When learning a new or second language it is important that students develop their oral skills, due to the fact that one of the main goals of doing so is to speak the language and to be understood by others. Nevertheless, many students are afraid or feel stressed when using the language in an oral way. Among the affective elements that interfere with the student’s oral production in second language acquisition, it can be mentioned: anxiety, levels of motivation, peer group pressure, interaction, personal and emotional factors, self-confidence, risk-taking, and language ego among others. However, for the purpose of this proposal only the concepts of language ego, risk-taking, and self-confidence will be defined.
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2.2.1 Language Ego
First of all, it is important to give the definition of language ego. Guiora (1972) was the first linguist that created the notion of language ego; he claimed that this agent occurs when the learner is aware of the limitations and boundaries of language; for example, the difference among the sounds and pronunciation of English. For some authors the concept of language ego is related to body ego, and in the case of language Guiora states that, “Grammar and syntax are the bones or structure of speech, lexis the flesh and pronunciation is the core. Pronunciation is an aspect of language ego because it is hard to acquire in English and difficult to lose in the native language” (421-428).
With this, Guiora wants to create the sense of new identity or self-representation that is needed during the acquisition of oral performance in English, since to acquire a “native like” pronunciation it is necessary to break the boundaries of identity related to the mother tongue and get a more empathic ability to understand and accept English as a language. Then, in 1979, Benveniste gave her own definition for language ego in which she established that when a learner realizes that he is part of the acquisition process there occur “subjectivity” as a condition of language which provides the learner with consciousness and reality.
In addition, Brown (2001) claims that language ego is when learners develop a new mode of thinking, feeling, and acting; in other words, a second identity related to the acquisition of English as a second language. Brown explains that people have a system of strategies when they acquired their first language, but when they face the challenge of learning a second language such as English, their egos suddenly are affected and they feel totally defenseless in a stressful and new situation, for example interacting in a face to face communication while using English.
One of the possible reasons that pushes students to create a second identity is the necessity to protect themselves from a new experience and the agents this carries within, for instance anxiety and nervousness. According to Lander (1975) anxiety is an unpleasant nature and it is similar to fear; also anxiety is known as a factor that damages student’s prospects for successful learning. Moreover, MacIntyre & Gardner (1991, p. 86) claim that English classes are stressful and anxiety-provoking, so that can be a reason of not enough oral achievement and proficiency.
Self-confidence can be defined as the way in which people act when they want to achieve something; it is the personal power you have to get what you want. According to Sihera (2007), self-confidence is the attitude which allows people to have a positive and realistic point of view of their abilities. It contains personal attributes such as assertiveness, optimism, enthusiasm, affection, pride, independence, trust, the ability to handle criticism, and emotional maturity. Related to the acquisition of English as a foreign language, Brown (2001, pp. 62) defines self-confidence as “The belief that learner has that he is capable of doing a task, which is a factor in the success of attaining the task.” Self-confidence is a key aspect that people need to get their goals.
Self-confidence is strongly linked to motivation because when students feel motivated they are able to have a better self-confidence on what they are doing and this will reduce the amount of corrections that the teacher should do during the lesson. Walz (as cited in Freiermuth, 1982) claimed that capable students can profit from even minor corrections, while struggling students should receive correction only on major errors, since this could increase the motivation of the students. Due to self-confidence seems to create or increase the level of motivation in students of English; Oxford & Nyikos (1989) claimed that students with a higher level of motivation are more able to apply new and better strategies to learn the four skills of English. According Sadjere Clement, which is a Motivational Speaker, there are some factors that can limit your level of self-confidence: fear of failure, inferiority complex, and lack of knowledge. These factors can be applied to English acquisition and more important to oral performance of English as a foreign language because it can be noticed that students get a mental condition of depression and low self-confidence every time they get bad grades in the exams, when they are compared to other students that have a better understanding of the subject than the rest, or when due to some situations the subject is not clear at all.
Risk-taking is defined by Brown as the ability that learners have to become “gamblers” and to impetrate language that is beyond their absolute certainty. In other words, a risk-taking student is not only able to “guess” when an answer could or could not be correct, but to analyze the previews information and the environment that surrounds the situation to affirm the correctness of his answer. Brown (2001, pp.63) states that language ego and self-confidence are the base for the students to pass to a higher level of English acquisition, since “Language ego lets the student to know his fragility and self-confidence pushed the students for the preparation to give a step and take a necessary risk .
