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Aspects of teaching English as a Second Language: A listening and speaking perspective Paige Shaw University of Southern Mississippi

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE Aspects of Teaching English as a Second Language: A Listening and Speaking Perspective Second languages have every day become a more and more pertinent topic of study around the world, and especially in the United States of America. There are more reasons every day for U.S. citizens to learn a second language, but the reverse is also true. There are immigrants from all over the world who come to start a new life in the land of the free and the home of the brave. There are also increasing business interactions with speakers of other languages that need a Lengua Franca and it just so happens that English is well on its way to being a necessity in the international business world. Teaching English as a Second Language then, is an increasingly desirable field to work in, and so it is important to learn as much as possible about the most effective practices for teachers as well as the aspects that assist learners in their acquisition of the language.

This paper looks at various approaches and techniques in teaching in the second language classroom and specifically focuses on balancing these various techniques while focusing on the skills of listening and speaking in the second language classroom. First, though, it is necessary to present some of the theories and pedagogical practices that build up to this balancing of a language course. Language Learning and Teaching When teaching languages, in the foreign or second language setting, there are many aspects of the language to think about and approaches to consider. Second language teachers have to constantly thing about varying factors. Some of these factors include the topics and themes of their lesson, the different learning styles and tendencies that students may have, the strategies that they can teach students in order to help them with the learning process, and the way that their lesson and activities will be carried out to maximize the understanding and

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE interaction that learners obtain. These factors are decided upon when teachers apply the studies that he or she has done in areas of Second Language Acquisition and Linguistics as well as Sociolinguistic and Sociocultural fields of research to the classroom. Teachers then, base the legitimacy of the theories they have studied on the extent to which learners seem to understand and subsequently produce the learned topics in real-time communication (Ellis, 2003). Both teachers and researchers help each other in testing and proving or disproving theories and approaches to language learning and teaching, and most have now come to the conclusion that, the more authentic the experience, the better. The current pedagogical view is to incorporate as much variation into the classroom as possible to account for all the individual differences in

personality, learning styles, and interest while keeping learners actively involved in the language (Brown, 2007). This concept advocates that social interactions and cooperative learning are building blocks for successfully learning language and developing both accuracy and fluency in that language. This constructive approach to SLA gave rise to the importance of meaningful interaction in the classroom. Both communication and grammar can be implemented through this approach by using tasks that promote interaction and attention to form in the language. Factors in Teaching ESL. When teaching any language in the second language environment, the teacher must consider to a higher degree how to make the students understand and participate without using their native language. This is because, when teaching in the second language environment, there may be several students from various places around the world with different native languages, and so, the only viable mode of communication is the target language. This is different from the foreign language setting in that, in the foreign language setting, everyone is in their native language setting learning another for scholastic or personal goals. In the second language setting

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE however, the students are living in a place that is not their native language and so, many times,

have more immediate language needs and motivations. For this reason, it is even more important to incorporate natural discourse, realia and authentic materials into the classroom as well as focusing on specific functions of the language (Woodward, 2001). Woodward (2001) says that students must go through four stages in order to learn: exposure, noticing, remembering, and use and refinement. This can be accomplished by using communicative tasks that focus on different aspects of the language in different settings. Tasks. Task is a term that has been coined for a specific kind of classroom activity that incorporates the three angles of the basic educational triangle: educational goal, pedagogic activity and assessment (Branden, Bygate & Norris, 2009). Tasks have become necessary elements in language teaching because they incorporate the functional language that learners need to know in order to survive in the target language and are based on real situations or encounters that may occur in the real world (Branden, Bygate & Norris, 2009). This makes a task a very broad term, yet applicable to any realm in the foreign language environment, because the teacher just has to think of how the students would use specific vocabulary or grammatical structures in the real world, and apply them in the classroom. The most important concepts to understand when using tasks are that there should be some form of input that learners must process and use, they must focus on achieving a specific outcome. Their defining criteria, then, as said by Ellis in the reader on TBLT, is that meaning is primary, there is a goal to work towards, the activity is outcome-evaluated and there is a real-world relationship (Branden, Bygate & Norris, 2009).


