Interview held on 3rd February, 2019, of Dr Mike Bilbrough conducted by Joseph Nours Oussou (right in photo) from the very popular WhatsApp English Workshop group of English teaching professionals run by Elie Satingo Migan (left in Photo) in Benin, Africa. Thanks, Joseph and Elie for your time and patience.
Joseph Nours Oussou: Great, could please introduce yourself to the crew members?
Mike: Good evening. I'm Dr Mike. I'm writing this from Seville, Spain.
Joseph: Well, what's the weather like over there in Spain now?
Mike: Oh, the weather. Sunny and cold. I have had a lovely day walking in the hills with my wife and daughter. What about in Benin? Rather warmer I imagine.
Joseph: Very warm here the Borgou region where I am writing you.
Mike: I am hoping to talk to you this evening about my research on gesture in the English language classroom. In fact, I feel quite excited by this because I feel this context is a very relevant one for the research I have done.
Joseph: Great! But before kicking properly the ball, let ask you what you are doing for a living? Who are you?
Mike: I am an English teacher first and foremost. I teach at International House, which is a renowned private academy here in Seville. Secondly, or at the same time, I'm an avid researcher. I cannot just teach the way I'm told but want to explore new fields and old and plough them all into my teaching practice. But the research doesn't pay the bills. Unfortunately. But the teaching does - more or less!
Joseph: Never lose hope dear Mike, it will. From your personal resumé, I learn you hold an MA in Machine translation and language learning. Could you please tell us what is it about?
Mike: This was a project to design a software to help learners in the office workplace learn English while engaged in their work. One criticism of functional language teaching is that we always teach it out of context in the classroom. The software was designed to facilitate authentic phrases through a glossary bank while engaged in email writing tasks. It was called an "on the fly" programme. One which interacted with the learner worker in an authentic context. But rather than just passively using the phrases, the learner was encouraged to actively construct them through linguistic needs in the L1...
THIS SECTION OF THE INTERVIEW IS OMITTED HERE FOR REASONS OF RELEVANCE AND BREVITY.
...Joseph: Thanks! Now let talk about the findings of your [Phd.] research. You have worked on the use of gestures in teaching and learning, right?
Mike: Right! I give conferences and talks on gesture in language learning and give training in mostly private centres locally. This was the focus of my Phd thesis at Seville University.
Joseph: OK. Before going deeply into the topic, I mean the fruit of your research, I'd like you to make a difference between language acquisition and language learning.
Mike: We use the word learning a lot in language teaching when perhaps what we really aim for is acquisition. Learning according to Krashen and many others is a monitored process. Acquisition occurs through impressions on the learners interlanguage which occur generally implicitly. Krashen's work through comprehensible input attempted to show that we can produce a language which is useful for communicative purposes only if it is acquired.
Joseph: Very great references in terms of scholars on language learning. Can we say acquisition concerns a native or first language and learning with a second language?
Mike: I'm not sure if that's true. Learners must have acquired language to draw from to be successful linguists even if they are 2nd language learners. The big question is whether there is a transfer from explicitly learned language to acquired language. Many scholars such as R. Ellis think there is even though the interface is weak.
Joseph: Great! Thanks Dr. What exactly is teaching with gesture, and how can we teach a language item with that?
Mike: As English teachers, most of us use gestures in the classroom. In fact, we often go to great lengths to provide our learners with gestural references to assist in comprehension and convey ideas non-verbally. Without gesture, teachers would find it more difficult to communicate effectively with learners at elementary levels of the L2. It has been said that those teachers who gesture in the classroom are more successful than those teachers who are more static (Gullberg 2006).
Joseph: Wahoo! No doubt that gestures and mimics play a paramount role in teaching a language especially EFL.
Mike: My research went one step further. What if we had a consistent gesture language?
Joseph: Hunnn. A consistent gesture language, what does it consist of?
Mike: A teacher may go to great lengths to explain what a vase is via a pictograph. So why not retain that same gesture for later class use?
Mike: Why? Because then we can:
1, facilitate comprehension
2, elicit language (the word vase) in the future. What I did in the late 1990's was to design a 2000 word dictionary of gestures for teaching English. If you have a parallel gesture language you can eventually elicit language at the full sentence and then full text level. [...] we begin to create a teaching context that approximates implicit learning. And that's very exciting.