There are many different opinions related to risk-taking. According to Kelly (2004), “Extrovert students tend to participate more in classroom interactions, worry less about accuracy, and have a tendency to take risks with their language, all of which are assets when it comes to communicative oral competence.” Kelly shows how the factor of extroversion can be a positive aspect that teachers could take into consideration to promote the oral proficiency during the lessons. But not all the studies have such a positive point of view; for example, Beebe (1983, p.40) illustrated that encouraged risk-taking in classroom can cause some negative effects, such as a bad trade in the course, a fail on the exam, punishment or embarrassment either inside the classroom or outside the classroom” (Brown, 2000, p. 149).
In addition, Beebe (1983) states that it is necessary that teachers create a balance and a set of limitations in order to avoid the negative results from the usage or overuse of risk-taking during the lessons. A bad usage of this principle could produce in students a step back in their English acquisition process because students will reduce their levels of self-confidence, so they will become more introverts, reducing or denying in this way all the possible inputs and opportunities to produce a satisfactory output.
2. 3 Developing Speaking Activities
Speaking is the process of building meaning through verbal symbols in different contexts (Chaney, 1998, pp.13). This function of language is very important for the acquisition process of English; given the reason that it provides students with the necessary real background they will need to use correctly the language. In Costa Rica, the activities used to teach this oral skill have always been repetition drills and memorization of dialogues. Nevertheless, nowadays, teaching experiences require new techniques focused on the communicative skill because in that way students will be able to express their ideas in a social or cultural specific circumstance. This due to one of the most important abilities or skills that students have to develop is the oral one, as their main objective is to express their ideas and be understood. Brown (2007) proposed three principles that are interconnected within the process on English learning, for that reason it is important to provide a set of activities that will help the student to reject the negative aspect of those elements and, at the same time, to reinforce the positive benefits.
Traditional activities in a classroom are based on repetition drills and these have a negative impact on learners, since they get bored of the same kind of activities and, therefore, problems began, as they lose their motivation and sometimes they even lose their self-confidence and their drive to learn the language. The simple benefit that this type of drills produces on students is to demonstrate how good are they to ask and answer questions in predictable structures because some of them do not change the same pattern depending on the situation. Students are not encouraged to learn the language using real life situations and, consequently, real life communication where they can experiment genuine situations of language communication. This given the fact that the purpose of “Real communication is to accomplish a task, such as conveying a telephone message, obtaining information, or expressing an opinion” (NCLRC, n.d., pp. 2). According to the National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC) (n.d., pp. 2), “Authentic communication involves an information gap where each participant has information that the others do not have.” This means that in a real life experience, people have to manage different aspects of language, such as achieving the meaning of a message by asking or by context; in other words, by understanding the situation they are interacting in, and making themselves understood.
For every activity people want to accomplish, it is important to have a set of goals in order to keep a guide; in this way, people could get their goal during the English learning process without wasting time and energy unnecessarily. For that reason, teachers should take into consideration several rules to create activities, so students will enjoy the games, activities, or tasks that are developed during the class and be able to get the main purpose that the professors want them to achieve. Some of those important objectives that students and professors want from the speaking activities are: first, students want to achieve an effective communication, which is the main goal for students of English as a foreign language, for the reason that they will be able to get a good enough job or they will be able to travel and communicate in an adequate manner. According to Nunan (2003), students want to use language quickly and with few pauses, which is called fluency.
Another goal is the ability to communicate, as they have the capacity to avoid confusion by using language in a real communicative experience. Finally, through oral activities, students can acquire aspects of a new cultural background, so they will be aware of situations that will be uncomfortable and avoid them. The National Capital Language Resource Center (n.d.) establishes some aspects that are relevant for teachers to follow whether they want to develop and succeed on the development of oral activities inside their classrooms, some of those points are: first; preparation, it is important to introduce the activity by describing it and asking the students to repeat what they understood about it. According to Harmer (2007), instructions should be short, simple, and logical; so students will be able to have a complete understanding of the activity. Then, if professors wish to perform a group activity they should have small groups, so in that way they are capable to have a better control on the learning situation. Also it is important to give time for the students to prepare everything they will need during the development of the activity.
