Making Foreign Language Learning Meaningful, Memorable and Motivating through Storytelling

Learning through Language Functions

Master's Thesis, 2011

37 Pages, Grade: 10,00



1.1. Storytelling

2.1. Communication
2.2. Communication process and its strategies
2.3. Pragmatics
2.3.1. Speech acts
2.3.2. Language functions
2.3.3. Storytelling: spoken vs written
2.3.4. Text and Context
A) Spoken stories
B) Written stories

3. DISCUSSION: From process to product Experiencing a meaningful, motivating and memorable learning
3.1. Materials design and lesson planning
3.2. PART I: developing fluency
3.3. PART II: developing accuracy
3.4. PART III: developing pronunciation
3.5. PART IV: storytelling





Speaking in a second or foreign language has often been viewed as the most demanding of the four skills. When attempting to speak, learners must master their thoughts and encode them in the vocabulary and syntactic structures and functions of the target language for a communicative purpose. This desire for speaking stems from the desire for communicating with the members of another community. Because, what is language but communication? Communication is what has allowed man to evolve and develop. It is at the heart of any relationship and forms the basis of human civilization.

Oral communication and conversation is the rock on which personal relationships are built. It is such a common part of our everyday lives that we take it for granted. From a casual conversation with a stranger at a bus stop to an intimate conversation with some friends, it would be impossible for us to go about our daily lives without being able to communicate with others.

It is not only on a personal level that oral communication is important. When we watch TV, listen to the radio, listen to a lecture at university, we are participating in an oral communication act and certainly, when we listen to a personal, short story or an anecdote.

In this study, we will look at the different factors involved in accomplishing a specific task like storytelling by setting the differences between an oral and a written story. We will also look at the intentionality of the communicative situation, at the strategies used to overcome any deficiency in language competence, the functions involved and, mainly, at the process whereby students will be able to be successful in this specific communicative situation.

This paper is divided into two main parts: the first part is a theoretical background which is necessary to build the second part, that is, the practical part, where the different activities are presented to improve progressively the students' four skills in order to develop the final task, which consists of students creating their own personal story to produce it orally in class with their classmates as their audience.

In the theoretical part, we will go through a literature review on communication, its process and strategies, the importance of pragmatics in any communicative event and the difference between oral and written stories and the context where they can be set.

The practical or discussion section is divided into two main blocks: the first block is devoted to materials design and lesson planning, whereas the second block will offer a number of sequenced activities aimed at the students' learning and cognitive processes in order to become familiar with the features of stories and to develop their skills to take the leap to storytelling. In this part we will take as a sample text my own and personal story titled ‘My Trip to Birmingham’.

Taking everything into consideration, we should always bear in mind that the overall goal is to make the foreign language learning process a Meaningful, Motivating and Memorable experience, in this case through storytelling.


Folklore storytelling has traditionally been an oral exchange where stories were retold again and again and, this way, preserved. The telling of these stories was seen as a creative process and the listeners had the feeling that these events were happening right at that moment. Therefore, language structures and lexis were a flexible aspect that might change from one storyteller to another depending on the context or audience where it took place. On the other hand, recording events in writing establishes a new experience of the permanence, fixity, and unrepeatable quality of those events. Once fixed on the written surface, mythic events are no longer able to shift their form to fit current situations. Sometimes, these records can lead to different interpretations, as it happens with oral stories. However, these written records do not enable the reader to ask for clarification about the author’s intentions: there is no negotiation of meaning, stories are open to different interpretations and the real message stories want to transmit might be lost. The polyphony of the text can, consequently, lead to different interpretations.

In an oral performance, however, the author (the speaker) is not only available for comments. He or she is present and interacting with the audience so that the interpretation of the performance is necessarily a joint product of the speaker and listeners. As the American Storytelling Association[1] points out in their website,

“storytelling is an interactive performance art form, where there is a direct interaction between the teller and the audience as an essential element to the experience; storytelling is a co-creative process where the audience do not have a passive role and it is, by nature, a medium for sharing, interpreting and offering the content and meaning of a story to an audience”.

When we hear a powerful story, we have the feeling that it is something unique. Stories stimulate creativity and foster analytic thought. Hearing a powerful story makes the listener livelier, so the fact of listening to the story turns it into a living thing. So, it seems there is supremacy in oral storytelling over written stories. This supremacy and priority will be kept throughout this paper, though there will be a section devoted to written stories as seen as a product resulting from oral storytelling.



In order to understand properly the importance of pragmatics in storytelling, it is necessary to offer a literature review on communication, its processes and strategies for learners of a foreign language, the relationship between pragmatics and storytelling, the speech acts and language functions involved and finally, a more accurate explanation of oral and written storytelling, their conventions and the context that might surround them.

First of all, we would need to define communication. According to Revell,

“Communication is an exchange of knowledge, of information, of ideas, of opinions, of feelings between people… For genuine communication to take place, what is being communicated must be something new to the recipient: there is no sense in him being able to tell in advance what is going to happen. Communication is full of surprises. It is this element of unexpectedness and unpredictability which makes communication what it is, and for which it is so hard to prepare the student by conventional teaching methods[2].”(Revell 1979: 1)

There are two aspects we would like to highlight in Revell’s quotation. Firstly, communication conveys something new and unexpectedness and unpredictability are elements always present. Thus, students learning a foreign language will not only have to count on their mastery of the language but also to face the unexpected elements with regard to which they will have to develop a number of communicative strategies to be successful in the communicative situation.