Some researchers Quinn-Allen, Tellier, Goldin Meadow and others have [also] attempted to artificially create gestures to facilitate learning. Most of this research has been based on recall capacity and comparing input through different media: visuals, audio and kinesthetics.
Tellier was successful when comparing children learning novel words in French through different media. Gesture or enactment brought about better recall results at output.
Kelly (2009) found that there are places in the brain such as Broca's area (known for speech production association) that were activated by gesture as well. This suggests that both speech and gesture are inextricably intertwined.
In my research I designed a full gesture language for the SL FL classroom.
Joseph: Great! Do you mind indicating one or two of them to our dear readers?
Mike: <link to image> This means "Come and learn with us!"
Mike: Later I'll give you a link to a video of an experimental class.
At about the same time as myself. Early 2000's Wendy Maxwell (2001) designed a gesture language to teach core French in Canada. Now over 4,000 schools across the country use it (Rousse-Malpat, 2012). Maxwell designed a method called Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM). You can find her site on Google.
Joseph: Great, she must have made a fortune if she should sell her tool, I imagine!
Mike: This could be a criticism from a research point of view. Access to her Gesture Approach language is locked behind a 1000 dollar price tag. Her site is rather more commercial than rigorous research.
Joseph: Wahoooh. I guessed it right then. She is more commercial!
Mike: Nevertheless, qualitative research by Arnott, 2009, 2011 suggested that both teachers and students enjoyed the approach and found "there was more French in the classroom" than during [the teaching of] the traditional approach.
Joseph: Very exciting indeed. Please Dr Mike! You said you had designed a full gesture language for the SL and SL classroom in your research. Please be more explicit by giving us some examples.
Mike: (link to video)
Mike: I ran an official experiment through Seville University for a full academic year with a group of 19 Spanish primary school children learning English. They received a gesture based course over this time. We carried out pre-tests and post-tests with this group and a control group. Results favoured the gesture group in that they possessed more communicative ability (in this case story-telling) than the control.
What I wish to share with you is the fascinating dynamic of orientating one's class with a gesture code and I AM speaking here mostly for primary school aged children. Through gesture, we enter into a holistic input of meaningful language at the oral level. That means we can bring in "texts" which represent a more personalised and relevant dynamic that printed materials.
The teacher can (through the aid of gesture) raise comprehension above the students' interlanguage levels and understand input such as anecdotes, local news, what happened to me (the teacher) on the way to school this morning, etc. - that printed materials cannot do. It is immediate, authentic and real-time communication that learners can interact with and respond to.
Joseph: Oh I can see. I totally side with you, Mike.
Mike: Talking to representatives of TESOL Africa at the France TESOL conference last year. I understood that besides written materials being difficult to obtain for language teaching, many do not provide relevance for learners in a country such as Benin, for example. Am I right?
Joseph: I would say you're right, Mike.
Mike: My rationale for contacting you is to gain insights into FL teaching classrooms in African countries or areas of low resources, large numbers of students in classes and whether a gesture code could reach students in a more efficient way of acquiring a language as well as bringing authentic communication into the classroom to motivate learners with more relevance than the published materials that can be obtained...
Joseph: You've done well. I think a gesture language paralleled with the printed documents will foster our teaching with low resources and large classes.
Mike: In the video, you can see how Ss interact with interpreting the gestures and taking decisions about lexis and structure. It is this type of output, taking decisions, changing utterances, etc. that Swain proposed as providing Ss with the right linguistic environment for acquisition. Long and Doughty also suggested that form learning can only be successful when provided together with meaningful input. Notice that throughout the video, there is no meaning breakdown despite no textual reference and all oral language usage.
Joseph: Awesome! It's quite two hours now we've been discussing. Let's talk about our platform, I mean *English workshop.
Mike: Whatever you say! Please, ask away!
Joseph: When did you hear about this platform?
Mike: Through TESOL Africa. Aymen Elsheikh, Ph.D., Instructional Assistant Professor of English, Director, STEAM Initiative.
Joseph: Sorry I don't personally know him.
