Taiwanese English Teachers Perceptions Of Clt English Language Essay

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Taiwan has shifted herself to a more international outlook with the booming in economic, which leads to a strong recognition of the need to obtain English competence, and this interest has gained approval by government policies (Wu & Wu, 2007). Due to the need of communicating in English in this global village, some changes in English language education in Taiwan have taken place in terms of curriculum and teaching approaches. English has been a required course for many years for students from junior high school all the way to the first year of university. Teachers' teaching methods have also been encouraged to change from grammar-translation to communicative approach (Chern, 2002). To promote CLT, various levels of education have made enormous efforts and expended resources on renewing curricula, including principles and practices recommended by CLT. However, the implementing of CLT has often encountered difficulties (Burnaby & Sun, 1989; Hu, 2002; Li, 1998). Although difficulties encountered, many EFL countries so as Taiwan are still trying to apply CLT in their teaching contexts in the hope of improving English teaching.

Schools are important to students' language learning. All English teachers should aim to motivate students through their choices of teaching strategies and materials. It has been argued that movies, which are regarded as authentic input, are seldom used as teaching materials in the traditional classroom (Cheung, 2001); nevertheless, they are controllable teaching means, and provide a wide variety of subjects, communicative language, language environment, and cultural content (Wood, 1995). In Taiwan, due to the long term cultural tradition, students are often untalkative and timid when it comes to speaking activities (Katchen, 1992). Movies appeal to students and motivate students to become responsive and active learners (Cheung, 2001); nonetheless, how to make the best use of movies in teaching relies on teachers. It is the teachers who are the front line troops and without their teaching skills and materials any teaching programmes will fail. Teachers' way of knowing affects their actions. As Deford (1985) suggests, knowledge forms a system of beliefs and attitude which direct perceptions and behaviour. In light of the abovementioned, this study, hence, intends to find out two research questions: What are the Taiwanese English teachers' perceptions of CLT? And what are the Taiwanese English teachers' perceptions of communicative activities based on the movies in facilitating CLT in speaking class?

This article will begin with a discussion of CLT and its context in Taiwan, and then look at communicative activities based on movies in instructing speaking. A discussion of English teachers' perceptions on CLT will be followed. Then a full account of the study will be described including participants, methodology, data results and discussion. Finally, implications and conclusion will be drawn from the results.

CLT and its context in Taiwan

CLT consists of a strong version and a weak version. According to Holliday (1994), the strong version of communicative teaching aims to stimulate the development of language itself. The focus is not on language practice but on learning about how language works in discourse. Since the goal is not to practice language forms, cares need not to be paid on monitoring group and pair work. Accordingly, activities do not necessarily have to be carried out in groups or pairs. Therefore, communicative teaching counts as long as students are communicating with rich texts and producing useful hypotheses. On the contrary, the weak version of communicative teaching stresses the importance of offering learners opportunities to use their English for communicative purpose and attempts to integrate such activities into language teaching (Holliday, 1994). Howatt (1984) makes a more explicit distinction between the strong version and the weak version. He depicts the former as 'using English to learn' and the latter as 'learning to use English' (Howatt, 1984 quoted in Rao, 2002, p.87). Although there is a division between the strong and weak version of CLT, there are still common grounds between them. According to Richards and Rodgers (1986), language as communication is the starting theory of CLT and learners' communicative competence is the goal that CLT meant to develop.

