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1.

Introduction

Oral speech constitutes a lively source of language which is preceded by complex


mental and cognitive processes. This code of communication is of vast importance for
people’s everyday interaction, it has its own rules and its successful outcome is liable to
various factors. That is why the teachng of speaking skill must be given its appropriate
place in a foreign language class and should not be neglected.

This assignment presents the general theoretic framework of teaching speaking in the
english language and also describes the application of certain criteria within the classroom
context in relation to the teaching of this specific skill. Theory is put into practice through
the creation and implementation of an original speaking lesson and its final outcome is then
evaluated according to the specific theoretic criteria set.

2. The teaching context

The teaching situation presented in this assignment involves a class of 15 students


attending the first grade of a state TEE (Technical Vocational School) in Heraklion, Crete.
The vast majority of the class consists of boys around the age of 16 and there is only one
girl, since this class specializes in Mechanical Engineering. English is taught twice a week,
roughly 45 minutes each time. There isn’t any separation according to level of knowledge
but on average, students are of basic to pre-intermediate level, with the exception of three
or four students whose level is upper intermediate.

In this specific context the subject of English is considered of secondary importance


due to the technical orientation of the school’s curriculum where the emphasis is put on
technical subjects. The english coursebook is published by the Greek Ministry of Education
specifically for TEE students and focuses on teaching vocational vocabulary.

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2.1.The current teaching of speaking

The teaching of speaking in this coursebook could be characterized as of secondary


importance as it is taught as a supplementary skill, following reading, writing and listening.
A positive element, though, is that the approach that the coursebook follows to teach
speaking is based mostly on communicative criteria and serves the idea of ‘learning to
speak’. The speaking activities are not ‘out of context’ but follow the lesson’s scope and
provide a continuation for the achievement of its theoretical goals.

Apart from being context dependent , the coursebook’s activities concerning speaking
help students form a clear idea of the ‘task environment’ (West, 2000), that is the situation
and purpose of the spoken interaction. Specific instructions are given and certain steps are
followed so that learners would speak for a purpose, using their background knowledge and
communicative competence.

The types of speaking exercises vary from projects (App. I), discussions (App. II) and
speeches (App. III) to communicative games/role plays (App. IV) or more rarely to
pronunciation drills and translation - mediation tasks using greek language (App. V, a/b).
Speaking tasks are carried out by individuals, pairs, groups or even the whole class,
depending on the case. The activities bear features of Johnson’s principles (1982:163-75).
There are elements of information tranfer and information gap principle, in the sense that
not all students possess information but either exchange it or tranfer it from a source to a
different form (see App. I, II, III). There is also the task dependency principle in certain
tasks, so that there are interdependent steps in order to reach the desired outcome. The ‘fun’
element is not omitted from the coursebook, but is added by games which enhance the
learning of speaking (App.IV).

If we want to relate the speaking activities of the coursebook to Nation’s (1989:24-92)


features also, one could say that they include task-dependent roles, they usually have
outcomes and challenges (apart from steer pronunciation (App. Vb) and they follow certain
procedures.

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One could generally say that the speaking activities of the coursebook, though in a
controlled manner, offer opportunities for use of authentic language in context, involving
learners in spontaneous and genuine interaction, encouraging meaningful communication
among students. But athough speaking in the TEE coursebook is integrated with other
skills and engages learners in genuine spoken interaction, its place is of less importance in
relation to other skills. That is proven by the fact that the actual speaking tasks are scarce
and few throughout the book. Units are very long and only by the end of them does one
find a speaking activity. For this reason students don’t get enough exercise in speaking
english but this happens mostly indirectly during the teaching of the other skills.

Another negative factor, hindering students speaking fluency, is that learners prefer
talking in L1 and many times also demand the use of L1 from the teacher. The feature of
spontaneity and the interactive nature of this productive skill, in combination with student’s
lack of knowledge in grammar, vocabulary and sociocultural patterns of the target language
create infertile conditions for the development of speaking. The fear of making mistakes
deters them and makes them refrain from using the L2. Pronunciation problems also cause
unwillingness and exposition to the class audience may cause anxiety and stress. Thus, they
avoid the use of english in the classroom and prefer expressing themselves in their mother
tongue, that is greek, choosing the easy solution.

All these practical obstacles combine with the passive attitude of students towards
foreign language learning and this destroys their motivation to participate in the textbook’s
speaking activities. There is also the possibility that students’ level of knowledge is not
adequate to cope with complicated communicative activities and for this reason learners
cannot make the step from simple speaking exercises to a more elevated form of task,
which involves more complex procedures.

2.2.The theory for teaching speaking

In order to improve the teaching of the speaking skill certain measures must be
implemented to meet the relevant theory. As Hughes (2002:61) points out, it is important

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that the foreign language teaching materials which focus on the enhancement of the
speaking skill should not enstrange themselves from real everyday speaking and should be
connected with the culture of the target language. Despite the fact that students’ exposure to
english takes place in a formal and artificial setting there is a big number of linguistic, non-
linguistic and paralinguistic features that learners should be made aware of in order to
attain effective speech production and comprehension in the english language.

