican guy about eating Japanese food, Mexican guy ask the same about Mexican food; Mexican guy ignorant of Japanese custom of removing shoes; Japanese guy uses humour; length of response to joke; hierarchy demonstrated when 4th Japanese man is prodded to laugh by one of the three main Japanese characters: the small talk extends into the eating of the meal, Mexican guy glad when Japanese guy indicates start of meeting
  • Meeting behaviour – Mexican guy is very direct, the Japanese interpreter wisely turns comments into indirect comments; Mexican guy shows a contract, which is a big no-no in Japanese business etiquette;
  • Closing meeting – indicated by drinking sake and saying kampai, use of alcohol in business meetings

There may be other relevant observations as well.

The two groups tended to show strong interest in the extract and it seemed to clarify the aspects of business communication covered earlier in the class.

The activity lasted about 30 mins – can be longer if you get students into groups to write down ideas instead of whole class feedback as I did.

meetings stages and film extract
meeting stages and film extract

(photo: meeting stages and film extract)

* Thanks to one of my colleagues for finding out that Cantinflas is the name of a famous Mexican comedien. A great example of a word I had no idea the significance of until now due to lack of cultural knowledge.

See this related post on cultural English.