What’s up with all the airport role-plays?

It is now summer in South Korea. This can only mean any number of things. One of these is “summer camp” (think: English immersion program or band camp without the musical instruments). As a veteran of numerous immersion camps as well as various general English, practical English (I still have no idea what this is supposed to mean) and business English courses I have done my fair share of airport replays. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on why I think such role-plays might be a serious waste of time.

I don’t even want to count the times I, as a teacher, have used role-plays like this. At first it looks great. It looks like a time saver which focuses on something students need. Clear context and clear target language. It is easy enough to ignore the fact that customs and immigration are different entities in real life and how conversations at the airport tend to be much shorter and more direct than the suggested one. Taking things a step further, we might realize that there is usually not a whole lot for passengers to say at the airport.


Business or pleasure?
(Photo by @bewarenerd)

As luck would have it, I’ve recently taken a few flights. I never said a thing at the airport. (1) Not a thing.  I didn’t have to.  I knew the drill. Go to the immigration person. Give my documents whilst standing on the bright yellow feet painted on the floor. Make sure they can compare my face to that on the passport. Say thank you in whatever language comes to mind and seems relevant and move along. I honestly don’t think I needed to access the vast repository of English in my brain.My superior English skills were not needed.  From my view, there is simply not a whole lot of need to communicate in such situations. Sure, we need to follow the steps as outlined and expected but this doesn’t generally require much in terms of production from the prospective passenger. Situations requiring more talking would probably be intimidating and would likely require more than the basic language used in most airport role-plays I have ever seen. This means that if a student runs into trouble and needs to say a lot the basic role-play is not going to be of much help.

As I mentioned I didn’t say much and didn’t feel as though I tapped into my English abilities.

You might say  I was helped by my previous travel experiences and I would willingly and happily concede this point.

You might also say I was helped by my English knowledge even though I didn’t have to actually use my words and say anything at the airport.  I suppose I could agree with this as well.

You might say that the filling out of forms is really the trickiest part and is something students need to work on. To this I would heartily agree and would wonder why the need for role-plays then.

You might also say that traveling in the airport is potentially nerve wracking so the more practice the better. I would agree to this but would disagree that airport replays are really much of a solution. I might say that knowing the script (2) for each stage in the process and what the signs for various places in the airport mean is probably time better spent than doing role-plays based in the airport. I think some familiarity with how things tend to go would be very helpful for those not so experienced with travel.

Why does this have to be done in English classes? (3) I am not saying it doesn’t belong, but more just questioning the assumption that the vaunted airport role-play is a must-do activity. Perhaps it’s not really an English issue?

Also, why is this something that needs to be done with kids? Who are these well-heeled orphans traveling alone? (4) Is there something more relevant to their lives that could be studied and practiced?

Also, why does (seemingly) every immersion village in Korea need to build a replica of an airport? I suppose my thoughts on such immersion programs (and the money spent on them) and the need to create a special place for speaking English will have to wait for another day. Today’s topic is just airport replays. Where was I? Oh yeah. Reasons for the existence and persistence of such role-plays.

I think the belief that such things are motivating is a strong selling point. I have heard some people state that bringing kids to the room that looks like an airport is good for “motivation.” I am not prepared to say this is not the case but I generally think that having students walk and move to any new room and not lecturing at them is likely to be motivating, regardless of what the room is made to be. I might theorize that the act of taking a walk and entering any room and being asked to actually do something is often quite motivating and the airport factor is simply secondary.

What are some other reasons for the airport replay’s supremacy? Maybe the airport is a symbol of the aspirational cosmopolitan international lifestyle that our students *should want. Maybe the airport is the first place that people will encounter on their foreign travels so students need to be prepared for it. Maybe the airport is a scary place so students want to get ready for facing their fears. Maybe the TOEIC test focuses so much on transportation sites so teachers always feel the need to include it. Maybe everyone just thinks the airport is an important location for ESL (EFL?) so it is always featured. I just can’t shake the feeling that such role-plays are a mainstay simply because they are a mainstay. Maybe one time at English camp a teacher did an airport role-play and word of this spread so it became standard.