Grammar has been a hot topic in teaching approaches and there are many varying ways to incorporate it, if at all, into the classroom. There has been a bit of a back-and-forth as to the approach of explicitly teaching grammar in the classroom, but the most recent studies have shown that learning and/or acquiring grammar can be useful in enhancing learner accuracy and proficiency (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002). Yet too much focus on grammar can hinder students abilities to see the true nature of the language. Therefore, the balanced outcome of how to incorporate it without overwhelming students seems to be focusing on form. Focus on form combines formal instruction and communicative language use so that the learner notices and processes the target structure while still focusing on the communicative aspects of the language (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002, p. 5). Focus on form allow teachers to multitask in a sense, by implementing a task that will draw students main attention to the message or outcome of the task, while still alluding to and drawing attention to some specific form within that task. This method of incorporating grammar is thought to be much more organic and natural in its nature and allows students to see the language in a more holistic view (Hinkel & Fotos, 2002). Focus on form can take place in a variety of skills but it is necessary to have some source of input and some source of output. In other words, there should be some type of interaction and active involvement where language is taken-in and produced. Interaction and Communicative Competence. Interaction in the classroom is a key ingredient in Second Language Acquisition. Without interaction, after all, language has no purpose. Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is the outcome of combining the needs to focus on the whole language using the student to drive the classroom communication. According to Branden, Bygate and Norris, in fact, the students

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE abilities are best stimulated when confronted with holistic, challenging tasks that they would likely also encounter in real life, inviting them to work together, and develop new insights and

skills through exploratory talk and intensive interaction (Branden, Bygate & Norris, 2009, p. 4). Therefore, teachers should incorporate authentic discourse and conversation analysis tasks to aid in students interactional competence (Barraja-Rohan, 2011). This will allow students to use interaction-based tasks to gain exposure to the social and communicative implications of the language in use, since language is so intertwined with culture (Barraja-Rohan, 2011). Teachers of second and foreign languages should give significant attention to their students interactional and communicative competence, no matter the level. Being able to communicate effectively inoffensively in the target language is probably the most important aspect of speaking in another language. This involves being able to use the correct grammatical structures to create meaningful dialogue as well as being aware of the social and strategic implications of the language (Brown, 2007). Many times, native speakers can misinterpret a nonnative speakers intentions because of differing social norms in both verbal and nonverbal communication, and so it is crucial that these aspects of the language are incorporated even at the most basic levels of language learning. This communicative competence should be learned through real conversations, whether written or recorded, in order for students to see and understand the language in use. So many speakers everyday exchanges involve certain entailments or presuppositions, that students cannot successfully learn how to use the language without a context and exposure to strategies of beginning, continuing and ending conversation (Brown, 2007).

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking Now that many of the aspects of teaching and learning second languages have been

described, the focus can turn to teaching specific skills of the second or foreign language. Within the realm of teaching English as a second language, or any language for that matter, are four skills that should be developed. These are the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking (Nation & Newton, 2009). As a general rule, these four skills should be balanced; however, teachers should also take the learning context into account in order to judge the specific learner needs and better attend to his or her learners (Branden, Bygate, & Norris, 2009). For example if the teacher is teaching adult learners who simply want to communicate around town, the skills of listening and speaking will be more pertinent and meaningful to them, and if the learners need to be able to function in a business setting, reading and writing could be considered the more important skills. Focus on Listening and Speaking The principle focus of this paper is how to incorporate the previously stated concepts into a course that focuses primarily on the skills of listening and speaking while maintaining balance within the language course. This is not an extremely challenging thing to do because the principles for both listening and speaking, and reading and writing are not significantly different (Nation & Newton, 2009). The most important aspect in creating a balanced language course in listening and speaking is to balance four aspects of the language referred to as strands. Balancing the four strands. The four strands that should be focused on and balanced in any language course are learning through meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, deliberate attention to language items and fluent use of the known language (Nation & Newton, 2009). If these strands