The characteristics of CLT have been repeatedly discussed, identified and accepted in EFL countries and teacher training programmes (Harmer, 1991). Some misconceptions, however, still exist which make it difficult for many teachers to adopt CLT more effectively in their teaching. Thompson (1996) notices four most frequently mentioned misconceptions. Misconception one is that CLT means not teaching grammar. It is the most damaging misconception according to Thompson. He further argues that it is never a necessary part of CLT to exclude the explicit attention to grammar, for grammar is necessary for communication to take place efficiently. Grammar could be taught in a retrospective approach through CLT and moved from the teacher covering grammar to the learners discovering grammar (Thompson, 1996). Misconception two is that CLT means teaching only speaking. CLT was affected by the movement in linguistics which gave primacy to spoken language. Communication does not only happen through speech. Communication through language takes place in both the written and spoken media, and engages at least two people. In CLT, learners are encouraged to take part in and reflect on communication in as many different contexts as possible (Thompson, 1996). Misconception three is that CLT means pair work, which means role play. The misconception here is not the emphasis on the pair work or role play itself but on the ways in which it is used. Pair work is regarded as a useful technique, but its use is too narrow. Very often teachers will ask students to act out the predetermined conversation between two roles such as shopkeeper/customer, hotel manager/guest. The learners simply work out how to say and what they are told to say. More flexible and useful techniques can be added into the suggested tasks. How learners working together can actually help each other would be a good start to consider. Learners can provide each other with opportunity to try out ideas before present them in public. This will guide them to develop more ideas and confidence and therefore more effective communication (Thompson, 1996). Misconception four is that CLT means expecting too much from the teacher. It is perhaps unfair to label this as a misconception according to Thompson, since research has shown that CLT puts more demands on the teachers than certain other widely-used approaches (Medgyes, 1986). In CLT, teachers need to interact with learners in a more natural way and lessons tend to be less predictable. Furthermore, non-native English teachers probably need a higher level of English proficiency (Medgyes, 1986). Thompson (1996) further suggests that this misconception probably valid for two reasons. One is that the points are demonstrated as drawbacks of CLT, as reasons for refusing to accept it, but they can be equally demonstrated as reasons for accepting it. Teachers can see that as opportunities to re-evaluate their beliefs and practices. The other is that teachers who are probably not willing to change their current practices may further this misconception.

English-speaking countries value CLT so highly that they not only use it to a great degree in teaching but also strongly promote it into EFL countries (Burnaby & Sun, 1989). Nevertheless, the attempts to implement CLT often proved to be difficult (Burnaby & Sun, 1989; Hu, 2002; Li, 1998). As Li's (1998) study of a group of South Korean secondary school teachers perceived difficulties in adopting CLT shows that the difficulties have their sources in the differences between the underlying educational theories of South Korea and those of Western countries. Moreover, many teachers remain somewhat puzzled about what exactly CLT is (Thompson, 1996). In Taiwan, due to the promoting of CLT by the government, the English curricula have undergone some major revisions and have directed to the communicative approach in teaching. For instance, the junior high school English curriculum adopts the principles of communicative approach in teaching, which places more emphasis on the students' ability of communicating in English. The textbooks are claimed to be developed following communicative language teaching principles, but unfortunately still similar to form-based, structure-oriented syllabus which results in the actual classroom practice and instruction depend heavily on accuracy-oriented and test-driven activities (Su, 2000). As for the senior high school curriculum, it adopts the communicative approach as the fundamental guiding principles and emphasizes learner-centeredness, communicative functions of English language and learner strategies in language learning (Chern, 2002). English instruction at the tertiary level has changed as well since the requirement, credit hours and the content of courses which specified in 1993 by the Ministry of Education lifted in 1997. Many of the courses offered in the universities focus either on different language skills or specific topics (e.g. ESP, drama, current affair, etc), which are different from traditional unified programmes that focus on grammar and translation (Chern, 2002).

In the Chinese culture, what makes a good learning, and how to teach and learn are set within taking for granted frameworks (Cortazzi & Jin, 1996). Language teaching places more emphasis on "memorization" and "understanding and analytical ability" (Connell, 1987, p.203), rather than "the pragmatic, authentic, functional use of language for meaningful purposes" (Brown, 2001, p.43). Despite the efforts that the government made to promote CLT in Taiwan, will the shift in the government's police bring about an improvement in students' communicative competence? Are teachers prepared to implement CLT in their English instruction? To answer these questions, it is worth while to explore teachers' perceptions of innovations related to CLT and the difficulties they perceived in adopting CLT. As ignoring teachers' beliefs in implementing changes could result in disappointing results (Richardson, Anders, Tidwell & Lloyd, 1991). How teachers adopt or adapt new practices in their classroom relates to whether their beliefs meet the underlying assumptions in the new programmes or methods (Hollingsworth, 1989; Munby, 1983). Therefore, understanding teachers' beliefs or perceptions may be helpful to the development and implementation of new approaches or programmes.