My basic point is that there is not a lot for people to say in such situations and there is not much point practicing speaking for what often amounts to a non-speaking role in “the real world.” (5) I think it is a lot of misplaced energy. Energy that could be spent on more useful things, things students might actually need and use. Even if teachers decide  that students need to learn about airports the standard airport replay still doesn’t stack up. More time could be spent familiarizing students with the forms and scripts. Teachers, I politely suggest and ask you consider leaving those airport role-plays alone.

Finally, please note that this blog post in no way is intended to mock or disrespect the work of teachers who

  • do English role-plays
  • have done airport role-plays
  • will do airport replays
  • believe in airport role-plays
  • do and believe in airport role-plays
  • like airport role-plays
  • like airports
  • have ever been in an airport
  • have seen Edward Snowden in an airport

As always thanks for reading. Please feel free to tell me what I have missed.

airplane wing tyson

“In the clouds”
An #ELTpics pic by @seburnt
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics
used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license


(1) I didn’t say much on the plane either. In four combined flights I said the following:
water, beer, sprite, chicken, thank you, no thank you.
I also pointed at drinks when they came by with the cart, just to prove I could.
While on the plane I was thinking the encounters with the flight crew were quite similar to those in restaurants and that there’s not much specifically flight related about it.

[This is not to say I didn’t talk at all at the airport but rather to say I didn’t say anything at immigration or customs]

(2) By script I mean, “how the interaction tends to go” and not what we need to say at various points. Here is some info from the good people at Incheon Airport about how the procedure goes. 

(3)  I don’t actually have any evidence that the airport replay is so popular. It might actually be just my imagination but I have seen airport role-plays in plenty of textbooks.It is very possible that airport role-plays are not actually as ubiquitous as they seem to me. Maybe it is just a Korea EFL thing? Maybe I am swayed by the contexts I have worked and the friends I have? Highly possible.

(4) Credit for the term “well-heeled orphans” must go to future guest poster Manpal Sahota.

(5) As a funny aside, a former co-worker assigned memorizing an airport role-play as homework. He was dismayed when only 2 of 10 students had done so. Even more so when he realized they are memorized the part of the immigration officer but were flummoxed when faced with questions from the immigration officer.


  1. Sophia

    ” are these well-heeled orphans are traveling alone?” Brilliant 🙂 In other news: there are replica airport rooms at immersion villages (villagi)?? That is a fabulous nugget of information.

    • mikecorea

      There is some speculation that I wrote the whole post simply to use the phrases “one time at English camp” and “well-heeled orphans.” As you know this is just speculation and I had a very important message to share. 🙂

      Thanks for the comments.
      (I am not drunk. Seriously)

  2. livinglearning

    As you know (but other readers may not), I teach at one of these English Villages where we “do” airport role plays with every camp, as one of a wide variety of activities. I’ll say more elsewhere (with pics, so Sophia can see what an English Village Airport looks like!), but for a couple things jumped out at me from your post that I’d like to explore here.

    You wrote: “I just can’t shake the feeling that such role-plays are a mainstay simply because they are a mainstay.” This is very probably true. “SEV has this and we should too.” and “The parents are expecting this.” are words I have actually heard. And also they’re large and grandiose and easy to film for promo videos and satisfying parental interest. And they have a product: a passport with stamps in it (Wow!) and a ticket stub with their name on it (isn’t technology wonderful?). And I’ll stop now, before I start your future post about the need for English Villages. I want to say, though, that airport (and other) role plays tie in with the goals of these English Villages and vacation camps.

    Cynicism aside, I don’t think these things are “a serious waste of time” unless you insist that the time must be spent on “authentic” activities (although I’m not entirely sure what that means – maybe just a #word). In my view, time spent using English in ways that students enjoy (and this might be especially true with kids) is not time wasted. Then again, time spent memorizing scripts probably is. 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments and for posting your thoughts on this.
      I have no recollection of our (face to face?) conversation that happened months ago when I made the offhanded remark that an anti-airport role play was in the offing.
      Anyway I loved your post and the two tied quite nicely with each other. Worst blog war ever.