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE are balanced by using appropriate exercises and tasks such as the ones described above, then the course will also be balanced. These strands will naturally provide opportunities to incorporate attention to the various features of the language because every activity in a language course can be classified into one of these strands, but specific content will vary depending on the particular setting and age of the students (Nation & Newton, 2009). Meaning-focused input. Meaning-focused input means that students receive information through either listening or reading and focus on the meaning of the message to gain knowledge about the information they receive. In this strand the vast majority of information students receive should already be familiar to them so that the goal is familiarizing themselves with previously introduced vocabulary and building their understanding through the context of the situation (Nation & Newton, 2009). These activities can be things like individual or shared readings, listening to stories, watching videos and other media and acting as the listener in a conversation (Nation & Newton, 2009). Having this meaning focused input is crucial to the learners development and familiarity with the language especially in areas of pronunciation and phonological awareness (Derwing, Thomson, Foote, & Munro, 2012). This is because the phonological elements of language can differ greatly from one language to another and students must have large amounts of input to grow accustomed to and recognize these differences (Nation & Newton, 2009). Meaning-focused output. The meaning-focused input strand goes hand-in-hand with the meaning-focused output strand. They work together in the sense that the student receives input and then from that input produces output, or feedback in the form of writing or speaking (Nation & Newton, 2009). This

strain is equally as important as the previous strain because it forces students to use what they are

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE learning to practice and produce the language from their own knowledge base. These types of activities can include oral presentations and speaking time as well as writing letters and keeping a journal (Nation & Newton, 2009). This is a critical aspect of language acquisition because it has been proven that productive learning (active stance where learners must to produce the language themselves) results in a stronger, more secure knowledge than receptive learning

(passive stance where no action is required but the persons attention) (Nation & Newton, 2009). This is also expressed in Swains three functions for output (the noticing/triggering function, the hypothesis testing function and the metalinguistic/reflective function) (Nation & Newton, 2009). In other words, students remember what they learn better when they play a more active role in dealing with it. This has also been shown in the article A blended learning study on implementing video recorded speaking tasks in task-based classroom instruction (Kurkgoz, 2011). This article echoes the idea that pushed output through task-based speaking assignments aid students in their oral communication skills (Kurkgoz, 2011). Language-focused learning. Language-focused learning is the explicit attention to the grammatical aspects of the language. This is an important feature to incorporate in the language classroom because it allows students to further develop their language abilities beyond simply being understood. There has been much debate on this strand in particular because of peoples varying views on how SLA works, but the most recent studies have shown that, in the correct proportion, explicit focus on linguistic aspects can raise students consciousness and help students to form strategies in the language (Nation & Newton, 2009). This strand can be incorporated through other strands by first focusing on the message and then drawing attention to the linguistic aspects of that message. These activities that draw attention to the linguistic elements of the language are things like

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE pronunciation practice, translation and dialogue memorization, and feedback from their output (Nation & Newton, 2009). Fluency development. Fluency is developed by making use of what the students already know. This strand


incorporates all language skills and overlaps with other aspects of the language such as accuracy and complexity. To distinguish, fluency is the ease at which you communicate, accuracy is the amount of errors that occur and complexity is the level of more complicated structures used in the dialogue (Nation & Newton, 2009). In this strand, students should not have unfamiliar language, they should focus on conveying meaning, and there should be some motivation to produce output at an increased speed (Nation & Newton, 2009). Fluency is a strand that has been overused and underused with some methodologies, but incorporated in the correct proportion (1/4 of the time) and it has proven to strengthen grammatical accuracy and complexity as well (Nation & Newton, 2009). This can be done using assisted or unassisted activities such as the 4/3/2 technique where students repeat the same message to different listeners and extensive reading and listening techniques (Nation & Newton, 2009). Implications for Teaching The implications for teaching these strands are mostly self-explanatory, but it is also important to note the variation that teachers may have to account for in different levels of second language learning. The teacher should strive to create a comfortable yet motivational environment in all stages of language learning and acquisition, but there are certain principles that should have particular attention in the beginning stages of language teaching. In the beginning stages, for example, it is important to focus only on meaningful and relevant content and not to overload the new learners with new information (Nation & Newton, 2009). This can

