By Youssef El Kaissy
By Youssef El Kaissy
Chicago – Teaching a foreign Language is not as easy of a task as it may seem to some people. After a short experience in foreign language classrooms both teaching and studying, I am more interested than before to find out more creative ways to help foreign language learners practice speaking in the classroom in authentic contexts that mirror their everyday lives.
Teach and Reflect
Most teachers of foreign languages are concerned with their students’ ability to use the new language accurately and fluently after a certain level of study. Do we really reflect on how to make them reach this objective? Do we vary our classroom tasks? Do we create the right atmosphere for our foreign language learners?
Obviously, as teachers and learners of foreign languages, our central goal is communication. We all seek to foster communication in our classes. Rivers (1986) explains that “Students achieve facility in using a language when their attention is focused on conveying and receiving authentic messages (p. 2).” In this regard, we, as language teachers, should be concerned with how much time and opportunity we give our learners to use a foreign language in meaningful contexts rather than how many rules of grammar they rehearse.
“In first and second language theory, languages are acquired in real-life/natural settings through interactions with others” (Curtain & Pesola, 1994, p. 125).
Both Curtain and Pesola (1994) in their book: Language and Children write that in the classroom setting, the teacher must create contexts for communication. For example, in Arabic as a foreign language classroom, the teacher should require learners to speak Arabic to serve everyday life purposes and in meaningful contexts (introducing oneself, Asking and giving directions, ordering a meal in an Arabic restaurant…) depending on the proficiency level of learners.
However, there are teachers who mistakenly ask students questions and get answers without a meaningful context, yet believe that this is communicative! It is important to realize that communicative questions or classroom interactions are the ones where the participants obtain new information that is unknown to them (e.g.: information gap activities). Equally important, games are also among the most familiar methods by which foreign language teachers, especially in elementary levels, create environments for language acquisition and learning to foster motivation and fun. Other activities appropriate for fostering communicative competence are role plays, skits, scenarios, group work and storytelling.
Speaking Proficiency and functional language use
According to Liskin and Gasparro’s (1987) statement,” If you can’t use a language, you don’t know a language’p.26). A learner with high proficiency is the one who can make functional use of the new language in different contexts with a certain degree of fluency.
Though some people regard speaking as a hard task for new language learners, students begin to speak after they have been equipped with sufficient language in varied contexts. Thus, being able to use a language ranges from uttering words, sentences to paragraphs to longer conversations…etc. according to the level of students. Teachers can help learners achieve and develop their discourse abilities by giving oral proficiency tests using the foreign language in real life situations.
Furthermore; integrating culture of the target language helps learners achieve authenticity in the subject matter. The above mentioned activities, if they are effectively used in our classrooms, simplify teaching, spice up learning and, more importantly, create social and functional users of the foreign language.
In summary, as teachers of foreign languages, we should not seek just to deliver lessons and equip learners with knowledge about the language. Instead, we should rethink our philosophy of teaching, evaluate our objectives, vary our teaching practices and above all make our language teaching outcomes serve the social and functional purposes of life.
Curtain, H. & Pesola, C. (1994). Language and children: Making the match (2nd Ed). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Shrum, J. L. & Glisan, E. W. (2000).Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction (2nd Ed.).