The Development of Interactive
Proficiency in the Classroom
by Jake Haymes
Anecdotes are useful, not only in the sense that the language
produced is personalised but also because speaker is given
the opportunity to engage in longer stretches of discourse.
Labov's model (1972) (8) could easily be adapted to provide
the learners with a structure to plan their anecdotes.
||How does this relate to what
has just been said?What is your story going to be about?
||Who? Where? When? etc.
| Complicating event
||How was the situation resolved?
What happened in the end?
||How does your story relate
to yourself and your listeners now?
The ability to evaluate at all stages is the mark of a successful
story. McCarthy (1998) suggests that this provides "interest"
and "tellability". The problem is, however, that
during a narrative most learners are fully engaged in recounting
the events at the expense of personal reaction and comment.
One way I have found to encourage students to produce anecdotes
which are not devoid of the human element is to use picture
stories as a starting point. The story can be told by the
learner in either the first or third person. The central character
is frequently rather exaggerated and/or unfortunate so learners
can easily incorporate adjectives of feeling and embellishment
into output. By allowing students the opportunity to practise
this fundamental element of storytelling with a fictitious
character before delivering their own stories, I have found
affective barriers are lowered while subsequent personalised
output is more genre appropriate.
I believe that recording and transcribing the learners' anecdotes
provides an opportunity to develop fluency from a discourse
perspective. The longer turns inherent in anecdotes can be
used to draw attention to areas such as the need for variation
(both lexical and syntactic), and the use of pronouns, substitution,
ellipsis and determiners. These features are frequently overlooked
when the focus is at sentence level. With just a little teacher
guidance, most learners are able to improve their work. If
the task is repeated, as proposed by Bygate (1996), these
modifications do seem to become incorporated into fluent output.
Firstly, because students see their relevance and secondly,
because the changes have been made by the learners (and not
the teacher), their interlanguage systems can cope.
If learners are to develop their interactive oral proficiency
then firstly they need the confidence to be able to speak
at length and negotiate naturally occurring difficulties.
An awareness of conversational strategies can help to give
learners more control here.
While good group dynamics are valuable in all areas of language
learning, I think they are essential in the development of
natural speech. Shared knowledge, a fundamental aspect of
interactive discourse, can only be put into practice in the
classroom if students really know about each other. Activities
which can be personalised to incorporate the learners' opinions
and experience are beneficial in establishing this environment.
In addition, it is often the case that language which is personalised
is more memorable.
Because speaking, unlike writing, is subject to time constraints,
the integration of new language into fluent output will always
be problematic. Therefore I believe more input in pre-communicative
stages should be determined by students' existing output.
This will necessarily involve reflection from both teacher
and student and should lead to a situation whereby linguistic
improvement can, in effect, be 'tacked on' to the learners'
developing interlanguage systems. I am fortunate that the
majority of my groups are quite small (3-5 students). I will,
therefore, have the time to help individual learners develop
their interlanguage in this way.
In the medium term, it would seem expedient to base both
linguistic and skill development on authentic models. Widdowson
(1978) states that "what learners ultimately need to
acquire is an awareness of how the language being learned
is used for talking." This awareness can most easily
be facilitated by this type of exposure. I will therefore
need to spend time accessing such materials and finding ways
to exploit them effectively. The presence of natural speech
in the classroom should also sustain learner motivation; it
is the ultimate goal for many students and should be available
for analysis whenever possible.
(8) Taken from McCarthy (1994)
Brumfit, C Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching
Bygate, M Speaking OUP, 1987
Bygate, M Effects of task repetition: appraising the developing
language of learners (In Challenge and Change in Language
Teaching) ed. Willis, J & Willis, D, Heinemann, 1996
Carter, R & McCarhty, M Exploring Spoken English CUP,
Cook, G Discourse OUP, 1989
Ellis, N Vocabulary acquisition: word structure, collocation,
word- class, and meaning in Vocabulary ed. Schmitt,N &
McCarthy,M CUP, 1997
Foster, P Doing the task better: how planning time influences
students' performance (In Challenge and Change in Language
Teaching) ed. Willis, J & Willis, D, Heinemann, 1996
Jones, R A consciousness-raising approach to the teaching
of conversational storytelling skills ELTJ Vol. 55/2, OUP,
Lewis, M Implementing the Lexical Approach LTP, 1997
McCarthy, M Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers CUP,
Nunan, D Language Teaching Methodology Longman, 1991
Richards, J The Language Teaching Matrix CUP, 1990
Ur, P Teaching Listening Comprehension CUP,1984
Widdowson, H.G Knowledge of language and ability for use Applied
Linguistics 10/2, 1989
Widdowson, H.G Teaching Language as Communication OUP, 1978
Willis, D Accuracy, fluency and conformity (In Challenge and
Change in Language Teaching) ed. Willis, J & Willis, D,
Willis, J & Consciousness raising activities in the language
Willis, D (In Challenge and Change in Language Teaching) ed.
Willis, J & Willis, D, Heinemann, 1996
Jake, originally from Nottingham in the UK,
has been teaching in Madrid since 1997. During this
time he has taught general & business English classes
and been responsible for the planning & execution
of residential courses for professionals.
In 2002 he followed the Cambridge DELTA at the British
Language Centre in Madrid. He has been a teacher trainer
His areas of interest include helping learners develop
their presentation skills, phonology and TBL.
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