learning language with acting

Six Reasons to Act-Up: Skits and Language Learning

by Steven Rashba, ARM, University of Bridgeport

As a modern languages professor at University of Bridgeport, I am constantly trying to teach our students in new and interesting ways. One exciting way to learn language and develop confidence is by taking on a new and different persona through acting. The reasoning goes like this: “If I make a mistake — grammar, wording, or otherwise — no one will attribute that mistake to me; they will think it is a flaw of the character I am playing.” This idea helps students take more risks with dialogue, something that many second-language learners find challenging.

The Benefits of Acting

  • Acting helps develop public speaking skills.
  • Writing and performing a “skit” fosters team-building skills.
  • Drama improves self-confidence.
  • Character acting/performing keeps us physically active and mentally sharp.
  • Performing in plays improves pronunciation and enunciation skills.
  • Being “live” on stage prepares students for the professional presentations they will make in the future.

Skit writing and performing has been a key component of the English Language Institute (ELI) Listening and Speaking curriculum for many years. Although some students may be initially hesitant about acting, once they get used to the idea, most students say it is the highlight of their semester. Students talk about the opportunity to really get to know their classmates when working on this project and some even ask about opportunities to continue with dramatic productions on campus.

One of the reasons why performing is so valuable is that the students take on the roles of characters and are not themselves. Initially, students are nervous about performing in front of an audience, but in many cases, they seize the opportunity and thrive. Students are usually well-disguised by costumes and feel secure knowing that they cannot make a mistake, even if they forget their lines; instead it is “Cinder-ELI-ella” or “Super UB Man” who has erred. We have seen shy, seemingly introverted students volunteer to take on starring roles in ELI performances and develop newfound confidence. In the rare cases where students truly did not want to perform, we have accommodated by allowing them to serve as director, offstage narrator, lighting coordinator, etc. In fact, one student used a sock puppet behind a curtain to comfortably narrate a performance.

When teaching modern languages to non-native English speakers, a professor has to think outside the box. At UB’s ELI program, we prepare non-native English speakers for success in higher education and their chosen professions. A little practice on stage here prepares them for the stage of life.

Steven Rashba, ARM, is the Director of Modern Languages and the English Language Institute and currently teaches Advanced ELI 140 (Research Writing for ESL Students). The English Language Institute welcomes international students with Intermediate and Advanced English language proficiency. Rashba has been affiliated with UB for 23 years and is one of the world’s approximately 3.95 billion bilingual (or more) speakers. A dedicated runner and cyclist, Rashba and his students are active members of Greater Bridgeport Toastmasters and Toastmasters International.