Emphasis should not be put on native-like pronunciation but we shouldn’t also neglect
rhythm and intonation, which are important features of speech. A teacher should aim at
helping students ‘learn how to speak’ and teach them ways of getting the message across
and communicate using their linguistic and strategic competence to cope with any practical
difficulties. According to Yunzong (1985:12) the importance lays in familiarizing foreing
learnenrs with the “global structures of the spoken language within the context of real
communication”. This means that speaking is processed in L2 in a similar way as in the
mother tongue, so the latter process is to some extent facilitated by the former one.
Towards this end the occassional use of greek as a helping means to acquire speaking in
english must not be banished.

As far as the actual activities are concerned, these must accord to the students’ level so
as to build their self-esteem. They must also provoke their attention and attract their interest
because students pay attention to what attracts them. Thus, relevance and appropriacy of
input must be the top priority when teaching speaking. The content of the task must be
connected with students’ everyday reality, so that there is a possibility for students to come
up with the actual situation of the task; thus, the teaching of speaking could be of actual use
to them.

3. Implementing theory
3.1.An original speaking lesson

Bearing in mind all these theoretic criteria for teaching speaking and taking into
account the actual situation of my class, with the practical difficulties previously

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mentioned, I have created and taught an integrated skills lesson built aroung speaking
(App.XIII). The ultimate aim of the lesson was to engage students as much as possible in
speaking english through the adaption of roles students could relate to.

The lesson was titled “SHOP SERVICE’. The topic was introduced by the teacher
posing the question “How often do you go shopping?” and there was a small discussion in
relation to the frequency that students go shopping and what products they buy. There was
specific mention to products that have to be returned for some reason back to the shop they
were bought and what the shop’s returned goods policy was. Students mentioned cases
when they had to return something back, for what reason and what the shop’s attitude was.
All relevant vocabulary along with useful expressions were written on board (App. VI) in
an attempt to pre-teach some basic lexical and structural elements necessary for the course
of the lesson.

In order to move on to the main speaking activity students were divided either in pairs
or groups and were given their roles. The activity was split in steps or ‘procedures’
according to Nation (1989) and had a specific ‘outcome’ which would increase interest in
the activity by giving learners a purpose; the purpose of solving a problem.

The role play involved two respective cases of unsatisfied customers who returned
goods back in a shop and explained the problem to the shop assistant asking for a solution
(App.VII / VIII). One pair started acting out first and everybody listened. Then there was a
second pair (customer-shop assistant) with a slightly different version of the same situation.
In both cases the shop assistants examined the evidence, took down notes but could not
help the customers; instead they sent them to the shop’s manager for a solution, since he
had the final responsibility.

In the second phase of the role play the manager (another student) had to listen in turns
to the shop assistants and the two customers explaining the situation (App. IX). The
manager’s role involved him in convincing the customers about the shop’s “returned goods
policy” and offering a different solution to each customer according to the case.

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Another group of students took the roles of the customers who happened to be in the
shop and became witnesses of the whole situation so they had to take the stand and give
their opinion on whether a customer is always right or not (App. X, a). Lastly, another
student got the role of an employee of the shop who carries out a customer satisfaction
survey, interviewing customers (also the two involved in the incident), taking notes and
reporting the results to the manager (App. X, b). In this way the role play was concluded.

This specific activity was designed in such a way so as to gradually involve all students
in the different phases of the speaking game (by listening and speaking) it included many
features of Johnson’s and Nation’s principles, in the sense that it involved information
tranfer (from oral to written), information gap (not all students had the same information
but needed it to go on), there was a sequence of tasks-one phase had to be completed for
the next to begin- and there were task-dependent roles. Finally the attempt to convince
somebody and impose your personal opinion forms a type of challenge for students.

After the speaking activity students had to listen to a short monologue of a dissatisfied
customer complaining about something and they had to note down where that person was,
what the source of his complaint was and why (App. XI, a). As a follow-up activity for
homework students had to write a letter of complaint to a shop manager owing to the shop
assistant’s bad service (App. XI, b). That was the final stage of the speaking lesson which
aslo integrated other skills such as reading, listening and writing. Although it was created to
meet certain criteria, in practice there were some problems encountered.

3.2.Evaluation of the lesson

Despite the fact the the lesson was designed according to modern theories about
teaching speaking it seems that some times theory cannot be followed exactly when put
into practice. Many of the theoretical goals were achieved, but the practical implementation
of the lesson had considerable differences from what I initially planned. The context of the
state school, the attitude of the students towards english and their limited abilities were
hindrances which created a demanding environment for the speaking lesson.