Communicative activities based on movies in instructing speaking

In CLT, meaning is most important and communicative intent is its most salient characteristic. In order for students to interact with each other to negotiate meaning, activities in communicative approach are often conducted in small groups or pairs. Communicative activities such as games, role play, simulations, and problem-solving tasks provide students opportunities to practice communicating meaningfully in different contexts and in different roles. (Larsen-Freeman,1986). Through communicative activities, mechanical practice of language can be avoided. Students are encouraged to engage in meaningful and authentic language use due to one of the characteristics of CLT which favours of the adoption of authentic materials (Dubin, 1995).

Based on the characteristics of communicative activities in CLT, it is approved that movies can be integrated easily into curricular, and they are amusing, allowing flexibility of materials and teaching techniques, acting as focus for teacher-student interaction. They are controllable teaching tools, and provide a wide range of subjects, communicative language, language environment, and cultural content (Wood, 1995). Most importantly, a range of classroom activities can be stimulated from movies which enable students to induce timely and best output so as to make communication easier and more effective (Qiang, Hai & Wolff, 2007). When it comes to speak English, Asia students often find it difficult and nervous and prone not to talk too much due to their lack of confidence and motivation. Given the benefits of using communicative activities based on movies, many teachers have applied movies in English teaching, and the results are encouraging. Lin's (2000; 2001) researches demonstrated how Taiwanese college teachers and students collaborate and negotiate to design various learner-centered activities based on films. They highlighted how students' learning motivation and speaking skills were highly enhanced through these learner-centered activities. Instead of using textbooks, Katchen (2003) conducted a research on the use of activities or questions raised from films to enhance students' listening and speaking competence. Although students' speaking performance was not found significantly improved, the root of the problem was the lack of time. If the class time was extended, the result should be improved. Given these findings, it is inspiring for teachers who wish to use activities based on movies to enhance students' speaking competence. As a result, this study would like to look at the feasibility in using movies to design communicative activities in speaking class.

The study

Participants

The participants in this study are sixteen EdD in TESOL students who are currently studying at Queen's University Belfast. They are experienced English teachers in colleges or universities in Taiwan, and have adopted or adapted different teaching approaches and materials in their teaching contexts including CLT and movies. As a result, their beliefs and perceptions of CLT and the use of communicative activities based on movies in facilitating CLT is worthy of investigating.

Methodology

The main survey instrument in this study is a written questionnaire (Appendix 1). The questionnaire includes both open-ended questions and questions with fixed choices. It consists of three parts. Part A concerns the participants' background information. Part B concerns the participants' perceptions of CLT and their perceived difficulties in adopting CLT. The question items of perceived difficulties are adopted from Li's (1998) research in investigating South Korea teachers' perceptions in adopting CLT. The reason of adopting this part of questions from this study is due to the similar Asia culture background between Taiwan and South Korea. Part C concerns the participants' perceptions of the use of communicative activities based on movies in facilitating CLT in speaking class.

Data Analysis and Discussion

The collected questionnaires will be analysed on the basis of the research questions and descriptive statistics will be employed to analyse the data by using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS). As for the open-ended question, it will be used to further explore teachers' perceptions about CLT.

Research question 1: What are the Taiwanese English teachers' perceptions of CLT?