      I appreciate you stoking the flames of my cynicism here by mentioning promo videos and parental expectations. But, someone has got to pay the bills, right.

      In all seriousness though, I am not sure if I, as a taxpayer in Korea, am thrilled to see that such places were constructed when a role play can happen in the back of a dusty wifi free classroom.

      By the way “A ticket stub with their name on it” sounds pretty awesome to me and I got slightly less grumpy for a few moments as I read it.

      Thanks as always for the exchange and for helping me see things a bit differently.

      • livinglearning

        Having a role play in the back of a dusty wifi-free classroom is just not #motivating! And you wouldn’t be able to print out individualized tickets or passport photos taken on the spot.
        Seriously, though, I don’t think that airport simulation rooms were constructed so that airport role plays would occur. I think they were constructed because someone had the idea of an English Village (perhaps originally a quite different idea from what it became) and started asking “what needs to go in an English Village?” and got a bit carried away. To me a real English Village (where people actually live and stuff, rather than a giant grandiose classroom) would have to focus primarily on input. You don’t really say much in a post office or supermarket either, but you really need to understand what’s said to you or written around you.
        Regardless of the venue, though, I don’t think that any use of English is a waste of time. And yeah, that goes for accounting role plays and learning to write a will. And while I still curmudgeonly hold that fun does not (necessarily) equal learning, no one ever said that learning was an explicit goal in these role plays.

      • mikecorea

        Hello and thanks for keeping the conversation going.
        I will not be responding to your thoughts on motivation.
        (My new strategy is to avoid words you hashtag in such a manner)

        You wrote, ” I don’t think that airport simulation rooms were constructed so that airport role plays would occur. I think they were constructed because someone had the idea of an English Village (perhaps originally a quite different idea from what it became) and started asking “what needs to go in an English Village?” and got a bit carried away.” That is amazing. Again as a tax payer I am not impressed.

        I love your point, ” You don’t really say much in a post office or supermarket either, but you really need to understand what’s said to you or written around you.” I guess this is what I spent a whole blog post trying to say! Interesting to see how much of an emphasis can be placed on the production in such situations though.

        Finally, you wrote, “Regardless of the venue, though, I don’t think that any use of English is a waste of time. And yeah, that goes for accounting role plays and learning to write a will.” I guess for this I would have to argue that in some cases there is often another (better?) choice. If just using English is enough then I think world of warcraft in English could be the best lesson ever. I think we are back to the FUN question. My take sort of remains that if FUN is really the goal then why not do something really fun (like spin the bottle). Or if using English is the only goal I think there are ways to promote more English use. Anyway you know what I am saying and I am really not attacking teachers who do such role plays more the uncritical adoption of them for reasons we have discussed. Since “no one ever said that learning was an explicit goal in these role plays” I guess my assumptions and expectations might have been a bit off (as I thought that was supposed to be the purpose.) But as you have pointed out there are a wide variety of factors to consider. Thanks again.
        (please don’t take any of the above seriously as I am mostly talking crap)

  3. Pingback: Why I use airport role plays | livinglearning
  4. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

    I can’t recall ever doing an airport roleplay, while in Korea or not. Interesting prominence you say they now have. Seems totally reasonable to go over signage a bit more thoroughly and then maybe some impromptu problem-solving conversations that students are not prepared for. And look! I knew that photo would come in handy one day. 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for stopping by (and congrats on your photo being used! haha)
      Maybe I overstated the case in terms of airport role play’s popularity. Dunno. Maybe it is more of an English camp or English village type thing.

      I am not sure if I hammered home the benefits of focusing signage aspect in my post enough. This is something I think is important and might help alleviate stress at the airport. I also think you make a good point about the problem solving stuff. Thanks!

  5. Bryan

    Great post.