Mike: This is a project to:
1) organize materials AID for English teaching in Africa and
2) a mutual meeting point of learning of teaching contexts both Europe learning from Africa and vice versa. I personally am involved in both. In short a bridge of knowledge and resources.
Joseph: Can you say a few words about what is going on in the English Workshop? The activities carried out here, how do you appreciate the quality of the management of the crew?
Joseph: Great! Thanks a lot.
Joseph: Any suggestions for its betterment?
Mike: I am amazed at the enthusiasm of the participants yet at the same time the serious and conscientious involvement.
Joseph: Thanks for your encouraging and insightful words.
Mike: I don't see similar groups in Europe working with such efficiency and where participators can really take something of professional developmental use from the conversations as is the case from my brief observation of the EW. Congratulations. Running a group like this must be an enormous undertaking.
Joseph: (Emoticoms CLAP x 4)
Joseph: You're right. It is not easy at all. We have to thank Mr. Migan for his endeavour!
Mike: A clever tactician, obviously!
Joseph: Mike, if you don't mind a reader still has a concern. Does your gesture language have any link with the language of the deaf and dumb? It is a question from a reader please!
Mike: Indeed. On setting out on this endeavour, we took gestures from what is known as Bimodal Communication, which is also closely related to BSL and ASL. BSL - British Sign Language, ASL - American Sign Language. Later many adaptations had to be made because of the didactic nature of the gestures - the way they are meant to be as iconic as possible. Many gestures from BSL ASL are not.
Joseph: Well understood! So can I conclude that yours applies to both "normal" learners and the deaf and dumb?
Mike: No, as I said just then, there is no dual intention of including teaching of hearing impaired languages. Though I believe it does raise consciousness of how they work for language learners.
Joseph: Thanks Mike. We're at the end of the road. Your last words, please!
Mike: I leave you with my website www.gestureway.com for further insights and my email for contact. I should love to hear from you regarding this research project. Tonight I have tried to reach out to Benin and I hope that something I have said will stay with you and encourage you to think about gesture in the contexts of your own language classes. If I have been successful in transmitting this message, I will be well pleased.
Joseph: For sure! Well, dear readers, that's the end of the interview. All your comments and contributions are welcome. Thanks and bye for now.
Mike: Thank you, Joseph, for your time spent with me at this interview. A very good night to you. Buenas noches.
Comment from reader 1: What an insightful interview! I really learned from it. A big thank you to the interviewee and the interviewer.
Comment from reader 2: Congratulations (emoticoms CLAPS) I really learned from this interesting interview.
Comment from reader 3: Well done!
Comment from reader 4: Honestly, I am satisfied with this interview. I say so for two basic reasons. First, the interviewee proves to have a good command of his field, which he painstakingly unravelled to us tonight. He couldn't have done this pretty well without the set of relevant questions put forth to him by the interviewer. Second, the content of the interview as well as the level of the diction is something to write home about. This points to a rigorous preparation of the interview. For these reasons, I say a big thank you to Dr. Bilbrough, our tonight's guest, and ELTA Oussou, for giving us the opportunity to learn something tremendous tonight. Dr. Ayodele A. Allagbe.
Comment from reader 5: Our thankfulness to both the interviewee and the interviewer. Thank you Dr Bilbrough for the time devoted and the experience shared. Be sure your expectations will be met.
Comment from reader 6: ELTA Nours thank you a lot and congrats for the interview well conducted. You are a real (emoticoms).
Comment from reader 7: Congratulations. I know now more about the use of gestures in teaching. Thanks.
Comment from reader 8: But I have a plea to make. I would like Dr. Bilbrough to illustrate his teaching methodology practically, perhaps not today.
Joseph: Thanks anyway, dear Sir YACOUBOU!
Comment from reader 9: Great job TA Bouts. You did well and all professional
Mike: It is difficult to put into a few words and limited time a procedure which is highly visual. Please see my website www.gestureway.com where there is a longer explanation and links to videos with the experimental class during the research project with Seville University. Thanks.
Comment from reader 10: It is completely different from what I thought it was. I personally thought it was all about role and dramatisations and other things we are used to. But what a discovery! Thanks Mr Bilbrough. I will visit the website for more details. Thanks a lot! (Emoticoms)...
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