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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 3; Issue 1; January 2001

Major Article

A Look at a Way of Teaching based on Relationship

Language Psychodramturgy (LPD).

by Bernard Dufeu, University of Mainz, Germany.

Page 1 of 1

Where Language Psychodramaturgy comes from.

Bernard and Marie Dufeu developed Language Psychodramaturgy (LPD) following their work with Expression Spontanee, presented by Willy Urbain at the University of Mainz from the 17th to 30th of July , 1977. LPD draws on a number of pscychodrama and drama principles ( hence its name) and uses techniques from psychodrama and the sciences of communication, as well as self-expression techniques. These principles and techniques have been adapted to the teaching of languages ( Dufeu, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999) as LPD is neither therapy nor theatre. LDP comprises a large number of activities that we have developed over the past 20 years….. Although its origins are diverse, LPD makes a coherent whole. For maximum effectiveness in learning a foreign language LPD is designed to be used on intensive courses ( between three and six hours per day) with a group of no more than fourteen learners. However the principles of LPD, its learning processes and more than 95% of its techniques can be transplanted to other teaching contexts ( extensive courses, groups larger than fourteen), even though the effectiveness(1) of the work done will be reduced.

Problems and Challenges

Double alienation: when we work with a course book and we decide to put the language over in a certain order, we place the learners in a situation of double alienation:

    this is not their language ( not their mother tongue)
    this is not what they want to express ( we ask them to re-use, with a greater or lesser degree of freedom, gobbits of language chosen by people from outside their group, that is to say the authors and readers who work for the publishers) This double alienation impacts negatively on the participants' motivation and on their ability to understand, retain and integrate the foreign language. It also impacts negatively on the way the people learning the language relate to each other.

In traditional methodological terms, the "transfer" phase of the lesson which is meant to allow the learners to freely re-use language previously presented in the course book, in practice often runs into trouble and imposes artificial constraints on the learners. The same can be said for techniques that present participants with language at the start of the lesson and then require them to re-use some of this language right away.

The task is to develop a methodology and classroom activities which reduce this double alienation and allow the participants to express themselves and at the same time take the foreign language on board. It is vital that the foreign language should cease to be something to be taught and should regain its essential function as a means of self- expression, and a means of communication and relating among members of the learning group. This is one the tasks that LPD sets itself.

Activities that stimulate the expressive desire of the participants

To show you how LPD works, we will first describe an individual activity from the beginning of the learning cycle and then a group activity which draws on the imaginative life of the group and which can come somewhere around a week later. We will go into various features of these activities and well as pointing out some written exercises that can follow on from them.

1.1. An individual activity: Doubling fuelled by the participant's words

Bring to mind a sparsely decorated room, a few flowers, and some comfortable cushions with a dozen participants sitting on them. This is day 2 of an intensive LPD course; each day lasts five to six hours.

The activity we want to show you helps participants to broaden their language knowledge, leading on from things they say themselves, however minimal these may be. The activity kicks off, like many LPD exercises, with a warm-up.

Warm-up: Intonation walk

Participants move around the room, each going at their own pace. That they move to their own rhythm is important in the context of a learning process in which there is no good or bad rhythm of learning, but in which each person follows their own. As they move they say a word or a phrase in the foreign language. They are asked to say the word or phrase varying the intonation and feeling the changes of meaning that the changes in intonation create. They then say the word or phrase of their choice to people they meet as they walk around, varying the pitch and intonation, before going back to their cushions.

Main exercise: Doubling fuelled by the participant's words.

The facilitator sits on the floor facing the group, who sit in a semi-circle. One of the participants comes and sits down in front of the facilitator ( usually a woman) with his back to her. The participant puts a half mask without eye holes over his face. The mask leaves his mouth free. Just as happened in the warm-up exercise, the participant is asked to let an utterance come, a word or something a little longer, and to produce it three times, varying the intonation if he wants. The facilitator listens carefully to what the participant says and to the way in which he expresses himself. She picks up and repeats what he has said, following the intonation and articulation patterns and the gestures and movements that go with it, and then adds to the utterance, enriching it linguistically, but always spiralling round the original words. The participant picks up and repeats the parts of what she has said that he wishes to echo. The facilitator develops the sequence following the direction the participant wishes to take, which she judges by the participant's reaction to her words.

Each group member has a turn doing this exercise, and each repeat of the exercise is followed by group activities that, over the first few days, sensitise the participants, among other things, to the prosodic features of the target language and serve to stop group members from spending too long identifying with the masked protagonist. These in-between exercises also have a group function as they help group members to establish relationships, especially when, as in the case over the first four days, the main exercises are individual ones.

1.2 Some of the features of this exercise

Being oneself in the foreign language

The facilitator offers a frame which stimulates the participants' wish to express themselves. She facilitates and offers language support.

The participant shapes the content and the development of his sequence, not only by producing the initial utterance but also by the way he picks up on the new language the facilitator offers him. The more he moves forward in his knowledge of the foreign language the more he is able to accurately decide on the content of his learning process and the more he is able to produce a well fleshed out sequence. In this way participants chose their own path through the foreign language.