    In regards to feeling secure – learning the “dialogues” for junk food ordering in Korean has shown first hand me that memorizing scripts can actually leave you very insecure in a real situation, because as soon as the other person veers off-script (or the junk food franchise changes its customer choice algorithm) you can get totally off-balance and have more trouble communicating than if you hadn’t called up a preset dialogue to use (in a situation where pointing and using single words suffices). (Ordering junk food isn’t the *only* thing I do in Korea, but it’s a very precise example of a memorized script being a false friend.)

    That said, it depends on how you do the role play, and I like livinglearning’s post in defence of role plays.

    And I also question the value of airport role plays for kids – along with much of the standard stuff in YL textbooks (from everywhere, not just Korea), including directions and even, beyond a certain fairly young age, weather. It’s all very “real world” “real life”, but kids just don’t go around asking for directions, discussing the weather, ordering at restaurants…

    But, with effort, I have had fun teaching directions and even weather (weather is hard to make fun though). Like livinglearning, it’s worthwhile doing English activities that students enjoy, even when I question the need for the content.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for reading and commenting Bryan.
      Your comments helped me see another side of the memorizing of such role plays. Subtle changes can cause trouble.
      (Your phrase customer choice algorithm jumped at me. I don’t know if I have heard it before but I love it)
      I was listening intently on my recent flights and all the flight attendants asked passengers if they wanted drinks in a different way. Lots to memorize there.

      Ohh I forgot I wanted to be really snarky to Ann about the use of such role plays for kids.
      Would accounting role plays be fine if they were made fun? (Surely someone could make them fun)
      How about role plays related to filling out a will?
      I guess these are **slightly** less likely for kids than airports but hopefully I am making some degree of sense.

      Ohh the weather. I used to dread teaching it.
      I used to think it was the most boring thing ever and that I didn’t want to help make students boring.
      Then I got old and boring. I’d love to teach how to talk about the weather. 🙂

      I might be super nerdy but I think teaching directions can be lots of fun.
      One time I spent about 3 hours setting up the class to be like a miniature little town. My sanity was called into question.

      And finally, I think I am with you and livinglearning (Ann) about how it is worthwhile doing activities Ss find fun even if the content might not be ideal. I know there are certain things we have to teach. I get it. I do. Yet, I guess my overall point is that if the point is to be fun then surely there are more fun things than accounting role plays.

      Thanks again for the comments
      (and sorry for the rambley nature of my response)

  6. Nicola

    simulation airports built specially for a ten minute role play?we must see pictures!why stop there?what about recreating elevators,launderettes and supermarket checkouts?you could have whole towns in there and call it esl world.like Disney but much less fun.or for the price of all that you could actually go to an English speaking country and role play for real!truth is stranger than fiction…airport simulations…wow

    • mikecorea

      Hi Nicola,
      Thanks for the comments. I also thought simulation airports were albatross’s albatrosses but now I am not sooo sure.
      Check out Anne’s post here: http://lizzieserene.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/why-i-use-airport-role-plays/

      I think she makes some good points BUT I still have my doubts.

      I guess I should mention that it is not just for 10 minutes but it is a whole big long event with preparation and such. This makes it a bit more palatable for me.
      I am glad I chose to write about this because it might be so normal for those of here in “English-crazed” Korea.

      The thing that really gets me is that in the regular public school English classes (painting large generalizations here) there is not much doing or interaction but mostly teacher centered lectures. So, the way to combat this is to build these posh places for English to be used. Don’t use English in the regular class but do go to a special place for it.

      Thanks again for the comments!

