InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.

Topic of the Week: Language Play Is Seriously Important

By Lindsay Marean, CASLS InterCom Editor

Last week I met up with members of my family and traveled to the annual Potawatomi Gathering, where I spent nearly a week socializing and sharing with other Potawatomi people from across North America. On my flight there with my 18-month-old niece, her father explained to me that one of her favorite games these days is the “babbling game,” where she says nonsense syllables that sound like an English phrase, and he is supposed to repeat them back to her. What a delightful way for her to develop English language awareness, I thought.

Later, at the Potawatomi Gathering, she heard a Potawatomi leave-taking: Pama mine. “Ba ba bi be,” she said. “Ma ba mi be!” And so on. Oh, no! I thought. She’s learning Potawatomi all wrong! What if someone overhears and thinks I’m teaching her wrong? Paralyzed, I failed to play the “babbling game” with her or even to validate her creative wordplay in our ancestral language.

Clearly, I had an unexamined double standard. As Brutt-Griffler notes in her discussion of World Englishes and language change, a double standard between L1 and L2 is common in the study of language: “Modern linguistics works from the assumption that change initiated by a ‘native’ (or mother tongue) speaker is not error. Theories of SLA, on the other hand, begin from the opposite premise, change introduced into the language by L2 learners constitutes error” (Brutt-Griffler, 2002: 129). Although Brutt-Griffler is talking about language change, the same attitudes are common with language play. As Pomerantz and Bell discuss in their study of language play in an advanced Spanish conversation class, "Whereas native speakers are often lauded for their creation of witty neologisms, puns, and rhymes, non-native speakers are rarely granted such licence. L2 users playing with language regularly run the risk of being corrected or chastised for what is seen as their failure to conform to target language (TL) norms” (Pomerantz & Bell, 2007: 558). As advocates for multilingualism and intercultural awareness, we need to recognize and address this double standard.

The reality is that intercultural humor requires attention to a wide array of language skills. Something is funny because it deviates from the normal script, whether that be with an unexpected pronunciation, double meaning, or social or pragmatic mismatch. To use humor, a language learner must have an awareness of the norm and intentionally violate it (cf. Shively, 2013: 931-932). The effort involved is worth it, however. We use humor not only to be funny, but also to build social bonds and to influence others. Word play also builds more awareness of the forms of words and structures, and socio-pragmatic play can make implicit target culture practices explicit to learners.

Unfortunately, second language learners face several challenges when joking across languages and cultures. Often, proficient speakers fail to consider novices capable of making a joke. Expert speakers typically have more social power, and they fail to ratify novices’ knowledge, positioning them in a more restricted conversational role (cf. Ochs & Schieffelin, 2011) and dooming them to an “outgroup” status.

Another challenge comes from typical approaches to formal language instruction. Pomerantz and Bell offer a friendly critique of communicative language teaching, which tends to emphasize the utilitarian accomplishment of common communicative tasks while “relegating play to the margins of acceptable classroom practice” (Pomerantz and Bell, 2007: 557). Students themselves considered “sanctioned play” in the classroom to be fun, but not pedagogically valuable, even though Pomerantz and Bell found that the language students used during play was qualitatively different (for example, less cursory and formulaic) from that used during “serious” classroom time. Communicative language teaching does not preclude humor and language play; it is up to us as language professionals to consciously integrate it into learners’ experiences.

What can we as language teachers and facilitators do? To begin with, we can change our own attitudes in several ways. We can accept wordplay and other forms of humor as an important part of the process of developing language and intercultural skills. We can position learners as equal conversational partners capable of making jokes and playing with language. We can include sanctioned play (role plays, games, etc.) and unsanctioned play (creative use of language during other activities) as a regular part of our daily classroom activities. Finally, we can explicitly make language play a part of our curricula and therefore students’ language learning experiences.

Next time I hear my niece engaging in spontaneous wordplay in Potawatomi, I hope to respond to and participate enthusiastically in her creative interaction with our vibrant, living language.


Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: A Study of its Development. Bristol, United Kingdom: Channel View Publications.

Ochs, E. & Schieffelin, B. (2011). The theory of language socialization. In A. Duranti, Ed., The Handbook of Language Socialization. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Pomerantz, A. & Bell, N. (2007). Learning to play, playing to learn: FL learners as multicompetent language users. Applied Linguistics 28:4, 556-578.

Shively, R. (2013). Learning to be funny in Spanish during study abroad: L2 humor development. Modern Language Journal 97:4, 930-946.

Activity of the Week

  • Language Games and You

    O-day ou-yay eak-spay ig-pay Atin-lay?

    Vopocêpê fapalapa apa lípinguapa dopo pêpê?

    Language games like Pig Latin in English and a língua do pê in Portuguese are common in many of the world’s languages. If your target language has a language game, your students can learn to use it to gain both a better awareness of target language word structure and target culture historical background and pragmatic norms around that particular language game.