The language used corresponds to a here and now wish for expression ( rather than preparing them to be we accept that they are right now). LPD develops a pedagogy of now and of presence. There is thus a direct link between the speaker and his speech, the participant is the source of what s/he says. This speaker-speech unity lessens the second type of alienation we speak about above and greatly helps integration of the foreign language. This unity allows the participant to become more and more the author of their speech and so to be themselves in the foreign language.

Language is experienced in action and in interaction: a direct and individualised contact is made with the foreign language and this leads participants to acquire internalised knowledge of the language rather than information about it. The information is grafted onto the knowledge.

The essential functions of the language: the expressive, communicative and symbolic functions are central to this approach, which gives back to the language used in the classroom its full impact. The other functions of language such as the referential and the meta-linguistic are subordinated to these central functions. Since the deep nature of language is respected the acquisition of the language becomes easier.

The facilitator listens to the participant: she takes her cue from what the participant says; it is up to her to go with the participant's expressive needs and not the other way round. In empathy with the participant, the facilitator offers him language made to measure, which starts from where he is and leads him along paths of the foreign language. The facilitator adapts to the rhythm of the participant and to his knowledge. The participant's contact with the foreign language develops in resonance with his being ( a pedagogy of things offered, rather than impositions) It's a question of following the participant rather than going ahead of him and then of programming his needs. Each participant picks his own path through the foreign language, at his own pace.

At the level of prosody ( pronunciation) the physical closeness of the facilitator's voice to the participant helps him to apprehend the vocal nuances of the utterances that are offered to him, and to become familiar with the rhythmic, melodic and segmental characteristics of the foreign language. To begin a foreign language is to take on a foreign rhythm and this is why LPD has a whole range of exercises that work on rhythm, including activities like poems accompanied by movements that carry the prosodic characteristics of the target language. This sensitisation is important in a communicative context, as it is not enough to simply understand what the interlocutor is saying , but what he is expressing and so to perceive the connotations of the message. Such connotations are mainly carried by the vocal qualities of the utterance,

This sensitisation to the prosodic and segmental features of the foreign language makes it more familiar and lessens its foreigness ( reduction of the first alienation)

The activity we are discussing contributes to the development of attitudes, aptitudes and behaviours that help with the learning of a foreign language ( ability to listen, to observe, openness, auditory discrimination, vocal flexibility…)

It is to psychodrama that we owe the idea of a warm-up that leads into the main exercise. The warm-up is done in the group, so that the participant is protected by the voices of the others in doing what he will later do on his own. The warm-up also serves to sensitise the participants to the effects of intonation on the meaning of an utterance.

From a technical point of view this exercise is an adaptation of the doubling technique used in psychodrama. When doubling the participant, the facilitator takes on the posture of the participant, in so far as this is physically comfortable. The facilitator tries to get into a state of empathy with the participant, to follow his rhythm and to identify with him. The facilitator offers the participant language support in his desire for self-expression, supplying the language exponents needed.

The use of masks over the first four days of the learning process is one of LPD's dramaturgic adaptations.

1.3 A written activity: favourite word

On the evening of the second day, when the participants have all individually done the doubling exercise, they do a written exercise based on the same principle. The facilitator invites the group to close their eyes, let words surface that each person likes, because of their sounds or the images/associations that they evoke. The participants open their eyes once they have found these words. Then they put down or rather draw their word on sheets of paper, shaping their letters so as to create the image the word evokes.

When they have finished their drawing/writing, they form groups of three or four and make a joint drawing of their words on a new sheet of paper. Now they prepare to read their poem in one or several voices.

2.1. A group exercise: the cushions

This exercise is generally used towards the end of the first week of an intensive course or at the start of the second week. It shows how LPD helps to enrich the participants' means of expression and to re-use language already inputted. Two cushions or two chairs are placed at either end of the room. The group splits in two, with half round the cushion at one end of the room and half round the cushion at the other. The participants in each of these sub-groups imagines a character sitting on their cushion and they describe this characters traits. One participant in each subgroup then takes on the role of this character. Then the two characters come together and meet, supported by their respective subgroups.

Beefing-up technique: the facilitator goes up to one of the two characters and takes up part of his dialogue, giving it a more fluent rhythm and enriching it linguistically, so as to express what he wants to say in a more varied and sensitive way. Just as in the activity which we described before, the facilitator pays close attention to what the participant picks up on and what he does not pick up on. The participant's sequence develops in a spiral shape, with plenty goings back and further developments. The facilitator does the same language enrichment work with the other participant.

Re-play technique: what happens next is that participant A moves about two feet to his right, and participant B, in the other subgroup, does the same thing, but to his left. This shuffle sideways creates an empty space in front of each of them. Person C, who belongs to A's group, fills the space in front of B. Person D, who belongs to B's group, comes a fills the space in front of A. Now you have two simultaneous dialogues going between A and D and between B and C. Each speaker is supported linguistically by people from their own subgroup. You can then ask the participants to work in pairs, with people from group A role-playing with people from group B.