Some of these strategies may be activating presuppositions, inferences or anticipating or predicting the topic. Secondly, as this author states, it is extremely difficult to teach students to succeed in communicating when using conventional teaching methods, such as the Grammar Translation method (19thC.) or the Audiolingual method (20thC). Therefore, the Communicative Approach is the most suitable method to achieve the communicative competence. As this theory states, students will be encouraged to use the language with the only target of being able to communicate, that is, by making a real practical usage of the English language. On these lines, we will try to interweave the four linguistic skills by means of activities that will increase both the interest and motivation in students to use the language to share ideas, feelings and opinions with other people in different contexts and situations. In order to achieve this communicative competence, students must be trained to use language appropriately in a wide variety of contexts and for different purposes. This idea is strictly linked with pragmatics or meaningful situations, sociolinguistics, ethnography and the relevant competences and communicative strategies. Other features which will surely affect communicative competence are the speaker’s interest or motivation, affective factors, the audience their message is addressed to, the topic selection, etc.

Notion of competence

After all the research done into language throughout the previous decades, theorists started to focus on the context of communication in which language is used, and on the imprint it leaves on the language we use in interaction.

In the beginnings of the Communicative Language Teaching, Chomsky, in his Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) emphasised the distinction between competence and performance. Competence refers to an ideal speaker’s innate ability to generate and understand utterances. It is the basis of Generative Transformational Grammar, which holds that every native speaker has an innate linguistic ability. In short, competence is the ability to create an infinite number of sentences just by applying a limited set of rules and conventions.

Chomsky introduced this competence/performance dichotomy based on the distinction between langue/parole previously made by Saussure.

Hymes developed further this concept in the 60s and renamed the concept as C ommunicative Competence. This competence reflected key features on knowledge and use of language, such as knowing how to use the language appropriately in any given context, how to speak and understand language not only on the basis of grammar, how language varies depending on the context, how language occurs as a process of socialization. He fostered this concept and related it to the field of ethnography and sociolinguistics, where communication takes place in a speech or discourse community, which not only shares the language with more communities but also a set of norms and conventions about language in use.

The communicative competence is a person’s ability to behave appropriately and efficiently in a specific speech community. This involves respecting a set of rules or conventions including grammatical rules and those of different linguistic levels (lexical, phonetical or semantical), as well as the use of language rules related to the sociohistorical and cultural context where communication is set.

As Hymes stated in 1971, the communicative competence is related to knowing “when to speak, when not to speak and what to speak about with whoever, whenever, wherever and whatsoever”. In other words, it is the speaker’s ability to say utterances which are not only grammatically correct but also socially appropriate.

These statements lead us to the next section, where the communicative process and the necessary speaker’s strategies to be successful in a communicative situation are explained in detail.


Point 2.1. has been devoted to giving an overview on some of the core elements of communication. This section deals with the communicative process and the strategies a L2 learner develops to be successful in any communicative situation.

Canale and Swain (1980), on the same lines as Hymes as above mentioned, developed a definition of communicative competence as “how to use one’s linguistic system appropriately in a given situation”. They also included the linguistic competence, the socio-linguistic competence and the strategic competence.

While both the socio-linguistic competence and the linguistic competence deal with the use of linguistic knowledge, the communicative strategies are used to compensate the lack of linguistic knowledge. The socio-linguistic competence assumes the existence of a linguistic system which is shared by the participants and focuses on the appropriate use of the particular social rules.

Communication strategies are attempts to bridge the gap between the linguistic knowledge of a L2 student and the linguistic knowledge of the target language in real communicative situations.

There are different classifications of these strategies. The following chart offers an example of the typology of communication strategies. It shows the different strategies speakers of a foreign language may implement in a situation where the main target is to be successful in the communication exchange. The first column shows the different strategies students can put into practice when they have a lack of knowledge in the L2. These strategies can be applied at different levels: phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical. Their target is to manage to communicate despite these errors. Thus, communication is not interrupted or hindered. To each loophole on the part of the L2 speaker, there is a strategy to overcome that difficulty. Consequently, by the implementation of different strategies, the L2 speaker may be able to communicate even though they lack some knowledge.


[1] National Storytelling Network

[2] Some examples of conventional teaching methods include different approaches from the 19thcentury such as the Grammar Translation Method or the Reform Movement.

Excerpt out of 37 pages


Making Foreign Language Learning Meaningful, Memorable and Motivating through Storytelling
Learning through Language Functions
Enseñanza de inglés como lengua extranjera. English as a Second Language.
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Esta tesis de máster recibió el premio extraordinario de proyecto de fin de máster de la promoción 2010-2011. Trabajo basado en la experiencia de una profesora de inglés como lengua extranjera con 10 años de experiencia.
making, foreign, language, learning, meaningful, memorable, motivating, storytelling, functions
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Paula Lluesma Gordo (Author), 2011, Making Foreign Language Learning Meaningful, Memorable and Motivating through Storytelling, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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