Of the 16 Taiwanese teachers, 15 (93.8%) reported that they have tried CLT in their teaching and 14 (87.5%) will try CLT (Table 2), which indicate that most teachers are willing to adopt different teaching methods in their teaching rather than persist in using the traditional grammar-translation method. When teachers were further to be asked to describe CLT, a quite common understanding found between them. Teachers underscored the importance of offering communicative activities for communicative purpose and for developing communicative competence. As one teacher stated, 'CLT involves lifelike communicative activities in the classroom that focus on much interaction and two-way communication' (Appendix 2). Also, another teacher expressed that 'It's a way of using target language in class through different kinds of activities such as role play, movies, game, etc. The purpose of this is to focus on enhancing students' language capacities and creating a learner-centered interactive, communicative surroundings' (Appendix 2). Despite the common understanding among teachers, their perceptions seemed to imply few misconceptions which Thompson (1996) has proposed. One of the misconceptions is that CLT means not teaching grammar which can be found in the Taiwanese English teachers' description of CLT. As one teacher depicted, 'CLT means using authentic materials and with emphasis on establishing communication skills rather than grammar acquirement' (Appendix 2).

Regarding the perceived difficulties reported by the Taiwanese teachers, five major difficulties were encountered: 'Teachers' deficiency in spoken English', 'Teachers' deficiency in strategic and sociolinguistic competence in English', 'Students' low English proficiency', 'Students' passive style of learning', 'Large classes' (Table 3).

Teachers' deficiency in spoken English

Among 16 Taiwanese teachers, 10 (62.5%) participants indicated that they perceived difficulties in applying CLT in their classrooms due to their own deficiency in spoken English (Table 3). Taiwan government promotes CLT in the education system in the hope that CLT would help students develop better oral English. Generally, teachers feel that they are expert in grammar, but are not in speaking. Nevertheless, it is surprising that the participants in this study are currently EdD in TESOL students at Queen's University Belfast. They can speak English fluently and communicate well but they still don't feel comfortable to conduct CLT in their classrooms. It's more likely that their lack of confidence in their spoken English prevents them from adopting CLT.

Teachers' deficiency in strategic and sociolinguistic competence in English

Of the 16 participants, 11 (68.8%) participants expressed that they perceived difficulties in applying CLT in their classrooms due to their deficiency in strategic and sociolinguistic competency in English (Table 3). Medgyes (1986) voices that in CLT more demands are placed on teachers than in other widely-used approaches and the lessons tend to be less predictable. This gives an impression that teachers in a communicative classroom need to use more management strategies and need to be prepared being asked a variety of questions by students. In the Chinese culture, teachers are often to be regarded as the fountain of knowledge and are supposed to be able to answer students' questions promptly. If they fail to answer students' questions, they will feel kind of losing face. Since the participants are not native English speakers, they might not be able to understand every aspect of English culture and due to the value of Chinese culture that places on teachers might discourage them from using CLT.

Students' low English proficiency

Of the 16 participants, 13 (81.3%) of them reported that they perceived difficulties in applying CLT due to students' low English proficiency (Table 3). Although Taiwanese students have English courses start from junior high school to university, they don't learn the language as good as they are supposed to. Students still cannot have good command of English. Furthermore, many teachers would associate speaking activities with CLT, and speaking is often a difficult task for Asia students (Katchen, 2003). Therefore, when speaking activities appeared to be challenging to students, teachers would feel frustrated with CLT.

Students' passive style of learning

Among the 16 participants, 12 (75%) reported that students' passive style of learning constrained them from adopting CLT (Table 3). CLT is not like traditional teaching methods, because it is learner-centered and requires learners to engage in activities, whereas students in Taiwan are usually accustomed to the traditional classroom instruction, in which teachers talk and students listen and students speak only when they are asked to. It is difficult to get the students to participate in the communicative activities, which makes the goal of CLT difficult to attain.

Large classes

15 out of 16 participants (93.8%) expressed that one of the difficulties in adopting CLT was due to the constraint of large classes (Table 3). In Taiwan, school class usually contains 35-50 students. It would be very difficult for teachers to adopt CLT in the classroom, because CLT requires teachers' close monitoring of class activities (Li, 1998). With such a large class, communicative purpose of CLT is difficult to achieve. If communicative activities need to be carried out, it would be difficult for teachers to pay attention to every student and the classroom would be hard to manage as well.

