Hints for November ‘O’ Level English exams: Part Three


THE ‘O’ Level syllabus comprises mainly comprehension, summary, free-choice composition, guided and controlled composition and language skills.
Last week we touched on the latter, but in a very cursory way.
This week we would like to be more detailed in addressing these.
The centrality of language skills can be explained by the fact that the ultimate purpose of all the other skills is effective communication.
This includes, among other things, the use of appropriate register.
This article focuses on the teaching and learning of appropriate register at early secondary level.
Register refers to that kind of language, behaviour or any other verbal or non-verbal cue suitable for a particular purpose in a particular situation.
It can be either spoken, written or acted out.
Language that comes out between speakers arises out of various elements; and these vary from situation to situation.
The following are the key determinants of register: subject, addressor, language and addressee.
The addressor’s words are governed by his intentions such as to instruct, to persuade, to inform etc.
However, to start off conversation on a good note, he can begin with greetings and small talk over issues such as health, weather, prices of things etc.
This is called phatic communion.
It is also an aspect of register for like all register, it is culturally conditioned to bring about either politeness principle or to provide affability both conditions are key to the success of any interaction.
The ‘addressee’ also influences the language used.
First, by the status the addressee holds in relation to the addressor – mother? sister? sister-in-law? son? friend? business partner? etc.
Second, by responding verbally to the address.
In our case as Africans these interactions are governed by unhu/ubuntu.
The ‘subject’ supplies the bulk of the language.
It provides both general and technical vocabulary.
The subject could be Mathematics, Shona, Religious and Moral Education, Physical Education, Environmental Science, politics etc.
‘Subject’ can also refer to any other area of discussion or topic e.g. ceremonies such as funerals, weddings and other celebrations.
Let us look at the group of words below and divide them into three subject areas: ‘History’, ‘Funeral’ and ‘Wedding’: Nehanda, Chitepo, procession, dance, Lobengula, ululation, chair, table, Mzilikazi, tears, 1920, burial, dirge, wreath, flowers, ambulance.
In the above example, you may find some belong to more than one set.
The context also affects language in various ways.
The physical setting makes it necessary to use words about certain things. The language used at the church differs from the register of a local bar.
The latter has a relaxed atmosphere which allows informal casual speech. The former provides a relaxed atmosphere which is, however, rather solemn to allow for prayerful meditation.
Other aspects of the context include non-verbal signs such as a looks or gestures.
These affect, replace or supplement language.
Students at early secondary level should be aware of these social aspects of the language they use.
It is important to stress that speakers at whatever level are participants with personalities, statuses, roles and responsibilities; and as such, language must reflect these.
In short, communication involves knowing ‘Who’ you are talking to, ‘What’ you are talking about (subject), ‘Where’ and ‘When’ the communication takes place, the purpose (Why) and possible effects of communication. Always think of any communication in terms of: who says what where, when why and to achieve what.
At ZJC there are many exercises which can sensitise pupils to these nuances of register.
These include:
Miming different emotional states such as: ‘angry\, ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘disappointed’, ‘shocked’, ‘ashamed’, ‘embarrassed’, ‘excited’, ‘bereaved’, ‘grieved’ where partners take turns to command and to mime.
Miming different roles and statuses. This can best be done in groups where they can mime role and statuses of say Father, Mother; the other child; or headmaster, teacher and pupil.
Pairs or groups can also take part in dialogues or conversations where roles and statuses are articulated through appropriate use of language.
The teacher can provide situations which pupils in their pairs or groups can discuss to establish the statuses and roles as well as degrees of formality.
The teacher can provide situations which pupils, in pairs, groups or as a class, can discuss to find out whether language used is appropriate. They use the criteria of ‘subject’, ‘addressor’, ‘addressee’ and ‘context’ to judge the appropriateness.
Play-acting – pupils can play/act different roles at home and at school in groups. Such roles may include playing parts of grandfather or grandmother, father or mother, aunt or uncle, eldest daughter or son, youngest boy or girl.
Pupils can also play peer games. They use appropriate language for organising and playing the games e.g. to play mini-soccer, pupils have to take different roles as organisers, captains, players, referee and linesmen.
To illustrate what has been suggested above here are some typical activities:
a) You have been accused of stealing a pen by your classmate.
Explain your innocence to:
i) the prefect
ii) class teacher
iii) senior master
b) Listen and follow your teacher’s instructions.
i) Raise your hand to bid goodbye to a friend.
ii) Raise your hand to vote for a prefect.
iii) Raise your hands and wave for help from a burning house.
vi) Raise your hands to welcome a friend you have missed for years.
These and other exercises can be used frequently to sensitise students about use of appropriate register in class and out of class.
Register is an important part of manners training.


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