Writing activity. With complete beginners and false-beginners, various exercises are possible. Here are some: - the participants create an identity card for the two characters

  • they write a short description to enable them to be recognised by a person meeting them
  • they write a detective's report on each character's day

The activity can also be used at a more advanced level, after the beefing up phase, some of the people in Group A interview the character from Group B , as journalists, and the other way around. The two characters are supported linguistically by members of their subgroup, in role as relatives or advisers. The interviewers then write their report, while the two characters and their adviser write down the characters' CV's. The report and the CV are then given to the character in the other group and the people round him. While these people are reading what has been written, the two groups of journalists get together and choose a place/situation which will bring the characters into contact with each other. The two characters then meet and dialogue.

2.2 Features of this activity

This exercise draws on the imagination of the participants and broadens their expressive abilities while allowing them to feel involved in what they are saying, since they are expressing themselves through the characters. As is the case in most LPD exercises, the facilitator does no simply correct the participants' language production- she offers them an enrichment of their language knowledge in the beefing up phase ( phase 3 in the table below) .

The re-play phase ( phase 4 below) helps to avoid the linearity of many communicative approaches, in which the teachers go from one activity (phase 1 and 2 below) to a new activity, which ends up just being a sequence of phases 1 and 2. The participants in these communicative approaches have the impression that they are expressing themselves but sometimes don't feel they are making much progress in the foreign language. In the exercise outlined above we have brought about a change in the setting of the meeting ( a change of interlocutor) to provoke a change in the situation. In other activities we suggest changing one feature of the character ( age, wishes, fear), or an aspect of the way they relate, or a spatial or temporal feature. Changing one of the parameters of the situation allows the students to "re-play" it, without simply repeating what was said and done before. We thus get change within a frame of continuity, which brings the participants security. It also helps to bring about a partial re-use of the previous language while leading to new language and a further broadening of the participants' means of expression.

The learning process in many LPD activities looks like this:

Phase 1 Setting, framing activity or text which stimulates the participants into wanting to express themselves
Phase 2 Self expression by one or several participants
Phase 3 Language input ( beefing up) Correction and enrichment of the sequence by the facilitator.
Phase 4 Re-play techniques Changing one element in the situation Correction and deepening.
Phase 5 Reflection On request and if necessary. Linguistic and cultural inputs

LDP is rich in activities ( phase 1 ): some arise from a setting like doubling, outlined at the start of this article; others are based on projection techniques, like the cushion exercise, on association techniques, or on topics or situations that release the participants' expressive needs.

We also use a variety of texts: journalistic pieces, literary extracts or texts that come from the life of the imagination: fairy tales, myths, fables and metaphors. The texts are normally chosen for drama potential reasons, such as polarities within the text or in the readers' relationship to it. Other reasons for text choice include relationship potential within the dramatic action or out in the world, and, finally, psychological reasons ( the principles of resonance with the participant).

Towards new horizons

LPD has been through a long developmental phase, since there was a definite challenge to be faced: to free the learner from dependence on the coursebook which imposes contents, progressions and often ways of human relating in the name of criteria which are not always pedagogical.

The task was not only to create a large number of activities but also to put them together to make a coherent whole. LPD was initially developed to be used in ideal conditions on intensive courses, with a maximum of 14 participants and with two facilitators. It has since had to be adapted to institutional conditions that leave much to be desired, with larger learner numbers and only one facilitator. LPD has found a place for itself in the main German-speaking countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and our hope is that it will make its way into the Anglophone parts of the world.

An LPD teacher needs great openness and personal availability; she needs to develop her relational and communicative skills and LPD offers her the pleasure of witnessing the birth and development of a living language, which, in parallel, helps the members of the learning groups to relate to one another.


Bernard Dufeu:

Sur les Chemins d'une Pedagogie de l'Etre, Mainz, Editions Psychodramaturgiques, 1992 (300 pages) ( obtainable from the author: Rilke allee 187, D-55127 Mainz, Gemany. Fax: 00 49 61 31 36 2869)

This book, which deals with the theory and practice of LPD, has been translated into several languages:

Teaching Myself, Oxford University Press 1994 (212 pages) This is a shortened version and is now out of print.

Polos caminhos dunha pedagoxia do ser, Pontevedra, Spain , Cooperativa de Editores Galegos, 1995 ( 271 pages)

In cammino verso una pedagogia dell'essere, Bozen/ Bolzano, Italy, Apha Beta 1999.

Wege zu eine Paedagogik des Seins, Mainz, Germany. Order from the author, as above.

Also by Bernard Dufeu:

Les approches non-conventionnelles des langues etrangeres, Paris, Hachette 1996 ( 208 pages.)

This book describes the theoretical foundations, the practice, the limits and the positive aspects of the main "humanistic" approaches:

    Silent Way
    Total Physical Response
    The Natural Approach
    Community Language Learning
    The Relational Approach
      [ editorial note: much of what is published in HLT would probably be classified by Bernard as belonging to the Relational Approach]

© Bernard Dufeu, 2001.

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