Developing language skills Essay
Developing language skills
Throughout the last several years English teaching course books have become the essence to learning the English language successfully. There has always been a major necessity to reading, listening and writing but recently educators have found that communicative competence is an important asset that needs acquiring. According to this latter statement, recent course books are equipped with all four skills in order to achieve a proficient level of English. However, due to new discoveries such as the learner-centered learning or Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory , many books are inclined to the different necessities that better suit the student. Here, for example, we are presented with two very different books directed to teenagers. In the following course books: Bachillerato book Made Easy and the Basque book ‘Botellón!’ we will intent to make various contrasts and comparisons amongst the four major skills to English language learning.
We must realize that all course books have many methodologies.. We have seen in Methodological Approaches (See Funiber Subject 1) that Marianne Celce-Murcia quotes that “a historical perspective needs to be taken into consideration to be able to evaluate innovations effectively”. As we can see there has been an immense amount of detail added to language teaching from the early 19th century when comparing the Grammar – Translation method to the newly adopted approaches although there are still signs of the methodologies present within the newer books. Here are some: 2.1. TABLE
Exercises to translate into L1
Use of dictionary
No use of mother tongue
Lots of reading material
Plenty of drilling and repetition
“Bachillerato” will focus on common Spanish errors, eg. DO/MAKE The theme/subject is inclined to a Spanish saying: botellón..
Stimulus, response, reinforcement: activities
Rules are made clear first before practice
The course book is equipped with extra material: resource books for teachers and a website
“Learn language through doing”
Extensive list of themes: appreciating the learners needs.
– No textbook.
– Contain all four skills
– Teacher support.
Meaningful communication and social contexts.
2.1.1 THE LEARNING THEORIES IMPLICIT
This chart shows both course books seem to have adopted some essence of the older methodologies. Nowadays approaches are more familiar where teachers can choose a method that will better suit the learner. However, our next research will be on : integration and segregation of reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.
First: the meaning of integration is the usage of all four language skills simultaneously in various activities. Some exercises begin with reading, perhaps a follow up of discussing the article and finally concluding a written summary of the text. By doing all three activities we are utilizing the skills of reading, speaking and writing. As Dr Garza quoted it “most teachers recognize that the four language skills support each other and are found together in real-life language use”. Also, none of the separate language skills are ever used in isolation (Funiber, Developing language skills in the classroom). Now we understand the significance, we can continue to analyse this method in the books.
Made Easy, from an external perspective looks as though the skills have all been segregated but in fact they have all been integrated. The reading, which is divided into a before, while and after reading which are entwined with various grammatical activities for preparation. However when you look at an internal view of the course book we see that there is a high level of integration with the four skills. Take the writing section which has various grammar exercises (Language/Vocabulary)
Assignment – DLSC
beforehand to ensure understandability of the learner which also holds a cognitive approach to learning according to Chomsky. Here, reading and writing are both merged then followed by reinforcing activities. As we have learnt reading in traditional terms at least, seems to be a natural bedfellow of writing (Funiber). Lastly, we have a division of the listening and speaking activities from an outer look in the last page but they are however united through the theme of the subject which locks them together. On the other hand, the Botellón book is relatively distinctive. Firstly, the format that is uses is generally integrating reading and plentiful of brainstorming writing activities with the final intention of speaking. However there are activities of listening which is integrated with writing. However there is only the one activity (2) that is segregated which is the skill of speaking as is the final activity which perhaps helps the teacher to evaluate the extent of the learners new acquired knowledge throughout the course. 4. PRODUCT AND PROCESS ASPECT
However, there are some similarities worth mentioning between the two course books. They both take a process approach which has the student “working up to” the final contribution. A process approach tends to focus more on various classroom activities which promote the development of language use: brainstorming, group discussion and rewriting (Steele, 2004). In the Bachillerato book Made Easy on page 61, we have: before and after writing preparation: an insight, planning, mind mapping, writing first drafts, feedback, editing and evaluating.Chen for example states that “these studies have quantitatively measured improvements in learners’ test scores following the completion of a strategy training programme” (2007). Furthermore, the Botellón book also includes a process approach but in a broader sense and tends to cover most of the book with an abundant amount of brainstorming activities that drive and lead to a final proposal (writing) and a discussion part (speaking) at the end. As Lynch quotes: “ the route one takes to that goal” (1996:148). To compare:
Text as a resource for
Imitate model text
Ideas as a starting point
Organization of ideas are
more important than ideas
More than one draft
More global, focused on
purpose, theme, text type
i.e. reader is emphasized
Features highlighted including controlled practice of those features Collaborative
Emphasis on creative process
Emphasis on end product
* Table 1: Product and process writing: A comparison (Steele 2004 p. 1)
Now looking more closely to the aspects of authentic/genuine exercises. The significance of an authentic text: some researchers have gone on to say: “authentic materials are materials that we can use in the classroom and that have not been changed in any way for ESL students” (Sanderson, 1999). Harmer (1991) defines authentic texts as “materials which are designed for native speakers; they are real texts; designed not for language students, but for the speakers of the language”. Authentic texts is language used by natives which have not in any case been manipulated by authors to suit the level of then learners. Although, what matters is the response and expression of the learner, if it in accordance to the text then the response has been made authentic as once quoted by Widdowson (Funiber, Developing Language Sills in the Classroom). In Made Easy, there are many reading activities.
