How to enhance speaking skills to the students in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school in Hai Phong

As a consequence of the “open door” policy, which have been in effect since 1987, in Vietnam, the study of English has been booming. English is seen as a means of access to scientific and technological development, as the language for international communication, and as an instrument for receiving grants and aid. For young people, English is an effective tool for further study as well as better job opportunities. English has therefore, been most widely taught from primary schools to universities in both private enterprises and state offices. It is offered as a compulsory subject in the curriculum as well as the national secondary and high school examinations. Nowadays, of all the language teaching approaches, it has been proved that the communicative language teaching has its predominant role. This predominance over other approaches to language teaching has led to the increasingly important role of teaching speaking skills. Moreover, since Vietnam entered WTO, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of and need for spoken English. However, teaching and learning speaking skills to students in Vietnamese classrooms is at present still a matter of much concern by language teachers due to current teaching materials, characteristics of learners as well as teachers’ proficiency and classroom methodology. The first introduction of the new textbook “English 10” into teaching at TP High school has marked real renovation in language teaching and learning from the traditional approach - grammar translation method, which only concentrates on the ability of using grammar rules precisely, to communicative approach, which focuses on communication ability. Nonetheless, the teachers of English at Thai Phien High school find it difficult to teach speaking successfully because of the class size, the students’ language level, and additionally, students are not acquainted with CLT. Moreover, a majority of the teachers were trained under the strong influence of the Grammar-Translation method which impedes them from teaching speaking successfully even the new textbook follows the communicative approach. As a teacher of English at Thai Phien high school in Hai Phong I often receive similar questions from many students. For example, “I can understand grammar and sentence structures well, but I feel embarrassed to talk in English” or “What should I do to speak English well?” In my reality of teaching, there are many students who have perfect knowledge of grammar which works wonderfully for reading and writing but can’t express themselves to the teacher. On the other hand, I often hear a lot of complaints from the colleagues: “Students seem so quiet and lazy during speaking lessons. It is very difficult to make them participate in speaking activities”. Therefore, the idea of doing something useful for my colleagues and students has urged me to conduct the research. Another reason why the study was carried out lies in my love for teaching speaking. By doing the study, I can know more about the challenges in teaching and learning speaking skills so that I can find relevant techniques a long with activities to improve my teaching speaking at Thai Phien High school.

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1. Rationale of the study As a consequence of the “open door” policy, which have been in effect since 1987, in Vietnam, the study of English has been booming. English is seen as a means of access to scientific and technological development, as the language for international communication, and as an instrument for receiving grants and aid. For young people, English is an effective tool for further study as well as better job opportunities. English has therefore, been most widely taught from primary schools to universities in both private enterprises and state offices. It is offered as a compulsory subject in the curriculum as well as the national secondary and high school examinations. Nowadays, of all the language teaching approaches, it has been proved that the communicative language teaching has its predominant role. This predominance over other approaches to language teaching has led to the increasingly important role of teaching speaking skills. Moreover, since Vietnam entered WTO, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of and need for spoken English. However, teaching and learning speaking skills to students in Vietnamese classrooms is at present still a matter of much concern by language teachers due to current teaching materials, characteristics of learners as well as teachers’ proficiency and classroom methodology. The first introduction of the new textbook “English 10” into teaching at TP High school has marked real renovation in language teaching and learning from the traditional approach - grammar translation method, which only concentrates on the ability of using grammar rules precisely, to communicative approach, which focuses on communication ability. Nonetheless, the teachers of English at Thai Phien High school find it difficult to teach speaking successfully because of the class size, the students’ language level, and additionally, students are not acquainted with CLT. Moreover, a majority of the teachers were trained under the strong influence of the Grammar-Translation method which impedes them from teaching speaking successfully even the new textbook follows the communicative approach. As a teacher of English at Thai Phien high school in Hai Phong I often receive similar questions from many students. For example, “I can understand grammar and sentence structures well, but I feel embarrassed to talk in English” or “What should I do to speak English well?” In my reality of teaching, there