Using home languages and Ways of Knowing in drama

by Nita Dewse | 1 January 2017

using languages other than English can be a rewarding and liberating experience

An IB student stands in front of the class searching for his clowning moment; he is waiting for inspiration from the clowning gods. He fiddles with his hat – a Turkish fez – twirling the tassels to try and get a better reception as he fears the gods might be out to lunch. Then, all of a sudden, in frustration, he curses them in Finnish – the audience roar laughing and his clown is born.

This idea comes from a clowning commandment taught by Matt Godfrey at an ISTA workshop we attended a while back. The idea is simple and terrifying – stand up in front of the class and perform an improvisation with a prop without pre-planning it. Students need to have “faith” (one of the Ways of Knowing in TOK) that something creative will happen even if they don’t know what it will be yet. That idea of stepping into the unknown without planning is the opposite of what we often teach students in schools where they are rehearsed and prepared within an inch of their life. But the point really is that the answer for this student came in a moment of honesty, using his home language.

Ever since then, whenever I teach clowning, I have encouraged my students not to use English to express themselves. They can speak in their home language or, if English is their only fluent language, they can speak in a form of gibberish with some occasional onomatopoeia key words being identifiable – a bit like Grammelot that the Commedia artists would use when they toured around Italy and Europe performing to audiences who spoke different languages.

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