A web site for the developing language teacher

by Costas Gabrielatos
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2.4. What Is to Be Taught (Speaking in the EFL Classroom)

Although Brown & Yule (1983b) mention that spoken language is primarily interactional, they go on to propose that what the EFL learner needs more is the teaching of "extended transactional turns" (op. cit.: 24), giving the following reasons:

•Long transactional turns can prove demanding even for the native speaker.

•It is more often the case that the EFL learner needs L2 to communicate/acquire information.

•It is more feasible as far as methodology is concerned (op. cit.: 23-24 & 33).

McCarthy (1991: 137) argues that there is a bias in favour of transactional talk reflected onto the design of materials/activities for the EFL classroom and proposes that the element of unpredictability which is inherent in interactional talk should be present in speaking and listening activities.

2.5. On Learner Strategies

Learners use communication strategies (Bygate, 1987: 42-48; Ellis, 1985: 180-185) in order to compensate for their imperfect mastery of the language when faced with a communicative need. Faerch & Kasper (1980 in Ellis 1985: 181) present them as being "potentially conscious" in the sense that learners may not always be conscious of the strategies they employ. Ellis adds that they can be "motivated" when learners become aware of the shortcomings of the linguistic means at their disposal. Ellis regards communication strategies to be the short-term solution to a problem, learning strategies being the long-term answer.

Communication strategies can be sub-categorised into achievement and reduction strategies. The first aim at the communication of the whole message as perceived by the speaker. Examples of achievement strategies are: the use of L1 items, translation, paraphrasing, miming or pointing, eliciting/asking for help from interlocutor. The second aim at either communicating an imperfect message or communicating a message other than the one intended initially (a message that the speaker can manage to communicate).


3.1. School Facilities

A small private EFL school (English is the only language taught). There were enough tape recorders to record groups of three students separately during the activities. Unfortunately, other rooms were not always available and groups performed/recorded in the same room. As the room itself is quite small, there is considerable background noise in some of the recordings.

3.2. Methodology

In previous years the methodology was teacher-centred with a focus on accuracy. Grammar was considered of primary importance and was taught through a separate grammar book. Vocabulary teaching consisted mainly of memorisation either of synonyms or Greek 'equivalents'. Writing lessons consisted of memorisation and writing of model compositions, combined with grammar and vocabulary exercises. For listening & reading, First-Certificate-test type exercises were used. Speaking skills were not dealt with in any way (students were not expected to interact).

Learner-centred methods, skills development activities/tasks and group-work were introduced this year. The students responded rather well to the new (for them) teaching methods and at the time of the project they had come to regard pair/group work to be a matter of course.

3.3 Students

Age: 14-16 (Secondary School students).

Culture & Language: All students shared the same culture and L1 (Greek).

Level: Formally their level is Upper-intermediate. In the Greek EFL context this means that the students have been learning English for six to seven years. It is common practice in Greece that students start learning English at the age of 8 to 10. After six to eight years of tuition, they normally sit the FCE exam. This class was expected to take the exam at the end of next year. In reality the students are of mixed ability, two students in particular would benefit more from an Intermediate class.

Attitude: On the whole they show interest. Nevertheless, since most of them come to classes right after school (schools in Greece work in morning or afternoon shifts) their concentration and ability to work are (understandably) not of high standards. Nevertheless, they seemed interested in the idea of a project on 'speaking' and they were involved during the project. The fact that the activities were recorded added a further element of interest and improved their participation (that is after the first shock had worn off).

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