The preparation of speaking activities takes a lot of time, motivation, and skill; and it also takes time from the lesson time because in some cases students need more time than the required to perform the speaking activity. Sasson (2007) said that sometimes when creating elements to apply inside a classroom, it is necessary to have a creative thinking to plan suitable activities depending on the current necessities of the students.
Sasson (2007, pp. 7) also developed a set of tips to improve the speaking skill; these tips should be taken into consideration every time that people pretend to create activities for a specific group of students. Such tips or steps include the following: first, allot a time limit taking into consideration if it is involved either pair or group work, this because professors cannot spend a whole lesson in the same activity, as this could produce stress or tiredness on the students. Second, to keep activities fun and simple, as in order to safe time instructions should be crystal clear since the beginning of the explanation.
Finally, Sasson (2007) established that professors have to avoid overdoing speaking activities, given the fact that the idea of these activities is to decrease the levels of anxiety and stress while students learn, but if professors exaggerate it could cause more problems. The more creative activities become, the easier it will be for professors to help students to improve their autonomy and risk-taking. In addition, Sasson suggests varying the speaking activities that are carried out in the English classroom, as this can help students to improve their skills, motivation, and self-confidence.
2.4 Structured Output Activities
In order to create a more clear definition and application of the speaking activities in an English classroom, it is important to have into consideration all the different techniques and methods that have been developed by some experts. All these methods have advantages and disadvantages, but the most important aspect to bear in mind is to make a deep analysis to identify which of them are rarely applicable depending on the students’ weaknesses and strengths. In this investigation, three main developing speaking activities systems will be described, they are: the structured output system, the communicative output system, and the cooperative language learning.
The Structured Output is a method created to help students to learn grammatical structures in a better way, but it can be also applied to output activities where students will improve their ability on grammar and at the same time they will develop a better fluency and oral communication. This method refers to the approach in which activities are used as a bridge for students to pass from the formal instruction to the communicative learning process. The Structured Output is both, an authentic and artificial language system and for that reason it provides a simple passage for a more complex learning experience. Lee and Van Patten (2003, p. 173) stated that the structured output concept can be applied to develop activities in order to encourage students to use the new learned vocabulary in a productive manner inside and outside the classroom. Professors that use this system should have in mind that they should move English lessons from a simpler to a more complex discourse (pp. 174) in order to expose students to a valuable challenge and not beyond the students’ capacity, so they can take advantage and improve their language experience, proficiency, and internalizing necessary structures.
These kinds of activities help students to practice specific features of language by using brief sentences. They are more like games rather than examples of real communication; when professors use activities based on the structured output they are exposing students to the initiation to their first language experience or determined topic; this will help them to feel more comfortable, their self-confidence seems to be increased, and they are able to take more risks during their English lessons.
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On the other hand, some professors prefer to use this method as a first option because it is focused on language form and a goal of teachers is to look for the students to perform a determined answer depending on a question or situation. Here, professors can introduce language items and make students to produce a combination with the previous knowledge they had. In other words, students are pushed to think by themselves and to “guess” their answers based on the language information they already have in order to complete an oral exercise.
Lee and Van Patten (2003) described two main characteristics of this method. The first one is that people is involved on the experience of exchanging unknown information among themselves; for example, in an interview, the interviewer asks questions to the requester of the job in order to analyze his or her skills and utility inside the company. People are always looking for answers related to other people and in this way to determine the way they are going to react in an interaction with a specific person. The second characteristic is that learners use a specific language form in order to express meaning; in other words, depending on the communication necessity of the speaker, he or she is going to use a specific grammatical structure; for example, people will use future to express a desire or past to describe an experience.
Also, Lee and Van Patten (2003) created some guidelines to help people interested on the development of speaking activities based on this method, these points are: to present one thing at the time, so in this way students would not feel overloaded with rules, instructions and information. As the name of the method tells, everything must follow a structure and specific order to avoid confusions and misunderstandings. Professors cannot separate activities from a significant meaning for the students; meaningful learning will help people to have something they are familiar with and in this manner to acquire the goal of the oral activities. The theory of meaningful learning is a good example to explain what Lee and Van Patten proposed, as this theory states that learners acquire a language when they have a significant context on which they can place their knowledge (Anderson and Ausubel, 1985, pp.8).
