Recently on #langchat we were discussing interpretive and interpersonal tasks and someone asked whether interpersonal also functioned as interpretive, since the listener is interpreting auditory information. I thought it was Lisa Shepard, a lesson to me to note my sources right away, but I can’t find the conversation. So while I can’t credit my interlocutor, I can still tell you what we talked about and hope the distinction helps you in some way.
Let me spell out the two differences, and then what I think they mean for our class practice in general.
Two differences between interpersonal and interpretive
As we talked through our thoughts on this topic, we identified two reasons we think interpretive listening isn’t the same as interpersonal listening.
- In interpersonal communication, the speaker is sympathetic, at least often and maybe usually so. Sympathetic is a term assessors use to mean that the partner in conversation wants to and is willing to work to achieve communication.
An authentic audio resource is a static thing; it cannot inherently try to help you understand it.
- A learner listening to an audio resource cannot negotiate meaning. This is related to the first point because negotiation of meaning is one way a sympathetic conversation partner helps learners achieve communication. Negotiation of meaning is a term linguists use to talk about the strategies we use to try to be understood and try to understand, from something as simple as asking “Can you repeat that?” to using circumlocution.
An authentic audio source cannot clarify itself for you. It cannot respond to requests for repetition or slowing down, and it cannot stop to explain words simply because you do not have them in your vocabulary.
What this means for teachers
I can think of several implications of this distinction for teachers.
- Realistic, different expectations for interpretive vs. interpersonal
I’ve seen immersion programs have incredibly high expectations for interpretive listening skills, much higher than their output expectations. I think this may be a mistake, unless the teachers are habitually using authentic audio sources, because their teacher is not an authentic audio source; she is a sympathetic partner who is committed to helping them achieve communication and comprehension. The interpretive listening skills aren’t referring to the ability to understand sympathetic partners in communication.
- Commitment to use authentic audio
I’ve written about this a lot. You can do this even with novices! Check out why it’s a myth that novices can’t understand authentic material and some sample activities like using El perdón and Voy a vivir and Shrek. Also, please, please read my letter from an AP teacher to teachers of novices.
- Teaching students negotiation of meaning skills
Like how to use circumlocution to both get their meaning across and figure out what their partner is saying.
I love conversations like this and how they make me think through my practices – let’s keep learning by talking together!