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To Speak or Not To Speak?

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Nothing makes us happier than seeing our students improve their language skills.

"Let's talk" is likely one of the most commonly used sentences in an EFL classroom by EFL teachers, as spoken language is the most crucial communication instrument. Let's talk about this, let's talk about that ... We look forward to our students speaking fluent and accurate sentences. The result, however, is not the way we want it. Then, we look for the effective ways to promote this. 

Speaking is a multi-step interactive process of meaning construction. You must decide what to say, when to say it, and how to say it, which makes it both a cognitive and a social skill. Due to a variety of factors, students frequently avoid speaking English. When I was in secondary school, the most terrifying sentence I heard from my teacher was "What do you think about...?" I knew it was time for us to begin speaking English. I found it challenging these days because my vocabulary wasn't efficient enough to convey precisely what was going through my mind. Before raising my hand to ask for permission to speak, most often I would look up the dictionary and jot down my thoughts on a piece of paper. But then it was too late to speak because the teacher had already ended the conversation and moved on to the next activity. In my high school years, however, I was better. I had an improved vocabulary as a result of my struggles with dictionaries. Yet, in the following conflict, another struggle began. The teacher realized that there was only me in the class who frequently wanted to speak, so he began encouraging the others to speak and tried to keep me quiet.

These were my concerns when speaking English. And I didn't forget them when I started to teach English. Due to my negative experiences, I have been focused on finding answers to these two questions since the day I decided to become an English teacher:

What are the factors that cause students to avoid speaking English in class?

How can we overcome these obstacles?

Speaking is an important skill for both first and second languages. Furthermore, if you are learning a foreign language, you are expected to communicate in that language. Because one of the primary goals of teaching a foreign language is to get students to speak it, it is critical to give students the ability to communicate effectively and correctly. To make this happen, there are a few things we need to consider because we are having some difficulties getting students to participate in speaking activities as much as we would like. I am sharing here my own ideas about the topic thanks to my experiences of working with different ages and levels of students. 

Let me start with shyness, which is the most significant barrier to students speaking English. They are so worried about making grammatical mistakes or using incorrect words that they are terrified of being chastised by their teachers or mocked by their peers. They may need to see how words and sentences are used. This type of problem can be solved by giving them some examples before asking them to speak. Additionally, we provide a calm and safe atmosphere that students shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. They need to know that errors are tolerated and mistakes are the chances to learn new things. 

Another consideration is the use of L1. I am not in favor of the argument that it is never acceptable to use a learner's native language in an ESL classroom. To be honest, I've never thought of it that way. At times, when we do not use the mother tongue, we observe students losing motivation and interest, as well as becoming confused. It is important, however, that we, as teachers, are the role models for our students. Our pupils will feel comfortable using L1 in their classes if we do it on a regular basis. We may limit our use of L1 to only providing instructions, explanations for grammatical items, or explanations for troublesome situations.

To avoid prolonging the discussion, I will make one final point. Lack of knowledge is the last, but not the least, problem that learners face, just as in my case as I mentioned above. They memorize the words, sentences, and structures that they observe. What happens after the exams are finished? Everything begins to fade away. They do not learn in order to remember for a long time. Instead, when they are finished, they forget. As a result, complete learning is never achieved. Constant repetitions are essential activities in this situation. Some solutions to these problems include going back and forth, breaking items down into smaller pieces, and making English a part of their daily lives.

To help overcome these obstacles, I propose an idea of a  method which I consider an innovative one. This method may be applied at the beginning of the class or it can be at the end. It is a weekly activity. I believe it will reduce the students' anxiety of speaking English while also making them learn something new.

This method's name is PQC of the Week. Presentation is for P, question for Q and conclusion for C. Let’s see what it is. 

PQC of the Week 

Topic: Students Choice

Aims: Students will; 

  • develop an understanding of the topic they have chosen;
  • experiment with new things and bring their findings into the classroom to share with their classmates;
  • learn through the lesson's creative and joyful process;
  • improve their communication and collaborative working abilities;
  • improve their creativity and critical thinking skills by asking some questions about the topic; 
  • revise their vocabulary and grammar knowledge.

Age: At any age

Level: At any level

Time: 15 Minutes- at the start/ end of a lesson 

Materials:  Digital: PPT presentations (they can be prepared via web 2.0 tools)

Introduction: Students at any age and level will be adults one day, and they are interested in a wide range of topics. Particularly, teenagers and tweens are aware of the importance of being active citizens of the society in which they live as a result of social media sites. Most of them enjoy discussing their ideas with others and are eager to learn new things. This activity aims to improve students' speaking abilities as well as their ability to think critically about the topic.

Procedure:

The students select a topic of their own choosing and notify the teacher one week before the actual lesson that this activity will be done. Young learners may need help from their parents. 

In the lesson 

Presentation (5 minutes): The students, either as a group or individually, present the topic of their choice. This could be an oral presentation, podcasts, some handouts for reading or a video display. They prioritize using previously learned vocabulary and grammar structures.

Question (5 minutes): Following the presentation, the students ask their audience some questions about their thoughts and they all together discuss the things they would like to dig deeper. They may do further investigation at home or immediately in class if time permits. 

Conclusion (5 minutes): The students all talk about their takeaways from the presentation. After the lesson, the presentations can be uploaded on a padlet or some other web tool for the students' review by the teacher.

I would like to advise one last thing to all of the EFL teachers and there it is: try learning another language! -with a different alphabet, if possible-. Then, we can understand our students’ struggle with learning English better. Well, just an idea.