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Dealing with complexity in Part 2 of the Speaking exam at Cambridge Certificate in
Advanced English (CAE) level
by Sandra Bradwell
- 3

Learners need a range of expressions at their command to cope with the task. They have little time to prepare and consequently 'fixed conventional phrases' can contribute to their oral fluency, helping them speak and sound more natural. Additionally, as it is a formal speaking task involving comparing and contrasting, attention needs to be drawn to language for discourse cohesion, as well as complex lexis and grammatical structure. Providing frameworks and checklists can help learners structure their speaking and reduce the burden of organising their discourse and selecting appropriate language at the same time. One way of drawing students' attention to complex language is by providing models and a choice of expressions. It would not be natural for native speakers to provide a model for this task as we rarely compare and contrast photos in a minute but proficiency level students could help. We can provide them with key items to be included to provide a challenging, language-rich model(see Appendix 3). Students can evaluate the task as an extensive listening task before looking closely at the language and features of the spoken discourse. By providing clear evaluation guidelines we can focus students on what is expected of them and also encourage them to reflect on the task.
Research has shown that students who plan for tasks attempt more ambitious language, hesitate less and make fewer basic errors. Skehan (1996: 25) 'Crookes (1989) reported that planning time was associated with greater complexity of syntax and a wider variety of lexis….Skehan and Foster (1994) also report that, in contrast with Crookes' results, planning was associated with greater accuracy.' In class, we need to give learners the chance to extend what they want to say by building in planning time and rehearsal time for most communicative activities. This includes silent thinking time, the opportunity to ask for help and the opportunity to practise with a partner before performing. Research indicates that repeating tasks leads to improved performance in several areas. Bygate (1996: 138) 'we can expect fewer pauses, false starts and self corrections.' This is vitally important in the exam where students have a minute to impress the examiners.

I have mentioned the advantages of using transcripts to draw students' attention to features of spoken discourse. They also provide an opportunity to focus on features that may not be noticed in the flow of speech. By recording student performance on tape or video, for subsequent feedback in class, we can learn much of interest in terms of their language and performance strategies. It is also easier to look at strategies for showing interest and students can evaluate their paralinguistic features . Paul Mennim (2003:130) mentions other advantages, 'It shows how they managed to recall many of the corrected forms and reformulations; the final presentation showed improvements in pronunciation and grammar, and in the organization of content'. Skehan (1996:27) comments 'If post-task activities are used regularly, and if learners know that they are to come, this may change the way that a task is actually transacted. It may lead learners to switch attention repeatedly between accuracy and restructuring and fluency.' We can take this further by encouraging students to repeat the task and tape it as a homework assignment. This will encourage learner autonomy. If we dedicate time to providing a transcript, feedback and a corrected, improved model, it will help students improve intonation, place prominence in the right places and more importantly take more interest in their own learning.

Finally, once students are familiar with the task and a range of linguistic expressions, it is better to repeat the task regularly as a warmer or end of class activity, with a wide range of visuals, than to spend a whole session occasionally.

Conclusion

Bygate (1987: vii) quite rightly mentions, 'Our learners often need to be able to speak with confidence in order to carry out many of their most basic transactions.….. It is also a medium through which much language is learnt and which for many is particularly conducive for learning'. An indirect approach to teaching conversation can develop fluency and provide useful language learning opportunities but it has serious disadvantages, especially for students who need to prove their capability of speaking effectively and naturally for examinations. It does not guarantee that students will speak with grammatical accuracy or at any level of complexity, and it does not develop the skills required for social interaction. Richards proposes a balance of approaches to be the best methodological option (1990: 78/79). Our role as teacher is to ensure we provide that balance.

Bibliography

CAE Examination Report December 2001 Syllabus 0150/0151 University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate
Brown, G. 1990 Listening to Spoken English. Longman
Brumfit, C.J. 1984 Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press
Bygate, M. 1987 Speaking. Oxford University Press
Cook, G. 1989 Discourse. Oxford University Press
McCarthy, M. 1991 Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press
Norman, D. Levihn, U. Hedenquist, J. 1986 Communicative Ideas. Language Teaching Publications
Nolasco, R. Arthur, L. 1987 Conversation. Oxford University Press
Nunan, D. 1991 Language Teaching Methodology. Longman
Revell, J. 1979 Teaching Techniques for Communicative English. Macmillan Publishers Ltd
Richards, J. 1990 The Language Teaching Matrix. Cambridge University Press
Thornbury, S. 1997 About Language. Cambridge University Press
Skehan, P., Bygate, M., Foster, P. in Willis, J. and Willis, D. 1996 Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Macmillan Heinemann

Articles
Dörnyei, Z. Thurrell, S. Teaching conversational skills intensively: course content and rationale ELT Journal January 1994
Gairns, R. Redman, S. A spoken syllabus. English Teaching Professional Issue 25 October 2002
Mennim, P. Rehearsed oral L2 output and reactive focus on form. ELT Journal April 2003
Thornbury, S. Accuracy, fluency and complexity. English Teaching Professional Issue 16 July 2000

Course materials
Dörnyei, Z. Thurrell, S. 1992 Conversation and Dialogues in Action. Prentice Hall International
Lynch,T. Anderson, K. 1992 Study Speaking. Cambridge University Press
May, P. 1996 Exam Classes. Oxford University Press

Biodata

Sandra Bradwell works in Madrid, running the Chester School of English.

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