As we use the target language in our classrooms we model rejoinders and we encourage students to use them because they are so helpful in keeping a conversation going. Using a rejoinder is an easy way of showing the other person that you understand and that you want them to keep talking to you. It shows that you are emotionally engaged in the conversation and it encourages the other person to keep giving you input. Rejoinders help to keep other people speaking to you, but you do not need to say a lot. You just listen and nod and say, “That’s interesting!”, “Wow!” or “You don’t say!” the other person talks, you listen. That is just how we acquire more language—by getting interesting, comprehensible input!
Here is a transcript of a short conversation between Vice-president Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner just before president Obama’s speech to Congress on 9/8/11. Notice the differences in the number of words per speaker in this brief exchange (130/6). The speaker uses more than 20 times as many words as the vice president! Biden is reacting and encouraging Boehner to keep on talking without actually saying much:
Boehner: “I played a little golf in August, and I was at Dismal River Golf Club out in Sand Hills, Neb. It’s in the middle of nowhere. One of the hardest golf courses you’ll ever want to see. Sand Hills and Dismal. Seven birdies, five bogeys, I shoot two under.”
Biden: “You’re kidding me!”
Boehner: “So we have lunch, sitting around for about an hour, and I thought, ‘why don’t we go play nine more holes?’ Six pars, three birdies, and I missed a four-foot, straight-in birdie on the last hole.”
Boehner: “So the next day I go to Sand Hills, I shoot 86. One day I play great, the next day I play awful. But this was the round of the decade.”
Biden: “That’s incredible!”
Boehner: “I haven’t done this in 12 years, I shot 67 one time down…”
Biden’s reactions are a great model for a language learner. Rejoinders keep the conversation going! Boehner was doing most of the talking and Biden was keeping him going. Biden was getting interesting comprehensible input at a low cost. He could have been purposefully modeling what Dr. Krashen was explaining here:
“The input hypothesis maintains that speaking does not directly result in language acquisition: talking is not practicing. If you practice your French out loud every morning in front of the mirror, your French will not improve. Rather, the ability to speak is the result of language acquisition, not a cause. Speaking can help language acquisition indirectly, however. First, it can result in conversation, and conversation is an excellent source of comprehensible input, even though what counts in conversation, however, is what the other person says to you, not what you say to them.”
(Stephen Krashen, Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use, p. 5)
If you have Rejoinders Posters in your classroom they will remind you to use them, to stay in bounds when you do, and to have them available to your students so they can express themselves.