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Teaching Immigrants New Languages Using Drama

Updated on January 15, 2017
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Nonqaba waka Msimang is a photographer, academic writer, freelance writer and food blogger. She writes about newcomers to North America.

Drama is play acting, therefore it is one of the most effective tools of learning a new language.
Drama is play acting, therefore it is one of the most effective tools of learning a new language. | Source

Immigrants and New Languages

Coming to a new country is a painful experience for most immigrants and refugees, but hope for a better life dries the wound a bit.

The scar cracks when they struggle with new languages, vehicles they need to move forward. Churches, libraries and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) in North America and Europe, offer courses in English or French as a Second Language.

The internet has shrunk the world so newcomers, especially teenagers, have a pretty good idea about new countries they are going to, but being there is the real test.

Rich immigrants might have the money to settle quickly in New Zealand or Canada, but not all of them are fluent in English or French.

Drama Teaching Aid

Drama is one of the effective ways of teaching a foreign language because it mimics life. It simulates what happens at the post office, health centres, immigration office, library, schools and job interviews.

There was a time when drama was taught alongside literature. Students in England and British colonies learnt Hamlet and Othello through drama.

Schools mounted huge theatre productions of Shakespeare’s plays. One of the reasons why British actors used to popular in Hollywood was their stage credits, especially those that excelled in playing Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is dead and gone but he still lives in the hallways of English literature. People learning English in 2015 have the advantage of experiencing a living language.

English or French as a Second Language Instructors could do the following to pump up learners:

  • Convene the daily or weekly class.

  • Give a brief history of drama.

  • If it is teenagers, ask them to name their favourite music videos or actors.

  • Find out what situations they would like to play out, such as asking for directions, buying bus or train tickets, or saying something in class.

    Music Videos: Teens easily relate to videos because they have favourite rappers and musicians. Checkmate, the video by Chinese rapper Jay Chou is a very good example of a well-written script and other things that have to be taken care of before a music video is shot. Music videos are basically drama.

Drama Outcomes

Using drama as a teaching aid should have the following outcomes, no matter how short the play is.

  1. Learners should have five new words added to their vocabulary.

  2. Their correct spelling, taking into consideration that British spelling might be different from North American spelling.

  3. Learners should be able to use the new words in sentences, especially when there might be a confusion about taxis and taxes.

  4. Learners should be in a position to use what they learnt in a drama class in real life for example, order food in a restaurant.

  5. Learners should remember what they learnt in the previous class, because teachers should always revise the previous lesson before they start a new one.

Drama Ideas

Teachers or instructors that teach foreign languages do not have to be actors or drama majors to write short plays that will make learning a new language fun and effective.

Good teachers always prepare their lessons. Learners should be part of that exercise, when using drama to teach a new language. Teachers can say something like this:

Next week we will write down some of the situations that you don’t understand about Canada, like taxes.

English or French as a Second Language Instructors can take these few steps.

  • Convene the class.

  • Give a brief history of drama.

  • Identify situations learners would like to play out.

  • These may include understanding directions (e.g. northbound and southbound), buying bus or subway tickets, career guidance or paying taxes.

Immigrants Understanding Taxes

Governments are called big brother because they always want a piece of the action and they get it through taxes.

If you teach Canadian official languages, take learners around during tax season. They will see all kinds of signs about preparing taxes. Most of them have the word INCOME.

Teach them about why governments deduct taxes from wages and salaries. Ask them to go online and find acts of parliament or legislation about taxes.

English Words Learnt

  1. Income

  2. Taxes

  3. Deduct

  4. Legislation

  5. Acts of parliament

Retail Sales Tax

Countries have different sales tax systems.

The retail sales tax is 8% in Manitoba, a Canadian province. For example, the price of a box of chocolates might be $9.99. Somebody new in the country might check his wallet and smile that he does have ten dollars.

He is then confused when the cashier wants $10.79, because he comes from a country where sales tax is included in the price.

If he lives in Manitoba, he will not pay tax on uncooked chicken or meat. Four drumsticks will be just $3.99, no 8% added. Another province might tax the drumsticks.

Canadian currency.
Canadian currency. | Source

Short Play: $100 Plus Tax


T-Bone: 16 years old, wearing old fashioned clothes from places like Value Village, Seconds and Salvation Army: jeans with wide leg, old brown leather jacket, white leather sneakers and a red baseball cap turned backwards.

Store Security: 30 years old, wearing black pants and a black shirt with the security company logo on the sleeves.

Cashier (Mai Lee): 21 years, spiked ginger hair like a porcupine, too much make-up.

T-Bone lifts a pair of oversized red and black shorts and checks the price. He smiles because they are on sale. He drops them in his basket. He moves around the store and sees an oversized T-shirt his favourite rapper likes.

He puts the basket down and tries to find the price. He finds it and takes the T-shirt. He also picks up a red and black hooded jacket.

T-Bone stands in line behind a girl with blue hair, swaying her body enjoying the music from her beats by dr. dre headphones. He takes two $50 bills from his wallet and waits.


100 Dollars + Tax

By: Nonqaba waka Msimang

Mai Lee: That would be $108.

T-Bone: Hundred dollars, all here. Take.

Mai Lee: The total is $108 sir.

T-Bone: But Miss? Jeans $20, jacket ……………

Mai Lee: (cuts him short) I understand sir. Your clothes are $100. Tax is 8%. That makes it $108.

T-Bone: Tax not inside the price?

Mai Lee: No tax is not included. Sir you are holding up the line. Security!!!

Security: What’s going on here?

Mai Lee: He doesn’t have enough money.

T-Bone: I have. Here, $100.

Mai Lee: Tell him this is Canada, the price does not include tax.

T-Bone looks behind and sees a woman with a stroller.

Woman With A Stroller: These people! My kid in daycare is waiting for me you know!

T-Bone gives her a hard look, then walks out of the store.

Drama Spin-Off

The play is to teach newcomers about the price of anything they buy and the retail sales tax. The play also had spin-offs or added value.

You as the teacher worked with the learners and achieved the following outcomes.

  1. Casting: choosing who will play T-Bone or Mai Lee.

  2. Writing: Some learners might decide they like writing plays, and will work harder to be fluent in English or French.

  3. Rehearsals: Learners appreciate the importance of rehearsals.

  4. Props: Learners came with ideas of creating a store on stage.

  5. Costumes: Finding clothes for the actors and dying hair ginger or blue.

  6. Big Night: There will be great joy for parents and friends when the play opens at the community hall or library.

  7. Confidence: Learners will feel good about themselves and decide that maybe the new country is not that bad.


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    • bonda profile image

      Nonqaba waka Msimang 3 years ago from Canada

      Thanx B, we will continue to learn as long as we are alive.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I'm sure it must not have been easy, but you have done so well! I wish I could have done half as well in the languages I have learned over the years.

    • bonda profile image

      Nonqaba waka Msimang 3 years ago from Canada

      I am glad you picked it up BSB because grammatical and pronunciation errors will be corrected during the play review. English is my second language and schools in Africa used drama to teach us all the English classics. It was not easy but we had no choice.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      An interesting take on the use of drama in ESL, which I'm sure every teacher would use. I'm not sure about reinforcing the use of 'broken' English in the play if the students are not yet fully fluent. It would make a great play for those who are.