Emergence and Affordance

Affordance and Emergence in Dogme Approach

In the dogme approach new metaphors are used to describe English language learning. Two of these metaphors are called affordance and emergence.


Traditionally  input was seen as all words, contexts, and other forms of language to which a learner is exposed. Input in this sense is said to provide a basis for acquiring proficiency in first or second languages. The problem with input in the context of language acquisition is that it should be slightly above the level of the learner. Krachen in his Input Hypothesis noticed that providing comprehensible input may boost language acquisition. The dogme approach goes further to suggest that, in addition to providing comprehensible input, learners must be exposed to real language through classroom conversations and language activities that enhance the emergence of language. Scott Thornbury contends in a post about affordance that learning opportunities offered by real talk in the real world, must surely be the best language learning method ever devised. In his book A-Z of ELT he describes affordance as:

a particular property of the environment that is potentially useful to an organism. A leaf, for example, affords food for some creatures, shade for others, or building material for still others. It’s the same leaf, but its affordances differ, depending on how it is regarded, and by whom. The term has been borrowed from ecology to describe the language learning opportunities that exist in the learner’s linguistic ‘environment’…

Is this a shift away from the concept of input?


While language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the ability to perceive and comprehend language in order to use it for communicative purposes, dogme approach puts emphasis on the fact that language learning is a process where language emerges rather than one that is just acquired. Emergence happens when relatively simple elements combine together to form a higher-order system. This is a shift away from the traditional view of acquisition as a linear process. One of the metaphors cited by Scott Thornburry to show how we should create the opportunity for language to emerge is related to the way football emerges in the playground?

How do kids learn the rules of playing soccer? Certainly not by being lectured on them for several years. They learn by participating in certain practices. Two pivotal practices in this respect are a) playing the game; and b) participating in stories and comments about the game perhaps combined with watching games. When they start playing, children tend to run after the ball in a single swarm, kicking it around in seemingly random directions. Then at some point a ‘feel for the game’ emerges. The game reorganizes itself (not for all players at once, but for some) from ‘running after the ball where ever it rolls’ to ‘moving the ball around collaboratively in strategic ways.’ At that point the rules of the game become learnable, in an interaction between bottom-up discovery, and top-down instruction, within the social context of playing the game (Leo van Lier 2004: p.81).

How can a teacher transfer this analogy from the football playground to the context of the classroom?


Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT: A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts Used in English Language Teaching. Oxford, UK.: Macmillan Education.
Leo van Lier’s The Ecology and Semiotics of Language Learning (2004)

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