You're as fluent as the English you feel

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2006, 12:00am

A group of Form Five students focuses intensely on a handful of brief monologues and snippets of dialogue.

They have been given the daunting task of using these unrelated snatches of dramatic speech as the basis of a short play of their own creation.

Less than an hour later, they have whipped up a skit set in an intergalactic take-away where frog is dish of the day.

The class was part of a week-long drama workshop at Wah Yan College in Wan Chai aimed at teaching students that English did not just belong in the textbook.

'One of the great uses of drama is that it frees them of their self-consciousness as they are playing a role,' said Scott Sauer, the classically trained Canadian actor and drama coach who ran the workshop. 'The idea is to help them make connection with the language that they wouldn't have the opportunity to do when learning from the textbook.

'Even in one week I see a difference in these students.'

Mr Sauer, who also performs for Faust International Youth Theatre group, delivers the workshops under Theatre Garoupa, an educational drama troupe he formed with some like-minded colleagues.

He developed the idea for the workshop to counter the 'robotic tone' most students adopted when speaking English.

'They do have feelings and you can hear them when they speak Cantonese. I can't understand much but I can hear when they're upset and when they're happy. When I ask them about that, they agree. It's a confidence issue.'

He felt the lack of expression was due to a lack of experience in using the language in a real-life context. So he decided to give that to them through the use of made-up ones. 'My aim is for fluency over accuracy,' he said.

The approach was based on the work of educational academics such as Dorothy Heathcote, a British pioneer of using drama as a learning tool. But there was also a little twist that came from his own experience as an improviser.

'I like to keep the lessons as informal and non-academic as possible but everything I do has a specific purpose,' he said.

Leonie Cotter, a native-English teacher at Wah Yan, said the drama workshops were a voluntary programme to give students opportunities for self expression that normal lessons could not provide.

'When teaching in a system with 42-plus students in a class, the methodology is so restricting in what you can teach,' she said. 'These classes let the boys have access to something individualised.'