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I feel a little ashamed to write this post. I really don’t like the idea of using scripts. When I think of scripted conversations in real life, I think of call centre operators. I think of sales clerks. I think of conversations which are perfectly functional, but something is oddly missing.

Scripts are impersonal

This is something which is very easy to see in sales. A store clerk asks you if you are interested in a product completely unrelated to what you are actually buying. Their intention doesn’t seem to match up with words that are coming out of their mouth. It doesn’t even feel as if they are specifically talking to you.

Scripts are kind of robotic

A friend of mine, when he knew he was speaking to an Indian based English-speaking call centre, used to throw out facetious affirmative statements such as “that would be very gangsta of you”. He’d know that the poor person on the other end of the phone line would carry on with what they were saying. They’d have to. It was a scripted interaction.

Scripts are using someone else’s voice

This is probably my biggest issue with scripts. All you need to do is look at any foreign language class with bored students to see this. The language will not seem natural – it is by definition, foreign, but more than that the meaning (or function) will not be natural either. This frequently happens when high school students are taught business English.

So… why do we need scripts?

Because when you are starting out and learning a language,speaking with somebody else’s voice is better than having no voice at all. I also realised something else, something really obvious: when you acquire language, you are copying people anyway.

This is really what language hacking is all about. It’s about finding shortcuts and tricks to speed up language learning and enable communication.

There are a few members of the polyglot community who are engineers, programmers or have some technical background (as a computer games programming graduate, I guess I can count myself amongst them). They use scripts. But the scripts that they use are more of a live collaborative document.

They consult native speakers of the language, often over skype, and they slowly design a conversational framework. It is scripted, but is at least using the type of language which is relevant to their needs. It also “plugs the gaps” – they will attempt to anticipate those awkward moments where there is absolute silence.

So as long as you use scripts as a tool to get some meaningful communication, with the intention to throw them away as soon as you can, then I think they are ok. Actually, I think they are necessary if you want to practice real life conversation as fast as possible.

Just to recap, scripts are ok if:

  • They match up with your intentions
  • Some thought has been put into making them sound organic, and they anticipate different situations.
  • They have been checked with a native speaker who can personalise or adapt them. If you must speak with “someone else’s voice”, at least try to make that voice similar to your own.
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