This is a record of a conversation I had tonight with my friend, and what I learned from it, and the thoughts that sprang up.
Anne ~ are you sleeping now?
Can I ask you something?
When you are free, please tell me.
I am free now.
Someone wrote down this to me on facebook~
But I can not know that exactly
can you help me ~ ?
“Monday back to school for me thinking of you much love”
This took me about five minutes to sort out, mostly spent on deciding how to present the information manageably to him. He’s my friend, so I gave it to him straight* – broken into four chunks: Monday/ back to school for me/ thinking of you/ much love. I typed each chunk and reworded it to make sure he understood.
My friend was able to understand the comment after that and said that the explanation was very helpful, “like a icebreaking”. I guess that is what I did for him: break up the text into manageable chunks and put in the punctuation that the original writer left out.
The things that struck me were the authenticity of the situation, the importance of chunking (and the fact that no one ever taught it to my friend), and the role of punctuation in informal writing.
We spend a lot of time talking about authentic texts and how to “bring the world” to our students, if I might borrow the phrase. If I were to bring the above message into the classroom to have my students use for chunking and determining the meaning (and deciding how to respond), it would be an exercise for them, no matter how authentic it was for my friend. Authenticity comes in those teaching moments like the one I just had – where the student brings the “text” – a living (present) situation (or moment). How then do I recreate this in the classroom?
Chunking is important for understanding meaning. Perhaps there are other ways I could have explained, but chunking models something my friend can do for himself next time. What surprises me is that he has been studying English most of his life, has lived overseas, has a lot of English L1 friends, and no one ever taught him this. Then again, how often have I brought this into my own classroom? This is something I will try to teach explicitly in the future.
When people write informally – in tweets, on Facebook, in notes and chats to friends – we tend to write the way we would speak (well, I do at least). I think speech contains punctuation. When writing lacks punctuation where it would be necessary in speech (as in the message my friend received), there could be several reasons. One might be to convey speed and breathlessness, as if to say “I’m writing this to you in a hurry.” Or perhaps the writer thought it would be more dramatic without punctuation. Or perhaps the writer was being lazy. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the writer was not keeping his audience in mind. An interesting question (for me) is To what extent is punctuation in informal writing necessary for comprehension of the text by the L2 English user?
The end of the story:
My friend and I decided it was a very sweet and positive message that was left on his Facebook page. There was just one question left – in my friend’s words: “but problem is I do not know who he is!”
*If he were a student, I would have made him try to break it into chunks and guess at the meanings first. Note to self: present this authentic** text as an exercise to a class.
**Counter-arguments on my opinion of “authenticity” are of course welcome.
I am grateful for my friend’s question, the teaching moment, and the chance to share my thoughts on it here. I am interested in your thoughts as well! Thanks for stopping by and reading.