samedi 23 juillet 2011

How do students speak? What is of more importance: an error – free speech or to get students willing to speak?

1-    How do students speak? What is of more importance: an error – free speech or to get students willing to speak?

     Speaking is a complex act where different elements interact to produce an effective communication. It is, like the other skills, more complicated than it seems at first, and it involves more than just pronouncing words. Speaking a foreign language is never an easy task. For a learner to speak English, many circumstances and factors, either personal or external, affect not only the willingness to speak, but also the manner, the quality and the amount of speech. Getting my students encouraged to use language is, therefore, one of the basic challenges of teaching English for me as teacher. So the question that can be asked by a teacher, in this context, is the following: what is of more importance, is it to motivate a student to speak or to get him speak accurately? This necessitates having an idea about what an error- free speech means/ is.

a- What is an error -free speech?

Accuracy is often compared to Fluency when we talk about a student’s level of speaking. That a student speaks accurately / correctly requires many features and skills. He has to be able to produce the phonological features of speech well enough to be understood. The individual sounds, the stress, the rhythm and the intonation patterns are just some examples that define a phonologically accurate speech of a language learner. Second, to speak English accurately, the student needs to be able to understand and to follow the rules of this language at a word, a sentence and a text level, that is to say the right vocabulary, the exact meaning of the words being used, their connotations, the level of formality, the type of register, as well as using the grammar structures to put clauses and sentences together. In addition to the use of the discourse features that ensure its cohesion and coherence.As a result, the knowledge of grammar and vocabulary goes along with other features that are relevant and specific to speech production. These are the paralinguistic devices that are a communicative tool learners refer to in order to ensure a perfect interaction and a successful communication. Using non-verbal tools, gestures, facial expressions, body language and changes of volume reflect and define a successful accurate speech of a language user. Hence an error- free speech requires to perfectly stick to these considerations and to be able to produce a speech that is free from any feature that  opposes / intersects with the above mentioned features. As a result, producing an accurate speech exceeds the knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, the internal components of the system, to include many social interactive features that a student has not only to acquire but also to exploit / invest to conduct a correct speech.
Two important considerations arise, I think, from what is mentioned: Does an error-free speech necessarily result in a successful communication?. Second, in order to reach my objectives, and to get my students learn English, is it more important to get them speak accurately or to get them willing to speak?

b- Obstacles to speaking:

That students speak English in the classroom, either to perform a conversation, to take part in a discussion or to practise a grammatical point, is not an easy task. This is what I noticed among my students. There are many factors that let students reluctant, unwilling neither to speak nor to participate in tasks that require mainly the use of the language. The obstacles that I deduced are what demotivate my students to speak. These factors can be personal or external. My students find it difficult to speak simply because they are shy, by nature, and especially they feel shy when they have to speak within a group or to face their classmates. This becomes harder in case of using English, a foreign language, that they already know is not the mother language that they all share. That’s why they do not feel at ease. They, also, may feel embarrassed and even may get stuck. This happened especially during the first sessions devoted to project work presentation. ( the seventh and the ninth forms).Second, my students admitted to me, on several occasions that they do not want to speak simply because they feel worried about making mistakes: They want to express their ideas and opinions about such a topic but they are faced with the problem of not expressing them correctly.  Adding to this, the peer pressure those students feel, bearing in mind that their classmates will laugh at them when “committing” mistakes. This fear is mainly justified, according to them, by the fact that they do not have enough language to use. Their linguistic knowledge and what they already master is not enough for them to speak properly. I felt many times my students struggle to talk about a topic; they admit this to me, sometimes, even in the mother tongue: 
  -" I don’t find words Miss".
 - "I want to speak more in Arabic because I don’t know enough words to say things in English".
Zaabi Hamida, kinouni Dorsaf, Hmidi Fatma are just examples of students who "suffer" from this problem, but still make efforts and try to progress. I am, also, doing my best to help them to overcome all the obstacles that they may encounter. In this context, I personally think that the “close” relation between the teacher and his pupils is what may help to improve their level and to overcome the problems that they might have. This relation would encourage pupils to “confess”to their teachers the possible difficulties that hinder them from speaking fluently.
Another reason that I noticed among my students that makes them unwilling to speak is the lack of motivation in the subject that they are learning about. When students do not feel interested in the topic under study they would not be encouraged to speak about it. I noticed this, for instance, with my ninth grade students when we dealt with a “foreign” topic. It was “Internet shopping". Students were not eager to discuss this subject though I tried to interfere in their discussion to provide some hints; to guide them through questions that may engender some ideas. I, myself, felt the discomfort of my students; how to speak about Internet shopping and there are many pupils who have never used the Internet. However, they were more willing to discuss the uses of Internet when introducing to the topic, as well as more motivated to speak at the production stage that was devoted mainly to the recycle of the function covered then (Warning), to warn their partners against many dangers (a speaking activity, done in pairs).
Besides, my students would not speak if they are asked to talk with a partner or within a group of classmates that is not of their choice; that they do not feel at ease to speak with. This was obvious especially during the beginning of the school year. I, once, chose the groups of pupils to work together, in order to avoid noise while doing the activity, but I have to admit that it was not a good idea. My students showed discomfort and unwillingness to ‘leave’ their friends and to work with a group imposed on them. This ended with students not speaking at all. As a result,, I learned to tolerate noise to ensure greater interaction and thus more practice of English. I will never forget the pupil Chair Halima when she said to me, once I asked her to change her seat to work on a speaking task with other classmates:
- “But Miss this was always the group I worked with” (Mbarki Hatem; Ayachi Khaireddine, with whom she always did well). This ended with her not saying a word, though I made it clear for her the reason behind asking her to change her "friendly group"
In addition to these internal, mainly psychological factors that make students tend to avoid interaction in the classroom, there are several external reasons that, also,discourage learners of English from speaking. The cultural notion of teaching as a " traditional whole-class methodology'' of ELT, in which language teaching is teacher- oriented and lecture- based may, to a large extent, discourage learners from taking an effective role in their learning operation. In such a situation, they are just receivers of what the teacher is saying ; why do they have to speak if the teacher is speaking either in case of their participation or not ? What deepens this, in fact, is the pressure of the curriculum the teacher may suffer in many cases. He, thus, finds himself “running” after the objective of finishing the already set program. This reduces the chances of success of the speaking activities where enough time must be provided for students to practice their language.
A third main obstacle that hampers us, as teachers, is time. An effective use of language within the frame of communicative tasks requires much time and this, in fact, is not always allowed in our educational institutions in which teaching English is set to be one hour per session. Adding to the time constraint is our classrooms management. The system of rows where students are arranged in a way where they all face their teacher represents an obstacle. The possibility to be close; to share the warm atmosphere between students as humans that necessarily affect their rate of speaking as well as their effectiveness as users of the English language is reduced/less.
Moreover, teaching students of different degrees of ability represents, sometimes, another obstacle. When conducing interactive activities within groups including “good” users of English and others who are less enthusiastic to speak may result in fluent speakers to get all chances of communication and in the “passive” students to resort more and more to silence. In such a case, the activity would be an opportunity to the less shy speakers to demonstrate their communicative abilities at the expense of the others (if not encouraged to take a more effective role and to benefit from working with these students within the same group). It is my responsibility as a teacher; to do my best in order to get my students speak as much as possible. So Motivation would be the key solution to get them willing to speak and mainly to speak fluently which may matter more than to care about their speech correctness.

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