are many students who have perfect knowledge of grammar which works wonderfully for reading and writing but can’t express themselves to the teacher. On the other hand, I often hear a lot of complaints from the colleagues: “Students seem so quiet and lazy during speaking lessons. It is very difficult to make them participate in speaking activities”. Therefore, the idea of doing something useful for my colleagues and students has urged me to conduct the research. Another reason why the study was carried out lies in my love for teaching speaking. By doing the study, I can know more about the challenges in teaching and learning speaking skills so that I can find relevant techniques a long with activities to improve my teaching speaking at Thai Phien High school. All of the above reasons and factors have inspired me to do the research on “How to enhance speaking skills to the students in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school in Hai Phong” with the hope to make a little contribution to the quality of teaching and learning speaking skills in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school. 2. Aims of the study The major aims of the study are as follows: To investigate the situation of teaching and learning speaking in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school. To identify the factors that have impact on the teaching and learning speaking skills in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school. To give some implications and as well as some appropriate activities for the improvement of speaking skills to the students in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school. 3. Research questions The research is carried out with an attempt to find out the answers to the following research questions: What techniques have been used frequently to teach speaking skills to the students in grade 10th at Thai Phien High school in Hai Phong? What are the obstacles the teachers and students in grade 10th have faced in teaching and learning speaking skills? 4. Scope of the study This study is concerned with development of speaking skills to the students in Grade 10th at Thai Phien High school. The researcher is not planning on studying a larger population of the whole students at Thai Phien high school, just on the students in Grade 10th in order to find out the problems experienced by these students and the teachers of English and then offer some implications and activities with the hope that teaching and learning speaking skills will be improved. 5. Design of the study Apart from acknowledgement, table of contents and appendices, this paper is structured in three main parts namely, Introduction, Development and Conclusion. The first part “Introduction” presents the rationale, aims, research questions, scope of the study and also its design. The second part “Development” includes four chapters. Chapter 1 reviews the related literature which involves the general concepts as well as characteristics of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), the description of communicative activities and some discussions on nature of speaking in oral communication, its roles in language teaching and learning and characteristics of a successful speaking lesson. Chapter 2 is composed of two sections. The first section presents the local situation in Thai Phien High school with a brief description of the speaking learning conditions, students, teachers and textbook used for teaching English. The second section- provides the research methods that involve information about the subjects, data collection instruments and procedures. Also, the methods of data analysis are mentioned. Chapter 3 is devoted to a detailed description of data analysis and discussion of the findings of the study. Chapter 4 offers the implications and suggestions of some activities for teaching and learning speaking skills. The third part “Conclusion” presents the summary of the major findings of the study and recommendations for further research. Chapter 1 Literature review In order to design useful techniques and activities for developing speaking skills to learners, we, as teachers,e need insights about the relevant theoretical concepts. In this chapter, first comes an overview of Communicative Language Teaching and then a brief presentation of communicative activities as the foundation of the study. In the last part there will be some discussion on the nature of speaking and the role of speaking as well. The characteristics of a successful speaking lesson are also manifested. 1.1. An overview of Communicative Language Teaching 1.1.1. Definition of Communicative Language Teaching. Having been shaped in the changes in the British language teaching tradition dating from the late 1960s, Communicative Language Teaching (CTL) marks the beginning of a major innovation within language teaching because of its superior principles which are widely accepted nowadays. So far, several researchers have done work on CLT and each of them developed his own ideas regarding CLT. As for Richards and Rodgers (1986) CLT means little more than an integration of grammatical and functional teaching. Sharing the same view with Richards & Rodgers, Littlewood (1981:1) affirms that CLT “pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language” For others, CLT means using procedures where learners work in pairs or groups employing available language resources in problem-solving tasks (Richards and Rodgers, 1986) Das (1984) goes further when he talks about the ‘What’ and the ‘How’ of CLT. The ‘What’ refers to contents to be taught to learners. The emphasis is more on the use of language for communication of meaning than learning language structures, forms and vocabulary (Wilkins, 1976 and Widdowson, 1978). The ‘how’ of language teaching