Students' Limited Participation in Speaking Activities

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Students’ Limited Participation in Speaking Activities
Aleksandra Moskal

A teacher comes to a classroom, checks the attendance and introduces the subject. “Today we will do some speaking.” He smiles, but several students do not share his joy. When he starts asking questions, they remain silent. Luckily, they do not make up the majority of the class. Actually, some students seem very involved: they speak vigorously, but they do not really allow the others to participate in the discussion. The teacher suggests a pair-work and slightly changes the topic, hoping that reluctant students will eventually speak. He is pleased to see and hear that they do. Yet, the manner they express themselves leaves a lot to be desired. He tries to correct them and provides them with some ideas for the conversation. At the end, he looks for a volunteer to come to the front of the classroom and present the conclusions of their speaking, but hardly anyone is willing to do it. Every teacher must have experienced a lesson which was more or less similar to the one presented above. Making students of a foreign language participate in speaking activities may pose an enormous challenge. In worst cases, students fail to say anything despite teacher’s attempts to get them involved. However, one needs to remember that just as the best cough drop does not treat food poisoning, similarly, a change of the topic does not make a student who cannot form sentences become a rhetorician, or at least a successful speaker. To help students increase their participation in speaking activities in a foreign language one needs to understand the reasons of their limited contributions or the lack of them, in order to save time and obtain best results. Therefore, this paper aims to present and explore the diversity of reasons for students’ limited participation in speaking activities in a foreign language. The author focuses on neither a particular level of students nor their age, although some differences between them are indicated throughout the paper. No distinction is made between a second language and a foreign language, since this is not believed to play an important role in the subject matter. At the very beginning, one may ask why speaking activities are so important in the curriculum of a foreign language, why so much time should be and is devoted to them if they create so much trouble. The answers are multiple. First of all, languages are first acquired and learnt in their spoken form: children listen and then start to speak. Reading and writing come later and require certain educational aids. Secondly, if a person knows a language, he or she is called, at least in English, a speaker of this language, which stresses the importance of this skill. Thirdly, speaking is a productive skill; thus, it needs to be practised. Obviously, students cannot speak without knowing some vocabulary and grammar (Bygate 3). However, one shall not presuppose that a learner who possesses this knowledge can actually implement it. Bygate makes a quite surprising, yet relevant, comparison between a speaker and a car driver (3). In order to drive a car one has to know where the accelerator, the brake and other controls are located and what their functions are. Yet, anyone who remembers their first driving lesson will admit that possessing this knowledge does not translate into the ability of driving. Similarly, one needs to practice speaking in order to obtain that skill, and this can be done through speaking activities. The literature provides numerous differentiations of speaking activities, which might be quite surprising as students are made to perform a limited variety of such activities on everyday basis. This may result from either teachers’ preferences or, in a worse case, their unfamiliarity with the richness of possibilities. However, a teacher may decide to curb the variety of speaking activities applied in the classroom, especially in the case of lower-level...
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