Incidental Language

I had breakfast with my friend Brett this weekend.  He's an accomplished musician and teacher.  We were talking about ineffective teaching.  He brought up a phrase which really stuck with me - "incidental language".  Google this phrase and you get some discussion about not using slang with language learners.  I also searched for "inconsequential language", which I kept saying in error at breakfast, and seemed a misnomer.  Incidental language is incredibly consequential, and has a lot of depth. 

In surgery, I give short, very direct, and highly specific instructions.  "Cut somewhere on the hand" would result in, at best - a longer, inefficient incision; at worst - malpractice.  "Incise the skin full thickness with a 15 blade longitudinally over the 4th metacarpal shaft" gives detail with no extraneous language.  When teaching marching band, I do my best to instruct in the same way.  Fluffy, over-detailed instruction leaves room for error.  Also, pontificating often loses an audience, especially when numerous repetitions are planned.  I think of the students, whether growing surgeons or high schoolers, as computers ready for a program.  Simple, logical, instruction with clear code leads to (usually!) predictable results.

I'm not formally educated in teaching, so would love to hear comments about this from the many professionals out there!!

andrew blountComment