an investigation into methods of developing oral fluency in foreign language teaching
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An investigation into methods ofdeveloping oral fluency in foreign languageteachingMarie-Christine Fysh aa Erith College of TechnologyPublished online: 25 Jun 2008.
To cite this article: Marie-Christine Fysh (1990) An investigation into methods of developing oralfluency in foreign language teaching, The Vocational Aspect of Education, 42:111, 19-23, DOI:10.1080/13636829008619466
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13636829008619466
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The Vocational Aspect of Education (April 1990) Volume XLll, No. 111, pp. 19-23
An Investigation into Methods of Developing Oral Fluency in Foreign Language Teaching By MARIE-CHRISTINE FYSH
Erith College of Technology
Abstract This paper is an investigation into methods of developing oral fluency in foreign language classes. A general view of language, its role and functions in the process of learning is first presented, showing how a students" previous experience with language can have an influence on the behaviour and attitudes involved when they learn a foreign language. A review of some theories of foreign language teaching follows with special emphasis on the 'Communicative Approach'. Examples of teaching methods and activities encountered during Supervised Teaching Experience are then analysed. It is concluded that 'communicative" methods are well adapted to the achievement o f oral fluency on condition that special attention is given to creation o f an appropriate class atmosphere.
Role and function of language The first question I want to address is 'what is language?" 'Language is central to all human experience' , David Wilkins (1974) wrote in his book 'Linguistics in Language Teaching'. All humans have the ability to develop language, but this does not mean that language develops in a vacuum. It will not develop if a young child is reared among non-humans, as some examples have shown. This is important as it means that human society and environment play a decisive role. Language will develop in interaction with other human beings, and it has important social functions; it is essential for communication purposes: to share, to obtain and give information, to discuss, to express emotions and opin- ions, orders are among such functions. A child will acquire the language of his milieu, the accent, the register that he picks up from his environment.
So what happens when a child starts school? If his language is the language of the school and of the teacher the child will feel confident, he will be in known territory. If his language is not the language of the school, it could be a very traumatising experience. If the child feels that his language is devalued he will feel himself devalued, along with his world, his life, his experience. This is extremely important because language is central to the process of learning. It is through language that we think, relate a new experience to a previous one or to existing knowledge. Language is used to make sense of
what is presented to the child, to help interpret it and to reflect on it. A child's future attitude towards school and learning will depend a lot on his first teacher's reaction to his language.
What does this mean concretely for classroom prac- tice? In my opinion it means that teachers should encourage thinking aloud and exploratory talk and children should be given time to think about new knowledge and to express it, to relate it to previous knowledge, to make it theirs. This implies a more student-centred approach, with less presentation by the teacher and more scope for direct experience and interpretation by the pupils.
Implications for FE Why is it relevant to us in the modern language classroom in Further Education? Our students come to us not as 'empty vessels' (to use a cliche), but with a set of experiences which have influenced and still influence their behaviour. Their attitude to language and talk is heavily dependent on all that. If our students are not used to expressing themselves, to talking about their opinions and ideas in their first language it will be even more difficult to make them speak in a foreign language, because it is more threatening. To learn another language is to assent to reconsidering our relation to the world, our way of communicating with it. The new language is less mature, the learners are less articulate,,
20 An Investigation into Methods of Developing Oral Fluency in Foreign Language Teaching
they cannot express themselves emotionally and intellec- tually at the same level as in their mother tongue. They very often feel foolish and vulnerable.
Review of approaches in foreign language teaching Current trends in language teaching are towards more oral work. It was not always the case. Previously, foreign languages were taught the way the classics are taught, that is for reading purposes, for erudition purposes, as most people could not really travel to use them anyway. Emphg~.~ was putD, a..tJlg-teaching of structures, formal rag~mar. There was hardly any oral work, sometimes none at all. Questions of the relevance of the language to the student's life and interests did not arise. It was certainly the way many of us were taught languages at school. We can all too readily remember rote learning of grammar rules and of examples which were completely meaningless. In my case, examples such as, 'my sister is not a boy' or 'the old soldier has a wooden leg', come immediately to mind. This method is called the Grammar-TranslAtka2_rfiethod and in modified form it continues to be used. Contemporary texts at college level often reflect Grammar-Translation principles. These textbooks are organised in chapters around a grammar point, very often texts or examples are either invented or taken from literature.
New theories never come randomly, as an event out of the blue but because needs change. Because people needed to travel more, to communicate, sometimes just for trading purposes, all types of new methods and approaches were tried out, sometimes only on a very small scale, such as 'The Silent Way', 'The Natural A ~ a c h ' , S u g g e s t d p e ~ l ~ e s p 0 n s C . These m ~ based on psycho l ingu i~ theories of language: how languages are learnt, how knowledge of language is represented in the memory, or how language itself is structured, how childrn acquire their first language. Clearly a description of all of these theories is beyond the scope of this paper. It is interesting however, to point to two teaching methods, which predate psycholinguistic theories, both of which empha- size oral work, and which when looked at critically serve to show how significant these theories were.
First, the 'Oral approach and situational ~ : in this strong emphasis is put on oral practice, grammar and sentence patterns. Drills are related to situations. For example: the teacher shows objects which are in the class: "this is a pen', the students repeat 'this is a pen': listening, choral imitation, individual imitation, question-answer drilling, systematic correction, plus follow-up reading and writing activities, these are what this method is about.
Second, the 'Audiolingual method' which is be- haviourist. Language acquisition and learning occur according to a stimulus-response conditionin attern: stimulus causes res._~nse behaviour i and if there is
reinforcement the behaviour is likely to occur again and to become a habit. Dialogues and drills are the basis of classroom practice. Repetition and memorization are the main strategies. Focus is put on accuracy as opposed to fluency.
These two methods were both based on a structuralist view of language. Once you had practised and learnt the