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If I had to evaluate the lesson’s outcome, I would say that the results could be
considered positive, in the sense that students had an initial contact with a different
speaking practice and were quite recepteive, taking into consideration the fact that the
lesson was carried out during the first hour of the program on a Friday morning.

Students showed satisfactory interest in the topic of the speaking lesson and connected
with the notion of shopping practices and returning goods. But their performance wasn’t as
good as it should be. In the introduction most of the speaking was done by the teacher and
students answered questions with one-word-phrases, hesitating to offer their opinion
probably due to lack of knowledge or insecurity. The initial discussion didn’t run as
smoothly as expected. Students mostly gave yes/no answers, didn’t inititate any sentences,
they had long pauses and they made some grammatical mistakes (“I do it wrong” instead of
‘I made a mistake’). The teacher’s talk was frequent, repetitive (‘who has the shop? how do
we call the person who has the shop?’), aiming to induce answers from students (‘when we
pay in the cashier what do we get? What?’). Furthermore teacher talk had to do with
offering explanation, sometimes in L1 (receipt is what we call ‘απόδειξη’, that proves that
we have bought something), checking comprehension (‘what have you understood by
that?’, ‘OK?’) and also encouraging students to join in the conversation (‘very nice’, ‘try,
come on’ ‘what else?’) (App. XII, a).

Moving on to the actual role play, the teacher divided the class in pairs and groups,
nominated the roles and explained in detail the procedure of the role play. The time for
preparation was roughly 5 minutes. When a students didn’t understand something more
explicit explanations and suggestions were given in person. (App. XII, b). Students showed
preference in the use of L1-greek- while preparing the dialogue. The actual role play was
carried out with difficulties of expression from the part of students. The discourse features
had to do with silent moments, wrong use of tenses (‘I buy’ instead of ‘I bought’, ‘I go to
the manager’ instead of ‘I will go to the manager’), use of L1 (‘κυρία τι πρέπει να κάνουμε
εδώ…;), production of short utterances, slow rhythm of speech and bad pronunciation
patterns.

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The teacher had to intervene many times to cover the gaps and help students be more
expressive (teacher to student: ‘we do not return money’ say that. Student: ‘για ξαναπείτε
το χρόνο’). Mistakes and slips of the tongue were corrected on the spot (student: ‘I buy it..’,
teacher: ‘I bought it, simple past.’) (App. XII, b).

Furthermore in the group work not everybody took part, but some stayed silent. One
could say that although most students understood the input of the role play, they could not
produce a satisfactory speaking output and their responses were not initiated by them, but
were mainly guided by the teacher. The latter had to explain many times what was asked of
them or provide the dialogue cues to help the continuation of the role-play. There were long
periods of silence, many clarification questions, repetitions and many cases of wrong use of
syntax and grammar. No self-correction mechanisms were used by the students. One could
say that learners were almost ‘spoonfeeded’ by the teacher to conclude the role play.

As Chaudron (1988: Chapter 3) mentions ‘teacher talk usually takes up two-thirds of


the total talking time’; in retrospect he was proved right. The teacher was forced by the
situation to do a lot of talking and provided oral discourse that was management-oriented
by controlling the flow of the lesson, nominating the learners, delegating work to be done,
providing feedback, monitoring and leading the spaking lesson.

Due to the difficulties encountered by the students the role play proved to be time
consuming and there was not enough time to do the listening activity (App. XI). After the
conclusion of the role play a letter of complaint was assigned for homework, continuing the
lessons topic. The letter would come from an unsatisfied customer to the manager of a
shop, informing him about the bad service of a shop assistant. That was the last step of the
speaking lesson. (Lesson Plan, App. XIV).

The lesson was planned in such a way to meet specific criteria and accomplish certain
objectives but many external and internal factors influenced its final outcome. But this is
something that a teacher should always be prepared for and try to handle in the best
possible way.

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4. Conclusion

From all the above it becomes obvious that although oral speech is considered an
informal, unplanned and simple way of expression, it can prove quite complex and
demanding from the part of the speaker even in L1, let alone in a foreign language, such as
english in this case. The conclusion is that students need to be exposed to this
communicative process as much as possible and “learn to speak”, not “speak to learn”. This
is the only way for students to improve themselves and learn to speak fluently in order to
achieve succesful communication.
Words Count : 2850

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REFERENCES

Hughes, R. (2002). Teaching and Researching Speaking.London:Pearson Education


22/3:309-318.

Johnson, K. (1982a).’Five Principles in a communicative exercise type’ in Communicative


Syllabus Design and Methodology. Oxford/London:Pergamon/Prentice
Hall.

Nation, P. (1989). ‘Speaking activities: five features’. ELT Journal, 43/1,24-29.

West, R. (2000) The Teaching of speaking Skills in a Second / Foreign Language. Volumes
3&4. Patra: HOU.

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