In the text “Making and keeping friends” we can see that there is a previous activity to help the learner think and analyse the text before reading; predicting. According to Revell and Breary, a way of dealing with this problem is to get the learners to predict the main points of the text (Funiber). After the reading there are questions to be answered straight after the comprehension: if we immediately ask questions then we are denying the chance to give an authentic response (Lynch 1996: 124-125). The next “authentic” text would be the possible newspaper or magazine article (pag 63) which has probably been falsified to a certain extent to suit the level of the learner. In the speaking, on page 67, they are able to give their own opinions in relation to the listening previously heard which allows their own expressions to be considered.
The listening provides the learner with many different ideas for brainstorming. However, they are not real life situations, there is no genuine media and there is an exclusion of body language and facial expression and thus there is no possible reply (Funiber). In the Botellón book, we are presented with a real problem of teenage street drinking which induces a genuine problem. The first speaking exercise allows the learner to give real feedback with an authentic and genuine response. Throughout the unit we have, as mentioned above, many reading activities: real life opinions, newspaper articles and a diplomatic meeting. This all seem extremely genuine but to what extent is unclear. On another positive note, we have two You tube debates: Pregnancy Discrimination and The Iraq War. These last two are very opposite to the general and ordinary listening we are used to and they are in fact impossible to manipulate. Following this virtual debate, we have a more general listening about psychology with Dr. Lindee which although is a very universal reciprocal activity it may have some essence of credibility.
Widdowson says that “text simplification for second language learners is the adaption of a “genuine text” in order to facilitate reading and comprehension skills. Some authors claim that
Assignment – DLSC
authentic materials (genuine) are often too hard for students who read at lower levels .Though is controversial issue, a genuine text is not necessarily better than an adapted one, what matters if the student responds to it as he would in real life.” On the one hand this will benefit the some learners, as by manipulating the text to suit the learners interest this will stimulate their motivation and interests. However, Honeyfield (1977) says that the two principal aspects of text simplification, namely simplifying language and simplifying content, produce material which differs significantly from ‘normal’ English in the areas of information distribution and common structure. By altering the language,it reduces the colloquial and “realness” of the language. Now the question remains as to how do we identify if the text has been adjusted?
Swaffar (1985) says that the primary intent of an original text is to communicate meaning, and in her view, authentic messages which perform this function have the following characteristics: authorial cues, repetition, redundancy, and discourse markers. She claims that simplified texts do not have these characteristics because they have a “pseudo-intent”, which is to teach language, rather than to communicate. Made Easy has three very different texts: firstly on page 61 the text holds an easy vocabulary, short sentence structures, redundancy and a a simple content of topic. On page 63 however, in activity 6 we have a newspaper report, we are given information with an unsophisticated vocabulary and a structure that is in relation to the grammar explained in the previous activity: the reported speech. Lastly, there is an essay written in an academic format, supposedly by a native adolescent. There are longer sentences with subordinate clauses and a wider scope of vocabulary.
All three text show some sign of simplification which is not ideal because as Willis says, in developing their communicative skills learners need to become aware of the choices realised in genuine language use in order to create appropriate meaning (1996: 26). This opinion puts learning on fluency. The Botellón gives more of a realistic and pragmatic cognizance because all of the texts represent “real life” opinions which should all interaction between natives should be genuine. Firstly, on page 64, activity 3, we have 7 different views about the subject of alcohol. By analysing the content we have a very colloquial type of language expressed by native English foreigners living in Spain.
Secondly, on page 71, activity 6, we have more viewpoints but there is a more complex vocabulary and structure with more detail, plentiful of subordinate clauses and some acronyms. Lastly, on page 74, activity 7, we have more opinions but these are inside quotation marks which indicate direct speech and should be understood as a natural and spontaneous spoken English. The amplest difference about the two books when identifying these concepts is on page 77 of the Botellón book on activity 8: There are two virtual debates (Pregnancy Discrimination and the Iraq war) which are provided to the students to watch from the web. This is the closest encounter we have to real conversation. McCarthy and Carter explain that “’language in action’ involves participants in using language to refer to action in an easy and unproblematic way because they are taking place before their respective eyes (pag. 209).
The next subject is the relationship between the work and learning/practice of grammar: When teachers first began to adopt a communicative approach to foreign and second language teaching, “learning communication” was often presented as an alternative to “learning grammar”. We noted a strong sense of convergence between stated beliefs and actual classroom practices. Having our self-experienced English language learning by explicit instruction on the rules of grammar, the belief that grammar teaching should be integrated into speaking, writing and reading. belief that grammar is central to language learning and direct grammar teaching is needed by their EFL/ESL students” We think this particular type of study vitally important especially in light of the results of the recent Richards, Gallo, and Renandya (2001) survey that suggest evidence of divergence between teachers’ stated beliefs and actual classroom practices related to grammar teaching.