Table 1. Background information of the participants

Frequency

Percent

Gender

male

3

18.8

female

13

81.3

Total

16

100.0

Teaching experience

1-5 years

3

18.8

6-10 years

3

18.8

11-15 years

6

37.5

16-20 years

4

25.0

Total

16

100.0

Teaching level

Secondary level

0

0

Tertiary level

16

100.0

Table 2. Perceptions of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

Frequency

Percent

Have you tried Communicative Language Teaching?

yes

15

93.8

no

1

6.3

Total

16

100.0

Will you try Communicative Language Teaching?

yes

14

87.5

no

2

12.5

Total

16

100.0

Table 3. Reported difficulties in adopting CLT in Taiwan

Source of difficulty

Frequency

Percent

1. Teachers' deficiency in spoken English?

10

62.5

2. Teachers' deficiency in strategic and sociolinguistic competence in English?

11

68.8

3. Teachers' having little time to write communicative materials?

6

37.5

4. Students' low English proficiency?

13

81.3

5. Students' passive style of learning?

12

75

6. Lack of authentic teaching materials?

1

6.3

7. Grammar-based examinations?

8

50

8. Large classes?

15

93.8

9. The differences between EFL and ESL?

6

37.5

Research question 2: What are the Taiwanese English teachers' perceptions of communicative activities based on the movies in facilitating CLT in speaking class?

Of the 16 participants, 9 (56.3%) reported that they have used movies to design communicative activities in speaking class, and 12 (75%) reported that they will use movies to design communicative activities in speaking class (Table 4). The results suggest that using movies to design communicative activities in speaking class is regarded as one of the favoured communicative activities among a variety of classroom activities. The participants were further to be asked about their perceptions of communicative activities based on the movies. In terms of the form of discussion, of the 16 participants, 14 (87.5%) reported that discussion of the movies viewed in class in small groups is useful or very useful in facilitating CLT in speaking class (Table 5). 12 (75.1%) reported that discussion of the movies viewed in class with a partner is useful or very useful in facilitating CLT, and 10 (62.5%) reported that discussion of the movie viewed in class with the whole class is not useful or not very useful in facilitating CLT (Table 5). The findings indicate that teachers favour the activities which engage students to interact with each other to negotiate meaning and in order to fulfil the goal of CLT, communicative activities are preferred to be carried out in small groups or in pairs. Furthermore, in terms of the post-reviewing topics or questions, 15 (93.8%) teachers reported that teacher provides a list of questions and topics for post-viewing discussion is useful or very useful in facilitating CLT (Table 5). 10 (62.6%) participants also reported that students in groups negotiate among themselves to obtain favorite questions or topics and present them in front of the class for post-viewing discussion is useful or very useful as well in facilitating CLT (Table 5). The results imply that if teachers would like to try communicative activities based on movies, they could start their teaching through negotiating and cooperating with students who are willing to take more responsibility on their learning by taking part in designing of communicative activities.

Table 4. Perceptions of the use of communicative activities based on movies in facilitating CLT in speaking class

Frequency

Percent

Have you used movies to design communicative activities in speaking class?

yes

9

56.3

no

7

43.8

Will you use movies to design communicative activities in speaking class?

yes

12

75.0

no

4

25.0

Table 5. Perceptions of communicative activities based on the motives in facilitating CLT in speaking class

Frequency

Percent

1. Discussion of the movie viewed in class in small groups

Not very useful

0

0

not useful

2

12.5

useful

10

62.5

very useful

4

25.0

2. Discussion of the movie viewed in class with a partner

not very useful

1

6.3

not useful

3

18.8

useful

9

56.3

very useful

3

18.8

3. Discussion of the movie viewed in class with the whole class

not very useful

0

0

not very useful

4

25.0

not useful

6

37.5

useful

6

37.5

4. Teacher provides a list of questions and topics for post-viewing discussion

not very useful

0

0

not useful

1

6.3

useful

9

56.3

very useful

6

37.5

5. Students in groups negotiate among themselves to obtain favorite questions or topics and present them in front of the class for post-viewing discussion.