  7. Eduardo Siemens

    Gosh, I read your post and it got me thinking: why the hell do we do it? Although I do agree with you that there’s an unnecessary urge for these role-plays, I also believe that they prepare students for real (or not so real) life. I’ve had a student who lived abroad for 2 years and who doesn’t speak a word in English. I mean, he’s able to thank and give very few personal details effectively, but if you just ask him how his weekend was, he’ll probably stand right in front of you without knowing what to do. He came back to Salvador, Brazil and then decided to started to study English formally. You might be asking yourself why he doesn’t speak English and this was exactly the question I had when we got to know each other. ‘Dear Student X, how come you lived abroad for two years and don’t speak English?’, was the question I asked him as time went by. He told me that he had been to the USA but he hadn’t had much contact with people who spoke English. When he did, however, his Portuguese-English-speakers friends would speak for him. So, having that in mind, is it correct to say that it’d be a waste of time to study English since situations like this may happen abroad? I wonder.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Eduardo. Thanks for the comments and nice to “meet” you. You wrote, ” Although I do agree with you that there’s an unnecessary urge for these role-plays, I also believe that they prepare students for real (or not so real) life.” I think that just about covers it! 🙂 I think your story points to the need to practice certain situations. I guess my thought is that speaking English in a variety of situations (without focusing too much on one) is maybe the way to go. Once again thanks for connecting and commenting.

  8. ljiljana havran

    I agree with you that the airport role-plays which can be found in many coursebooks are completely useless ( I did them a few times and they were not interesting at all to my teenage students). However, if your students enjoy doing them at the replica airports, you can use e.g. some interesting sketches. I’ve come across a Ken Wilson’s Check-in desk sketch recently and think this is a great idea.. I’m going to try it out with my students next school year (his amusing sketches can be downloaded from the box at his blog).

    As you know that I teach English at the Aviation secondary school, I was interested in the topic and enjoyed reading your list of reasons for the airport replay’s supremacy very much; the last one was particularly interesting to me 🙂
    I also agree with you that more time could be spent familiarizing students with the forms and scripts (how the interaction tends to go, filling in forms, or they can design an airline brochure advertising their airport etc.)
    Thanks for the link for the Incheon Airport!

    By the way, I’d like to mention here an interesting idea I heard a few days ago at the summer seminar I attended in Serbia. Tim Bowen gave us a list of the sentences he found when browsing the Aeroflot magazine and Moscow guide on his recent flight to Moscow. The list called ‘Some Mistranslations’ contained some very interesting examples that I think could be found in the Serbian or Korean aviation magazines too (e.g. The hotel is successfully located…, or The cooking of steaks has been raised on the level of art…etc.). An interesting idea for a new blog post, what do you think?

    • mikecorea

      Hello Ljiljana!
      (someday I will spell your name correctly without cutting and pasting!)
      Thanks for the comments, much appreciated.

      Also, thanks for letting me know about Ken Wilson’s sketches. I love his blog and writing but never saw the sketches before.
      (For anyone reading they are in the box under archives on his blog http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com/) It is so very nice to blog about why we might not want to do something and then to get some nice resources to use. THanks!

      You wrote that airport role plays in coursebooks are useless. I have the same feeling but I can’t really explain why.
      You mention the lack of interest they might bring for teens.

      I guess I keep coming back to the idea that is not really so challenging in terms of what passengers have to say.

      We seem to be on the same page in terms of the importance of the script.

      I was reminded of an experience I had a few years ago. I was flying from the US to China and I found the staff in airport very rude and condescending to the Chinese travelers. If I remember correctly the staff wanted the passengers to hold their passports but submit everything else for a security check. The passengers just werent getting it so the staff just got louder and louder. I remember laughing to myself thinking that all these ELT skills do have a purpose in “the real world.” Instead of getting more frustrated (I was behind the Chinese passengers) I decided to do a bit of modeling and held my passport and put down my bag. That was all it toook! How the staff never figured that out I will never know! I remember thinking at the time (I have been thinking about the potential futility of airport role plays for years–long before I had a blog) that this was not really a language issue. I will stop there before my comments turn into another blog post!

      I like your idea about the mistranslations. It sounds like a great blog post.
      Id love to hear more about how you might use them in class. 🙂

      Take care and talk to you soon,

  9. geoffjordan

    I loved this! It’s true, that’s what makes it so good. Yet again, you identify the bullshit that passes for “teaching students what they need”. “Misplaced energy” hits the nail on the head. One more example, as if it were needed, of the need to read the likes of Halliday very carefully, and not turn it into junk. .

