Keywords: oral communication, oral language acquisition, English foreign language teaching, English foreign language classroom, motivation, self-esteem, assessment. Abstract
The overall aim of this essay was to investigate what attitudes some English teachers and pupils in 9th grade in Sweden have towards oral communication in the teaching of English. I wanted to find out why oral communication is an important part of the teaching of English, what factors teachers and pupils believe contribute to orally active pupils in the English foreign language classroom and what English teachers think of the assessment of pupils’ ability to express themselves orally in English. I have interviewed three English teachers, and 85 pupils in 9th grade have answered a questionnaire. The results show that the teachers and a majority of the pupils think that oral communication is an important part of the teaching of English, mainly because of the fact that being able to express yourself orally in English today is of great importance and because through this the pupils get to use the English language a lot themselves. Factors that contribute to verbally active pupils in the English classroom are a safe classroom atmosphere, pupils’ self-esteem, small groups, meaningful assignments, enthusiastic and encouraging teachers and motivated pupils. The results also show that the teachers believe that the assessment of pupils’ oral ability is hard because it is not as concrete as other skills that they assess in the English foreign language classroom. Other reasons why the assessment is hard are the problem of getting shy or unmotivated pupils to participate orally and lack of time.
We live in an international world today where our ability to communicate in English is of great importance. The national syllabus for English in the Swedish compulsory school clearly emphasizes this by stating that English “is the dominant language of communication throughout the world. The ability to use English is necessary for studies, travel in other countries and for social and professional international contacts of different kinds” (The Swedish National Agency for Education [www]). In school within the subject of English it is vital that the pupils are given many opportunities to use their English and practice how to communicate verbally and express themselves in English. The national syllabus for English points out that each pupil at the end of year nine in compulsory school should “be able to actively take part in discussions on familiar subjects and with the help of different strategies communicate effectively” (The Swedish National Agency for Education [www]). When teaching oral communication in English as a foreign language it is of great importance for the teacher to consider that our emotions, or the affective domain, have a significant impact on foreign language learning. One of the factors in the affective domain is self-esteem. MacIntyre, Dörnyei, Clément and Noels (1998, in Brown 2000:146) examined how learners’ self-esteem affected their communicative activity in the target language and they noted that even though a language learner is communicatively competent it does not necessarily accord with “a high willingness to communicate”. Tornberg (1997) points out that pupils studying a foreign language usually think that it is important to be able to speak the target language but in order for the pupils to be able to communicate orally in the target language a certain amount of self-esteem among the pupils is required. Tornberg (1997:45) explains this further by saying that “the pupil has to more or less decide to dare to throw oneself into that uncertainty that limited language knowledge mean” [my translation]. Over the years I have developed a sincere interest in the oral part of the teaching of English as a foreign language. In my teaching experience I have become aware of the fact that it is quite hard to get all pupils to take an...
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