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Co-generating words for experience

Video Type: In Practice

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Lee is a 22-year old college student who moved to North America from rural China with his parents when he was 13 years old. He is feeling isolated and stressed by his studies. Lee is living in residence, but characterizes himself as introverted and is not engaged in the party scene there. He enrolled in engineering and is struggling with the course load. As the first member of his family to enroll in university, Lee is feeling pressure from his parents to succeed. In a two-way conversation focused on generating a description of something, both speakers contribute words to the description. Here, the task at hand is to develop a rich picture of what is going on for Lee, but it is not only his words that contribute to painting the picture. Pay attention to which key words are added to this exchange by Lee, and which come from Anita. Also look for instances where the introduction of a word by Lee prompts the addition of a new word by Anita, as well as vice verse (Anita's language generates new language from Lee). We do more than merely “transmit” our personal experience to another person when we describe what is going on for us. That's because we can't separate our experience from the language we use to speak about it, and in a two-way conversation, that language multiplies and is enriched by the other person. In this example, Lee puts out words out for Anita to pick up, and Anita generates alternate words herself that serve to expand Lee's experience of what is going on for him. Lee's and Anita's lists of words to describe Lee's experience at the start of this conversation is different than their lists at the end of it. For both of them, their vocabularies have been expanded, giving them more ways to think and talk about Lee's experience. In this way, conversations can extend a person's experience of 'I' through the co-generation of language with a second speaker.

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