and learning deal with the specific techniques and activities used to unconsciously ‘acquire’ and consciously ‘learn’ a language through communication. To define CLT Nunan (1984:194) states: CLT views language as a system for the expression of meaning. Activities involve oral communication, carrying out meaning tasks and using language, which is meaningful to the learners. Objectives reflect the needs of the learners including functional skills as well as linguistics objectives. The learner’s role is a negotiator and integrator. The teacher’s role as a facilitator of the communication process. It is thought that the definition contains aspects that are common to many other definitions. In brief, from the opinions above about CLT we can find that most of the researchers have the general idea that CLT emphasizes communication in a foreign language and improves the learners’ competence through communicative activities. To make further sense of CLT, characteristics of CLT should also be referred to. 1.1.2. Characteristics of Communicative Language Teaching The theory of language in CLT shows that language is used for communication. At the level of language theory, CLT has characteristics defined by Richards & Rodgers (2001) as follows: Language is a system for the expression of meaning. The primary function of language is to allow interaction and communication The structure of language reflects its functional and communicative uses The primary units of language are not merely its grammatical and structural features, but categories of functional and communicative meaning as exemplified in discourse. Therefore, the objective of language teaching is to develop “communicative competence”. Richards and Rodgers show that CLT aims to “make communicative competence the goal of language teaching” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001: 155). Hymes (1972) defines ‘Communicative competence’ as “what a speaker needs to know to communicate effectively in culturally significant settings” [Das, 1985 (Gumperz and Hymes, 1972:vii)] In Hymes’ sense communicative competence includes not merely the linguistic forms of the language but also its social rules, the knowledge of when, how, and to whom it is appropriate to use these forms. Freeman claims that the most obvious characteristic of the CLT is that “almost everything that is done is done with a communicative intent” (1986:132). Students use the language a great deal through communicative activities such as games, role-plays, and problem-solving tasks which are “often carried out …in small groups” (1986:132). The benefit of pair and group work in teaching speaking is that the time allotted is maximized for each student to learn to negotiate meaning. Another point to make about CLT is its use of authentic, from life materials (Larsen-Freeman, 1986), which is one of the good ways to create opportunities for the learners to be exposed to the real language as this kind of materials contains the language used by native speakers. Examples of authentic materials in teaching speaking might include articles from magazines or newspapers, stories, songs, video recordings. The most familiar feature of CLT is learner-centeredness. Students in learner-centered approach are seen as being able to play more active and participatory role than in traditional approaches. In other words, students are communicators; they actively interact with each other in the classroom activities. They are free to decide what and how they will say and correction of errors may be absent or infrequent. Furthermore, students are made to feel secure and unthreatened. This aims to encourage students to participate in the lesson. Accordingly, the teacher is a facilitator of the learner’s learning, a manager of classroom activities and a co-communicator to engage in the activities with students. In short, CLT is identified with the following characteristics: It makes communicative competence the goal of teaching. It develops procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication. It considers learners and his communicative needs the centre of language teaching process. These characteristics will be the principles for teachers to choose appropriate techniques as well as activities in classroom to improve the student’s communicative competence. Then, the concepts of communicative activities will be discussed in the next section. 1.2. Communicative Activities 1.2.1. Definition of communicative activities According to Hammer (1991), communicative activities are those that give students the desire to communicate, involving them in a various use of the language. Such activities are crucially important in a language classroom since the students can do their best to use the language individually, arriving at a degree of language autonomy. In other words, communicative activities are those that can stimulate communicative competence in the learners. Therefore, it is the teacher’s responsibility to find out appropriate activities to encourage students to use the language. In order to design these activities effectively, the teacher needs further understanding of them. Accordingly, the following section will discuss the characteristics and types of communicative activities. 