    Objectives: Students will be able to

    • Analyze word structure sufficiently to apply the rules of a language game that changes the pronunciation of the words.
    • Identify the role of a particular language game in the target culture.
    • Predict how the learner’s use of the language game in the target culture may be received.


    1. Choose a language that is part of the target culture. You can find a list of many language games with different languages here: Another discussion is available here:

    Example: Izz Latin in English, as popularized by Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z and showcased in the song “Double Dutch Bus”

    2. Research the historical and cultural background of the language game, and if possible find media depicting its use. Prepare an explanation of how the language game works.

    Example: Here are a few article about -izzle in English:,

    Here is a video that makes use of Izz Latin in English: (starting at 1:38)

    Here is a transcript of the lyrics, and an explanation of the background of the language game:

    Here is a “translation” of the segment of the video into “regular” English (scroll to the bottom of the conversation):

    3. Present the media exemplifying the language game, or if media isn’t available, model its use yourself. Lead students through the process of figuring out how the language game works, “translating” from game language to “normal” language, then writing something in the target language and figuring out how to say it in the game language, and finally reflecting on what they may have learned about word structure in the target language.

    Example: Here is a worksheet dealing with Izz Latin and “Double Dutch Bus.”

    4. Lead students in a discussion of the social and historical background of the game language and how their use of it in the target culture may be received. You can use the attached reflection worksheet for any language (this worksheet is loosely based on the "Discuss - Brainstorm - Dramatize - Stand back" thinking routine described here). 

    Example: With Izz Latin, students should consider the degree to which this language game has become associated with African-American and rap culture, and whether their use of it would be received as “cool,” a novelty (because of a non-Black, L2 speaker of English using it), or cultural appropriation; following this discussion each person can make an informed decision regarding whether/when to use it.

    Extension: Students may wish to research other language games in the target language (for example, Pig Latin and Gibberish for English), or they may wish to invent their own language game that fits the word structure of the target language.

CASLS Spotlight: Language-learning Innovation for Teaching (LIFT)

CASLS is delighted to be partnering with the College of Arts and Sciences, the UO Language Council, and the Yamada Language Center on Language-learning Innovation for Teaching (LIFT) – an initiative to support and transform language learning at the University of Oregon (UO). Participants are working together towards making the UO a leading example of proficiency-based language education in the Pacific Northwest. Twenty-two faculty members from eight departments (Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Literatures, German and Scandinavian, International Studies, Linguistics, Religious Studies, Romance Languages and Russian, Eastern Europe, and Eurasian) are engaging in a tailored professional development experience focused on fifteen different topics to be implemented in lower-division courses.  Some examples include France Noire: African American Writers in France (1918 to 1970) (Corinne Bayerl, Comparative Literature), Learning How to Learn Languages (Melissa Baese-Berk, Kathie Carpenter, Spike Gildea, and Harinder Khalsa), and Russian Literature and the Politics of the Fantastic (Jenifer Presto). Julie Sykes, CASLS’ Director notes, “LIFT is a unique opportunity for collaboration across departments and disciplines. It brings together people with a common goal to engage in meaningful work looking towards the future.” CASLS looks forward to continued collaboration during the 2018-2019 year as part of the LIFT team.

Language Corner

Teaching Grammar in Context Using Authentic Resources, Part 2

Source: passion4theprofession Back to Quick Links


We noted in May ( that the passion4theprofession blog has been posting an ongoing series about using authentic text in instruction. A recent post continues an April 13, 2018 post about teaching grammar in context using authentic resources. In the recent (July 27) post, the author uses two ACTFL Core Practices, "Guide Learners through Interpreting Authentic Resources" and "Teach Grammar as Concept and Use in Context," to describe how authentic resources can be used to teach grammar in context. The post focuses on memes, quotes, social media posts, and poems and song lyrics; and it provides a full example of a meme-based and song-based lesson on using the subjunctive in German.

Read the full post at

Music and the CI Approach

Source: discoveringci Back to Quick Links


How can teachers who use a CI approach (Comprehensible Input, associated with TPRS) use music in their classrooms? Here is a blog post full of ideas and resources; most of the specific songs are in Spanish, but the ideas apply to any language:

Article: Are Video Games the New Free Voluntary Reading?

Source: Language Magazine Back to Quick Links


In this article, Kenneth S. Horowitz discusses video games for language learning, especially in the context of Puerto Rican students learning English. He draws parallels between free voluntary reading and video gameplay, noting the rich language of many video games: "Bioware’s games average around 500,000 words, and the first Mass Effect game has over 20,000 lines of dialogue, compared to an entire season of The Simpsons, which averages around 8,000."