Another feature that is important to analyze is that professors have to adapt their lessons in order to make them move from simple sentences to connected and complex discourse, since by doing this students will have a peaceful transition from a simple one or two sentences structure to a more complex one; the levels of anxiety will be low, so self-confidence and risk-taking will have a better influence on some of the students. Also, it is important to have an activity in which students will react to the content, something in which they can place their egos in order to make an oral production.
And finally, learners need to have certain degree or knowledge on language form; grammar will be a base for students to produce their first steps on the risk taking aspect of English. It is important to analyze some examples of activities that can be applied inside the classroom and that will help professors to overcome the negative effects of the affective principle (language ego, self-confidence, and risk taking) and to increase the benefits of them to develop better bases of English language in students. The first type of activities is the one based on the information gap. When working with these types of activities, students are supposed to work in pairs or groups of four people; professors are able to have a better management of the class and students can participate. Johnson (1994) established that each student has a specific role to play on a group, so the idea is to help students to foment their abilities as a team, for example if a student has not idea of how he or she could make a question or answer, that student should ask a partner and by doing so, it can be observed that the levels of self-confidence are improved, and the also language ego is raised because students are less afraid to ask their classmates than to their teachers. One example of an information gap activity can be to create bus schedules for a travel company in Costa Rica; both schedules should have the same information and form, but different gaps or lacks of information. In pairs, the students cannot see each other’s schedules and they have to make questions and answers to fill both schedules. A variant of this activity can be made by using two similar pictures with different missed details.
Another type of activity is called jigsaw. They are more elaborated than information gap activities. Jigsaws can be prepared for groups of four or more students and the goal of the activity is to make students to share their ideas among themselves, so they will feel more comfortable than speaking in front of the whole class. One activity based on the method can be to give students different sections of a comic strip without text and make them to order it and create a story related to a topic of their choice.
2.5 Communicative Output Activities
The second point to develop is the communicative output used on the creation of speaking activities. This type of activity allows students to practice all knowledge related to English that they already have acquired. Canale & Swain (1980) claim that using language includes not only the knowledge about how language works (for example: phonology, syntax, vocabulary, and semantics), but also the ability of using such knowledge appropriately in real communication. Kaur (2002) states that professors should have in mind that those students need a certain prior information of the language or a specific knowledge, for that reason that this method is used as a second step on the developing and improvement of English classes. According to National Capital Language Resource Center (n.d.), this method is implemented when teachers want their students to work as a team; in other words, all together to develop a plan, to solve a problem, or to discuss a topic.
Among the characteristics of this system to create speaking activities that can be mentioned the following: activities encourage students to experiment and innovate with the language they are learning, such as is the case of English learners, since by using these activities they are required to implement cognitive features to get the right answer or to complete an exercise as a group. The learning groups are more effective when students have a feeling of unity (Fiechtner and Davis, 1992). Having groups on a lesson bring other kinds of benefits for students, for example they feel more comfortable by talking to a little group than to the whole class, so their self-confidence and risk taking are improved; likewise, it also allows them to choose their partners, as they will choose people they feel good working with and their language egos are protected from negative feedback.
Another characteristic is that these activities are used to complete tasks such as obtaining information or creating something. Also, the goal is to get a message across using English; in other words, fluency is not too important unless it interferes with the message students want to transmit. And finally, activities are based on real information and, therefore, students can interact in everyday situations, so the knowledge and vocabulary is internalized in a faster way. For example, students are familiarized with the kinds of food they have on their communities or which is the possible winner in a soccer match on the Soccer World Cup.
Some activities related to this method that can be implemented inside a classroom are role plays and discussion. Both activities require certain level of English information; so, professors should use as first option activities based on structured output to create a peaceful environment among students, where they can feel relaxed and strong, that is a good self-image. Discussions are a good technique that can be applied to advanced students, in other words, those that have a better control over English. Professors just need to find an interesting topic of conversation that students have recently heard about, or they can brainstorm and talk or discuss a polemic idea. Discussions can be used both, before and after a topic, in this way professors can set the purpose of the topic in a more interesting manner.