1.2.2. Characteristics of communicative activities Communicative activities are not limited to conversation. They can be used in listening, speaking, reading, writing or an integration of two or more skills. Communicative activities, according to Morrow (1981), must include three features: information gap, choice and feedback. To be more specific Nolasco & Athur (1993) state that communicative activities have following characteristics: - They involve using language for a purpose. - They create a desire to communicate. This means there must be some kinds of “gap” which may be information, opinion, affect, or reason that students seek to bridge. - They encourage students to be creative and contribute their ideas. - They focus on the message and students concentrate on “what” they are saying rather than “how” they are saying it. - The students work independently of the teacher. - The students determine what they want to write and say. The activity is not designed to control what the student will. (Nolasco & Athur: 58) In other words, communicative activities try to create authentic communication. This is seen as contrary to monotonous drills which the traditional method heavily relied on and which carry little communicative functions. Harmer (1991), who holds the same view, makes a distinction between non-communicative activities and communicative ones in the following table: Non-communicative activities Communicative activities No communicative desire No communicative purpose Form not content One language item only Teacher intervention Materials control A communicative desire A communicative purpose Content not form Variety of language No teacher intervention No materials control Also, he affirms that information gap is essential in communication activities because it provides learners with a purpose and a desire to communicate. A traditional classroom exchanges in which both the speaker and listener know the answer is not really communicative. 1.2.3. Types of communicative activities In the light of the characteristics above different researchers suggests some types of communicative activities. Littlewood (1981) distinguishes between functional communication activities and social interaction activities as major activity types in CLT. Functional communication activities include such tasks as learners comparing sets of pictures and noting similarities and differences; working out a likely sequence of events in a set of pictures; discovering missing features in a map or picture; following directions; and solving problems from shared clues. The aim of these activities is that: Learners should use the language they know in order to get meanings across as effectively as possible. Success is measured primarily according to whether they cope with the communicative demands of the immediate situation. (Littlewood, 1981:20) Social interaction activities include conversation and discussion sessions, dialogues and role plays, simulations, skits, improvisations, and debates. These activities offer a variety of social situations and relationships. Success is measured not only in terms of the functional effectiveness of the language but also in terms of the social acceptability of the forms that are used. (Littlewood, 1981). Harmer (1991) sorts communicative activities into oral and written ones. Oral communicative activities include seven categories: reaching a consensus, discussion, relaying instructions, communication games, problem solving, talking about you, simulation and role-play. Written communicative activities also comprise relaying instructions, writing reports and advertisement, co-operative writing, exchanging letters and writing journals. By taking part in communicative activities students can actually do things with language and make language their own. 1.2.4. Roles of communicative activities in language teaching and learning Communicative activities really play an important part in language teaching and learning. Their role in language teaching and learning has been confirmed by many researchers. Richard & Rodgers (2001) hold that “communicative activities enable learners to attain communicative objectives of the curriculum and engage them in communication”. In addition, Krashen (1982) assumes that language is best taught when it is being used to transmit messages, not when it is taught explicitly. So using communicative activities provides students with opportunities to convey messages in authentic communication. Actually, communicative activities are a vital part in language teaching and learning because they have a lot of advantages. Firstly, Communicative activities encourage motivation because they ensure that communication is purposeful rather than artificial. A variety of communicative activities arouses interest and provides learners with something meaningful to do and give them freedom to choose the meaning they want to express. They bring their backgrounds and experiences to class and make their own decisions, creating more interest and excitement and thus facilitate and stimulate learning process. Secondly, Communicative activities offer opportunities to develop the practical skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing as well as to acquire intercultural and interactional competence in English. It is believed that successful communication is an integrated accomplishment. Communicative activities can also help develop cognitive ability such as analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information. In addition, through communicative activities the students are stimulated to respond actively and participate with their classmates. Communicative activities are often conducted with pair work and group work in which students talk to many partners and interact with them. This brings learners a feeling of security because they feel easier to discuss with their classmates than to speak in public or in front of their teacher. Moreover, when working in group each student must be responsible for the common progress of the group. All of these promote their cooperation as well as participation in learning process. Finally, Communicative activities such as working in groups, in pairs or singing etc. create a relatively safe environment for making mistakes a long with relaxed atmosphere, for there is little error correction or distract attention. Students ar