not very useful

0

0

not useful

6

37.5

useful

5

31.3

very useful

5

31.3

Implications

The results of this study reflect a certain degree of current English teaching situation in Taiwan. A conflict exist between what CLT demands and what the EFL situation in Taiwan. In the hope that teachers and students can be benefited from CLT, the conflict must be settled. To deal with the conflict, teachers, students and the educational system need to pay attention on number of areas. For teachers, first, teachers should avoid the misconception of CLT. While adopting CLT, teachers need to re-conceptualised that CLT does not exclude the teaching of grammar, since communication cannot take place in the lack of structure, or grammar (Savignon, 1991). Certainly, it raised another important question: how can teachers teach the necessary grammar through CLT? CLT views language as a system for communication and considers that if learners are given opportunities to talk about what they are learning, learning is probably to have a more satisfactory and efficient result (Thompson, 1996). Communicative activities based on movies in speaking class provide learners a comprehensible context to be exposed which enable learners to discover the grammatical forms used in different contexts to convey meanings. Learners discuss the grammar explicitly and work out as much as the new language with their peers and with guidance from teachers. By which learners discover grammar can be an alternative for teacher to avoid traditional way of teaching grammar rules and also help learners to learn the language in a more communicative way. In addition, teachers need constant support and encouragement while conducting CLT. Teachers need encouragement in building their confidence in spoken English. They also need constant support in using CLT. For instance, teachers need to be provided with in-service training which gives the opportunities for them to re-examine and improve their communicative based teaching (Burnaby & Sun, 1989). A language improvement programme also needed for teachers to enhance their speaking competence. As for the students, their attitudes towards traditional learning need to be re-directed in order to understand their role in learning and the nature of CLT and the language. With regard to the educational system, the results of the study reveal that large classes restrict teachers from implementing CLT in their classroom. EFL countries like Taiwan with different educational theories and realities, it will be better off if the EFL countries develop their methodology for their own contexts in the long run instead of depending on the imported methodology, and materials from Western ESL countries (Li, 1998). EFL countries should try not to totally adopt an imported methodology but adapt it. The local educational authority should encourage specialists and classroom teachers to develop the local methods and teaching material which cater for their students and take into account the economic, political, social and cultural factors. As Savignon (1991) suggests, involving classroom teachers in the developing of local materials can best advance educational innovations.

The study also reflects that movies can be incorporated into meaningful and communicative activities in facilitate CLT in speaking class. However, movies can be misused or abused if the teacher does not the lesson planned well but offers only whole movie viewing without any pre- or post-viewing activities, or any learning activities at all in the classroom.

Conclusion

This study demonstrates conflicts between CLT and English teaching and learning contexts of Taiwan in the aspects of 'Teachers' deficiency in spoken English', 'Teachers' deficiency in strategic and sociolinguistic competence in English', 'Students' low English proficiency', 'Students' passive style of learning', and 'Large classes'. They indicate the differences about the nature of teaching and learning between CLT and English teaching and learning in Taiwan. It will be harmful to adopt CLT without considering the underlying differences. Whatever innovations appear, changes will inevitably be brought out, and adjustment of the changes will be needed (Thompson, 1996). The study also shows that teachers perceive that in speaking class incorporates movies into meaningful communicative activities which engage students and enable teachers to cooperate with students is a way of facilitating CLT. When teachers and students are willing to accept a methodology and implement it in good faith, the effectiveness can be achieved in great deal (Hu, 2002)

There is no doubt that revolution in language teaching has already started and CLT is definitely not the final answer (Thompson, 1996). While the English-speaking countries are exporting communicative approaches or the EFL countries are anxious to adopt communicative approaches in language teaching, it should be more beneficial if comparability can be carefully considered (Burnaby & Sun, 1989). It is dangerous for policymaker to assume that one methodology is effective and appropriate in one social and cultural context also fits in different one and yields to shifts in fashions (Hinkel, 1999). The success of an innovation influenced by the personal characteristics of potential adopters and the strategies used to cope with the changes in particular contexts (Markee, 1997). In adopting CLT, teachers are the end users of the approach and how they perceive it plays as a significant factor in determining the success or failure of the approach (Li, 1998).

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