Kaur (1999) states that constant and continue opportunities of role play in lessons can produce levels of improvement and personal growth in students, which thus leads to increase self-awareness and confidence. By engaging all kinds of students in a role play, no matter the English level that they have, can be a beneficial activity because students see themselves in a negotiation process, where real-life language is used to express and comprehend others depending on the level they are using and on the context they are applying in the activity. For example, Sharan and Sharan (1976, p.182) suggested that role playing can effectively improve the skills needed for the language process rather than simply being a technique for exploring content.
A detailed example of one activity that professors can implement inside a classroom can be to ask students to form groups of four. They have to choose an interesting topic for designing the model of a web page using a poster. Each student in the group should have a specific function, but at the same time they have to participate as a team in the elaboration of the project; for example: student A is in charge of looking for pictures, student B has to bring other material, student C has to give designing ideas, and student D is the leader of the group and is in charge of coordinating everything, but when it is the time to build the web page they have to work together using English. These kind of activities promote self-confidence because students are not focused on language, they are paying attention to ideas and ways to finish in the best way their work; also risk taking will be increased because in the group some differences would exist related to procedures to deal with the work, so students will affront the necessity of expressing and defending their feelings and personal points of view.
2.6 Cooperative Language learning
Language requires social interaction; for example the members of a classroom can interact among themselves to work together to get a common goal. Sometimes group interaction is not practiced in Costa Rican schools because groups are too big (more than 40 students) and sometimes students are difficult to manage because of their behavior. La Forte (1983, pp. 9) states that, “Language is people, language is persons in contact; language is persons in response.” Likewise, La Forte affirms that interaction is a necessary feature for English, as second language learners are able to cooperate together to overcome their emotional and cognitive problems, such as lack of self-esteem, lack of vocabulary, and nervousness. For that reason and some others, cooperative language learning plays such an important role for students’ language development in English classes. The main reasons, this method is used to create activities in English classes to increase student’s retention, the students’ satisfaction with their learning experience, help them to develop oral communication and social skills, and to promote student self-esteem.
This teaching method can provide students with an endless and huge variety of benefits. Studies carried by Johnson & Johnson (1998) and Cohen (1994) revealed that the majority of students achieve and improve their levels of motivation, critical thinking, social skills, positive aspects of interdependence, group progress, and they are capable of accepting criticisms, among others. It can be noticed that on the increasing critical thinking is also improved the levels in which students take risks, since when students have a better perspective of their lessons they are more likely to participate, no matter if they make mistakes. Also motivation and social skills affect in a positive way the self-confidence and the language ego of the students.
To design lessons based on this teaching method it is required a big an understanding of the components that make cooperative work. According to Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec (1993), the main and essential components of cooperation are positive interdependence, which reveres the way students are linked and how they notice that they cannot succeed unless everyone does something. In other words, each member’s efforts are indispensable and each member has a specific participation. Another aspect is face-to-face promotive interaction that provides other learning inside the group through explanations and discussions. Individual and group accountability means that the group must achieve the goal, but members need to share their work, as each contribution helps to get the main goal. Then, there are the interpersonal and small group skills that are teamwork, leadership, decision making, and communication; and finally group processing where students discuss how well they are achieving their goals. Systematically implementing those basic elements into group learning situations and in the development of activities help to ensure cooperative efforts and enable the disciplined implementation of cooperative learning for long-term of success.
Cooperative learning groups present unique and important opportunities and benefits for students. According to Johnson & Johnson (1989), among the benefits of using cooperative learning can be mentioned: first, the possibility for more different outcomes, to enable critical thinking and the level the performance of the speaking skill; for example the ability to communicate knowledge, self-esteem, and commitment to producing quality work. Second, this method provides additional sources of information because each student has ways to get information and provide it to their classmates. And finally, the opportunity for continuous improvement offers a setting in which instruction and achievement can all be part of one process. In other words, all members of the class are organized into teams working cooperatively to continuously improve the processes of learning.
Kagan (1994) developed some activities that can be implemented using cooperative learning. Some of them are: jigsaws, brainstorming, solving problems as a team, interviews, and organizing into categories of different topics. For example a good activity that professors can apply is telling a story; for this, groups of four people can be made. The professor chooses a topic and the students are the ones that are going to tell the story. The first group gives an introduction and the rest of the groups should continue until each student has already had a significant participation. In this activity, students will feel relaxed because they have the liberty of asking their classmates the meaning or translation of a word. As an extra activity, the professor can record the story and bring it next class to practice another activity with the students.
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