    • mikecorea

      “How to read Halliday and not turn it into junk” sure sounds like a great blog post idea. 😉

      Thanks for the comments and support Geoff. Very much appreciated.
      Totally off topic (but I am hoping it might be interesting to you given your interest in blogging)
      I wrote this a while back
      and I was a bit scared to pose it because I thought it was silly. Carol (Goodey) liked it and told me so and this gave me a lot of confidence to experiment more. So, this is a roundabout way of thanking you for support. When I post some really crazy shit I will blame you.


      • geoffjordan

        Just read your post on “doing it the right way” and I’m glad Carol encouraged you to publish.

        As we literary critics say (see Jordan (2019) “The worst bollocks ever written::a critical review of ELT blogs”), you’ve developed a unique, and very resonant voice which deserves its huge following. I’d be honoured to think that I was in any way influential in the craziest shit you publish. My real hero, academically, is Feyerabend, and you remind me of him.

        BTW, How to read Halliday and not turn it into junk: read Sapir and Whorf! That’s a bit glib, but Halliday really did lean heavily not just on Firth, but on Sapir and Whorf, who in turn, leant on Malinowski; Hence (if you’re still there), there’s an awful lot of anthropology involved, and, in my opinion, Halliday’s account makes very dubious attempts to convert this anthropological ontology into “grammar”. Admirable, but unnecessarily difficult. Actually, let me change that: it’s necessarily difficult because he’s charged up the wrong road (just like the logical positivists before him, who had similarly grand plans to map everything philosophical) and tried to make a silk purse out of the proverbial pig’s ear. Such a garbled mixed metaphor surely guarantees that you’ll publish this!

  10. ALiCe__M

    I fully agree with you: airport role play doesn’t seem very relevant. The only time I actually had to say something in an airport was when everything went awry. Had never heard about overbooking, so I had a harsh experience and struggled a bit in English at the time. So now I use this experience of mine to help students talk about everything that went wrong for them when travelling:thus a lot of phrases and language emerge, a lot of learning takes place. But it always stems from a “problem”or difficulty to make oneself understood in a stressful context, in a foreign language.

    • mikecorea

      Hello! So nice to connect with you and merci for the comments. You said very eloquently and clearly what I wanted to say. English becomes important at the airport when things go awry. Other than that it is just follow along show your passport and put down your bags but open your computer and so on. In any case, I really like your focus on the issue or problem and I think there is a lot of useful language around that. Thanks again for the comments and for helping me see things a bit more clearly.

  11. purpleHand

    Why haven’t I read this post earlier before I met you on Sat???
    As I proudly claim that I used to be a member of the fake immigration office, I must say I didn’t enjoy the role play at the time, either. For me, it was sooooo tedious. Same questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s the purpose of your visit? How long are you staying? … I looked at the beautifully customized furniture and passports and thought ‘I can better spend that money.’ But then whenever a new group came in and lined up, I saw their mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement. Some asked one another what the teacher (ooops.. the officer) asked and how they should respond. And some of them practiced.

    Yes, they hardly ask me any questions at the immigration. The information is on the passport and on the screen they are looking at. Sometimes, they don’t even make eye contact. But I see valuable lesson learned, which is not excluded to language. Did I tell you that I still get nervous when I line up at McDonlad’s to get my order and whisper to myself before I say it? 😉

  12. David Harbinson

    I would tend to agree on the value of airport role plays (or just role plays in genera for that matter), especially when it comes to kids. I once did an airport role play with a group of 8 year olds – half way through one girl turned to me and said “Teacher, my daddy speaks at the airport.” Needless to say, I didn’t use that role play with kids again.

    However, one point I would disagree on is that you can get through the airport/immigration by saying very little or even nothing. While that may be true for you and me – perhaps it has something to do with the immigration official seeing our respective American and British passports and assuming that we can’t speak their language – I fear that may not be so true for ‘foreigners’ entering the UK. It’s been a while since I visited the UK with my wife, but I know that when she went through immigration, she was asked quite a few questions – ‘where are you staying’, ‘why are you here’, ‘how much money do you have’, etc. etc. From what I have heard, from other British friends who have gone back more recently (post 2010) with their Korean partners, the questions have become even more invasive. I am not a fan of the current British government, and their immigration policy in particular, and I believe that the border service is a group of xenophobic idiots who are looking for any excuse to deny people entry to the UK. So my point: I think that while we may experience not having to say much at the airport, others might, and we should focus on this. Just with the daddys & mummys and not the 8 year olds.