Read the full article at

For more about games and language learning, be sure to visit CASLS' Games 2 Teach website at

Give Me Five: Vocabulary Categories Game

Source: EFL Classroom 2.0 Back to Quick Links

Give Me Five is a low-prep game in which groups of students draw a category card and name five things in that category. You can download printable sheets of category cards in English here:

Creating Community in the Classroom

Source: Latin Best Practices Back to Quick Links


Here is an idea to get students learning each other's names and using the target language: ask them to organize themselves by last name - with a timer! Read how and why this Latin teacher did this activity at

Use Flipgrid to Publish Instructional Videos

Source: Free Technology for Teachers Back to Quick Links


Do you use Flipgrid? If so, here's a helpful video from Richard Byrne describing how to publish an instructional video on the video platform:

Podcast: Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy

Source: We Teach Languages Back to Quick Links


In Episode 64 of the We Teach Languages podcast series, hear Melanie Thomas and Pat DiPillo describe how their school districts navigated the early stages of implementing the Seal of Biliteracy. The podcast notes include more resources regarding the Seal of Biliteracy.

Listen to this podcast at

Professional Development

Call for Papers: American Language Journal

Source: LINGUIST List Back to Quick Links


The American Language Journal invites your submissions for the November 2018 issue. 

Deadline for submission: Sunday, September 2, 2018, 11:59 PM EST 
Submissions in the 2000-8000 word range will be considered, with a focus on linguistics and literature, second language education, Native language education, heritage language education, computer-assisted language learning (CALL), language policy, and applied linguistics. There is no preference for any particular academic subject, and all papers will be peer-reviewed. 

View the full call for papers at

Visit this publisher's website at

45th Conference of the National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs

Source: NASILP Back to Quick Links


The 45th Conference of the National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs will be hosted by University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida on October 26th -27th, 2018.

The conference is especially informative for new and prospective members. It will cover topics such as program design, budgeting, implementation of new language offerings, student orientation, the role of the tutor, and responsibilities of the Coordinator and Examiner. The Association's annual meeting will feature presentations reflecting current research on issues pertinent to academically-based self-accessed programs for LCTLs. The meeting provides access to nationally-recognized scholars in the fields of pedagogy, design, materials development, instructional technologies, program administration, and establishes channels through which the special concerns and expertise of NASILP's institutional members can share. 

Visit the conference website to learn more, to join NASILP, and to register for the conference:

Connecting Teachers with Research

Source: Clare's ELT Compendium Back to Quick Links


We at InterCom hope that our email digest helps to connect practicing teachers with relevant research, and researchers with teachers' classroom realities. In this recent blog post, English teacher Clare Fielder describes several resources where teachers can access research related to language teaching. The resources include InterCom and sites that we frequently cite (such as ELT Research Bites and the now-retired Musicuentos Black Box) and others that we are excited to explore.

Read the blog post at


Book: Learning and Using Conversational Humor in a Second Language During Study Abroad

Source: De Gruyter Back to Quick Links


Learning and Using Conversational Humor in a Second Language During Study Abroad
By Rachel Shively
Published by de Gruyter

This book examines the use of conversational humor in a second language in the context of study abroad. Using a longitudinal design, naturalistic interactions, and a language socialization framework, the study investigates the ways in which study abroad students develop in their production of humor in second language Spanish and discusses how those developments are the result of language learning processes grounded in social interaction.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Language Awareness in Multilingual Classrooms in Europe

Source: De Gruyter Back to Quick Links


Language Awareness in Multilingual Classrooms in Europe: From Theory to Practice
Edited by Christine Hélot, Carolien Grijns, Koen Gorp, and Sven Sierens
Published by de Gruyter

Within the scope of today’s globalization, linguistic diversity is a given fact of the world we live in. In several educational contexts in Europe, language awareness (LA) activities have been introduced with the objective to prepare pupils cognitively, socially and/or critically for life as multilingual, open minded and/or empowered citizens in a diverse world. Despite previous research in various contexts, the concept of LA remains problematic: a generally accepted, evidence-based conceptualization is missing. This confronts both research and education with a challenge: in order to develop LA activities, implement them successfully in educational contexts and achieve the expected outcomes, we should know what the concept stands for, how it works and why we would choose to implement it in classrooms (or not). This volume focuses on three apparent simple questions: what, how and why? The first question – what? – refers to the concept(ual mess) of LA. The second question – how? – refers to the implementation of LA activities in several educational contexts. The third question – why? – is a recurrent theme running through all the chapters and deals with a reflection on the way we deal (un)consciously with LA activities in education.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Handbook of Second and Foreign Language Writing

Source: De Gruyter Back to Quick Links


Handbook of Second and Foreign Language Writing
Edited by Rosa M. Machón and Paul Kei Matsuda
Published by de Gruyter

The Handbook of Second and Foreign Language Writing is an authoritative reference compendium of the theory and research on second and foreign language writing that can be of value to researchers, professionals, and graduate students. It is intended both as a retrospective critical reflection that can situate research on L2 writing in its historical context and provide a state of the art view of past achievements, and as a prospective critical analysis of what lies ahead in terms of theory, research, and applications. Accordingly, the Handbook aims to provide (i) foundational information on the emergence and subsequent evolution of the field, (ii) state-of-the-art surveys of available theoretical and research (basic and applied) insights, (iii) overviews of research methods in L2 writing research, (iv) critical reflections on future developments, and (iv) explorations of existing and emerging disciplinary interfaces with other fields of inquiry.

Visit the publisher's website at

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