Lesson 3: Chunks and Scripts

What are Chunks and Scripts?

In this lesson we look at ways in which technology has the potential to help students learn languages in "chunks" and "scripts". Language researchers suggest that acquisition is enhanced when we learn vocabulary in small chunks. That is to say, instead of learning a long list of isolated words, we retain vocabulary better when we learn the small phrases that combine several words (e.g., "así es que," "je ne sais pas," "you want fries with that" ).

Similarly, research suggests that we retain vocabulary better when we learn the typical dialogs (or scripts) that people follow in everyday exchanges. For example, when someone asks "How are you doing?" we all expect the answer "Fine, thanks." It is just part of the normal script that we follow and when we deviate from the script, it throws people off.

Language problems can be related to a learner's lack of knowing the exchanges that go on among native speakers. As you watch this video, think of your own experiences when you have learned to follow a script or chunk in a foreign language. We will then tie this into how technology can assist learners in this area.


Prof. Kelm goes to the bakery in Latin America.

Duration: 02:15

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Chunks and Scripts in Context

As we introduce the use of technology in the teaching of chunks and scripts, it might be helpful to explain the difference between context, which was presented in the previous lesson, and chunks and scripts, that are presented in this lesson. They are related. However, by context we refer to the environment in which we use language (e.g., we understand the word fire truck when we hear sirens and see flames). Chunks and scripts are more related to the way that speech is put together, (e.g., in the context of a fire, we may hear people say "move on over" or "pull over to the right"). Context is background setting while chunks and scripts show how speakers put information together in meaningful units.

Let's view a second video clip that illustrates this idea of scripts. The important aspect demonstrated in the clip is that we may actually "know" all of the vocabulary words that are used in a foreign language, but we may still not understand the phrase that is spoken to us because we were not prepared for the dialog or script that native speakers use.


Prof. Kelm at the checkout line in the supermarket.

Duration: 01:43

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Chunks and Scripts in the Language Classroom

Among the challenges and limitations of a traditional classroom is the problem that language learning often focuses on isolated parts that become detached from real speech. The knowledge of chunks and scripts brings learners back to real communication. The use of multimedia helps expose students to these authentic speech exchanges. We are going to see two examples of this. First is a student-created blog for learners of Portuguese called É isso aí, and the second is an online video series of Portuguese lessons called Conversa brasileira. Both illustrate the use of chunks and scripts.