Dialogues can be used in many ways for learning English.
a) Self study : Memorizing dialogues for self-study (or better, with a friend) is a good method for getting a collection of "formulas" into your head. Parts of them can then be adapted for other situations. However, before you take the trouble to memorize a dialogue, try to ask a native speaker if it sounds natural; (many of the dialogues in text books are just not true to the way people actually talk). Also, if possible ask a native speaker to speak the dialogue through, so that you get some idea of its rhythms.
b) Classroom study : I have been astonished at just how well students from most cultures adapt to learning and performing dialogues. Here are the steps which I have found work best :
i) The teacher performs the dialogue with maximum expression and humour. Ham acting is great. The more memorable the performance the better. Make the intonation very clear.
ii) Make the students stand up as a group and imitate the teacher's performance step by step.
iii) Distribute the students in pairs around the walls of the room, standing, and ask them to memorize the script. Most students can take in four to six lines at a time. It is amazing how hard they work at this. [Students are socialized into sitting in classrooms from a young age, and along with this comes a powerful conditioned response to switch off mentally. Standing can make a remarkable difference. It is a technique I even use for my own study].
iv) Tell students individually never to speak while they are looking at the printed script. Ask them to look down, memorize a few words, look up at their partner, and then speak. Looking at a script while speaking is deadly to intonation, and also gives no incentive to remember. [ I have found that explaining this to students in a group is largely wasted effort. You actually have to catch individuals in the act and redirect their behaviour. One they understand viscerally like this, they adapt well].
v) Go around the room unobtrusively and invite each pair of students to perform a few lines of script. When they succeed ask them to reverse roles. This one to one attention is a potent motivator.
vi) When the class as a whole has mastered the script, go over any special idioms and words. You will have brought some of these up with individuals where their understanding was failing. However, they will be much better primed to take in and remember explanations after the memorized material is in their head.
vii) Give a quick dictation of part of the script, or possibly different parts of the script on different days. Writing things down is another way (motor skill) that helps many people to remember, depending upon their orientation.
viii) After students have learned about four scripts, be sure to cycle back and do them again. On the second cycle they will relearn much more quickly, and they will retain the information far longer. Take care to explain the purpose of this cyclical relearning to students. Once they understand the method they will be happy to cooperate.
"Startup English" copyrighted to Thor May 2002; all rights reserved