    • mikecorea

      Hi David,
      Nice comments thanks. I think you make a great point about people entering the UK (and I believe the US is very similar). I think dealing with invasive/aggressive questions that could potentially be asked. I do think that at some point (i am not sure where exactly) it becomes more about “speaking and understanding English well” rather than than being well versed in the typical airport role play stuff. I realize it can be very nerve racking (especially in L2) but I am still not convinced that the classic airport role play (assuming there is such a thing) is the remedy for these things.

      That said, I think your point of disagreement with me “…that you can get through the airport/immigration by saying very little or even nothing” is and interesting one and I think maybe where you are coming from and going to are big influences.

      Thanks very much for the comments,
      PS I love your story about Daddy talking at the airport. That is perfect.

      PPS- I am back to thinking about what it is like when our Korean students fly to, for example, Thailand. My guess is that there is not much need to say a lot. What do you think?

      • David Harbinson

        Hi Mike,

        You said: “it becomes more about “speaking and understanding English well” rather than than being well versed in the typical airport role play stuff.” And I would say that I completely agree with you on this point. People are much more likely to be able to deal with difficult situations when they have the confidence to to speak the language (I think that probably goes for a first language too).

        I have done a lot of role plays in my time, some based on airports, etc. but many on other everyday situations – shopping etc. But, I don’t think that I have ever acted the way that my students do when they act out a role play. It is obviously a very contrived and fake situation. Example: At my academy, students have to book all of their classes at the reception desk. All of this must be done in English, and the Korean support staff do not speak in Korean or respond to Korean requests (at first at least). This is a genuine and real-world interaction. So, during one of the low-level classes we offer, I do a role play on booking classes. One time, I did the role play and thought the whole thing went quite well and the student did a really good job. She then went to the reception desk to book her next class and it was nothing like the role play that we had just rehearsed. It was much more natural – short responses, half-finished sentences, just like how we actually speak.

        That’s not to say that I have stopped doing them, because there are times when I don’t know what else to do (and my context means that I don’t have too much freedom over the choice of materials.) But I think in general that they are not the most effective or realistic way to practice language (that is afterall what we are supposed to be doing with the communicative approach, right? Making it realistic?)

        I think you make an excellent point about Koreans flying to Thailand (or wherever else) and hadn’t really considered that (typical Western-centric thinking I guess!) In fact my point about students facing difficulties when they travel to the UK was based on my own anecdotal experiences, and not really on anything my students have said to me. I think that this would make an interesting topic to discuss with my students, to get their thoughts about what it is like to travel – what they find the most difficult about being on the plane/at the airport etc. Perhaps the basis of a new discussion lesson?


  13. mikecorea

    Hello again David, great response. Lots to think about. I thought the story about the booking of classes. That is really interesting. I think the point about half finished sentences and short answers being the way we speak is really apt and a good point.

    I love your idea of a discussion based on travel challenges. And maybe a blog post as well! 😉

    I still can’t shake this feeling that airports are deemed as super importnat places to study about/on/ because someone assumed they were at one point in time.

    Yet, I am also thinking that my experiences teaching TOEIC listening highlighted awareness of the language and situations of airports is really helpful. Which came first, the importance or the test?

    As I said your response got me thinking a lot. Things like:
    (Im not really looking for an answer)

    How realistic do role plays need to be?
    Is the point of role play practice to be realistic to the real world? (Is that the same question as the first? )
    Is the point of role plays to get comfortable with the script and the language?

    What are the typical procedures for role plays?

    This is sort of a side track but something I have really gotten away from in my teaching is having students write up role plays. I think there is something to it, though (depending on context of course).

    thanks again for the thoughtful and thought provoking response.

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