8. PRODUCTION: ORAL AND WRITTEN
In Bachillerato Made Easy there is a continual relationship between production (oral and written) and grammar because we can see that the step includes a written part where the students write sentences to take into account the ways to report what someone has already said, then in an oral practice they report the message using a reporting verb and making some changes in tenses pronouns, adjectives and adverbs. In “Botellón” there isn’t a relation between skills and grammar because the unit doesn’t show any grammar description. They have a brief model to write, read, speak and listen but they don’t have the grammar reference to follow the different skills.
What are the opportunities for production do both units provide? Oral communication is a two-way process between speaker and listener where both the speaker and the listener have a positive function to perform (Byrne 1986: 8). So speaking is therefore an interactive process but we have to recognize that there will be times when the speaker’s role will be essentially passive which is emphasized in McGregor’s model of collaborative discourse (see Section 2.2.3) Furthermore writing is labeled as written production and is one of the branches, it is a skill that students must develop. When expressing oneself in a language, this is only done in an oral fashion; written communication is extremely important in language learning. So both units provide their students with situations that allow development and progress in the four skills: Bachillerato Made Easy the unit provides opportunities with a group work, self-access and Presentation – Practice – Production, for both production skills (oral, written) the unit tends to be teacher-centred, as the teacher leads the activity and provides necessary information.
Furthermore it is a student centred activity because the learners in some steps are able to decide what to say, and how to say it, for example: for oral production the learners start discussing with a self-assessment task in two different exercises. In the first exercise learners have to reflect about their behaviour in given situations and in the second part they have a free group discussion about the same topic which is presented in all the unit and provide the learners with the necessary structure, vocabulary and grammar (previously taught). ‘Botellón!’ provides opportunities with interaction where the learners work in groups or independently where they have the chance to work together and interact autonomously and the teacher acts as a facilitator by monitoring their work. For example for the written part they use the steps in the reading part to refute a diplomatic way the topics given. Now the learners are totally trained for talking about different points of view. As we know there are three main stages in any unit: Presentation, Practice, and Production. A unit which includes all these stages can help learners to learn more efficiently. 8.1 TYPES
The presentation stage involves explaining the aims of the unit so that children know what they will learn and why. It is also during this stage that the teacher explains the new language, including both its meaning and form, and how to say or write it correctly. The goal of the practice stage is to help the children use the new language you have just explained to them. It is at this stage that error correction is most important. The final stage is the production stage. This can help motivate children to communicate meaning with the new language. Children should experiment with the language. For example in Bachillerato Made Easy, they write an essay but in the part for production it is required to follow the steps to create the essay: description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) or it is better to write a paragraph or notes for a letter to produce learning.In “Botellón” they make a diplomatic discussion, this part requires more group work and pair work to achieve more examples of communicative language. 8.1.1. ACTIVITIES
Assignment – DLSC
The variety of the activity types provide opportunities for students to build Awareness or Conceptualize understandings related to the learning. They help the learners to apply their knowledge of the contents using a variety of processes and techniques. The four skills work in tandem when the activities that require their use are designed to support learners in the process of learning, creating and producing a specific product. The Bachillerato Made Easy unit presents the following activities for the speaking section (oral): dialogues, role play, talking about themselves related to behaviour in different situations that mention generalization and advice to take into account in our real world to be good friends. In this activity students are allowed to answer questions using their own words.
On the other hand, a written section follows these activities: Written practice to responding to questions that are related to friendship. In the speaking section the activity discusses some of the issues, factors and solutions for the problem. Apart from that the other activity is to work individually, whether they agree or disagree and to state their own reasons about the proposed solutions. The last activity is a discussion in groups, giving for and against arguments. In the written section the unit uses a discussion organiser in a written practice where the students have to write some notes proposing a solution which could be appropriate for everybody on the subject of botellón. 9. OPINION AND CONCLUSION
We can say a textbook is only as good as the teacher who uses it. A textbook is just a tool, in our teaching arsenal. Sometimes, teachers over-rely on textbooks and don’t consider other aids for the classroom. Some teachers reject a textbook approach to learning because the textbook is outdated or insufficiently covers a topic or subject area, but we know that a book or a unit is very important to learning the language. So we prefer both units: Bachillerato because this unit is considered Authentic and Genuine, the unit works with the four skills and other points such as grammar which are vital to learning the language. Furthermore the unit has different activities for each skill. On the other hand the unit “Botellón” because it is algo genuine although this unit is more student centred. In this case it is focused on each student’s needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles, placing the teacher as the facilitator.
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Assignment – DLSC
13. Willis, D. et al. 1996. MA TESL／TEFL Open Learning Programme Pedagogic Grammar. Birmingham: The Centre for English Language Studies, the University of Birmingham.
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