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE be difficult at beginning stages because there is no prior knowledge to build on, and so everything is new, but by first having students memorize some of the most useful phrases and assessing their learner needs, teachers can focus on what is important to the students and help them stay motivated. Learner needs will differ based on the target audience but the same concepts can be applied to any theme or topic in order to create balanced meaningful activities and tasks. Assessing listening and speaking. The progress of learners can be determined through the use of these strands as well. Traditionally, second language assessment has tested learners separately on each of the four skills; however, this is not consistent with real world communicative acts and so, is not a valid


assessment of what students can do in the real world (Frost, Elder, & Wigglesworth, 2011). The students should instead be assessed in the same ways that they are taught, by using meaningful, real-to-life tasks that they may encounter outside of the classroom. There are three criteria that should be considered when assessing listening and speaking skills; they are making sure that tests are reliable, valid, and practical in balanced proportions (Nation & Newton, 2009). Teachers should use the same types of activities as are incorporated in class in order to fulfill these criteria and make assessment more accurate in determining what the learner can do with the language. Conclusion As can be easily seen, the aspects that go into language teaching are very vast and depend greatly on each particular circumstance. Teaching English as a Second language is a balancing act and all of the skills and strands work together in a sense to create a balanced curriculum. The key, then, to being a good language teacher, is to balance the four skills of reading, writing,



speaking and listening with the four strands of meaning focused input, meaning focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development by using communicative, real-to-life tasks that focus on form and meaning all while keeping students interested, attentive and motivated and attending to their varying learning styles (visual, aural, kinesthetic) and needs (perceived importance of topics by learners). Piece of cake? Well, maybe it is a bit challenging to remember all of these things, but I believe that teaching a language is a lot like learning a language, so the more time we, as teachers, put into our lessons, the better and easier they will become.


Barraja-Rohan, A., (2011). Using conversation analysis in the second language classroom to teach interactional competence. Language Teaching Research. 15(4), 479-507. DOI: 10.1177/1362168811412878. Branden, K.V., Bygate, M. & Norris, J.M. (Eds.) (2009). Task-Based Language Teaching: A reader. Pennsylvania: John Benjamins Publishing Co. Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. Fifth edition. New York: Pearson Education Inc.


Derwing, T. M., Thomson, R. I., Foote, J. A., & Munro, M. J. (2012). A Longitudinal Study of Listening Perception in Adult Learners of English: Implications for Teachers. Canadian Modern Language Review, 68(3), 247-266. Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. New York: Oxford University Press. Frost, K., Elder, C., & Wigglesworth, G. (2012). Investigating the validity of an integrated listeningspeaking task: A discourse-based analysis of test takers oral performances. Language Testing, 29(3), 345-369. doi:10.1177/0265532211424479 Hinkel, E., & Fotos, S. (2002). New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers. Kirkgoz, Y. (2011). A Blended Learning Study on Implementing Video Recorded Speaking Tasks in Task-Based Classroom Instruction. Turkish Online Journal Of Educational Technology - TOJET, 10(4), 1-13. Nation, I.S.P., & Newton, J. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL listening and speaking. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis. Woodward, T. (2001). What can go into a lesson? Planning lessons and courses: Designing sequences of work for the language classroom. NY: Cambridge University Press.

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE Sample Speaking Activities These activities are designed to go along with both my summary paper and sample syllabus. They are, therefore, designed for novice speakers at the middle school level. Activity 1: Hobbies


Objective: Students will be able to make basic conversation with others about what they like to do for fun. This will assist the students in conversation with native speakers outside of the classroom. Teacher instructions: After introducing the vocabulary of different types of hobbies, have students listen to this video and repeat when prompted. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMFrC3UGtek) Then give students a handout with sentences partially filled out as follows: I like _______________ _______ likes to ________ _______ likes ___________ _______ likes to _________ Have students fill in the top sentence with their own hobbies and then ask others in the class about their hobbies. They should write down the information that they receive about their classmates and then report back to the teacher when prompted. Mention to students that if they like the same thing as another student, they can say we both like _____ and if they like different things they can say I like ___ but ___ likes _____

ASPECTS OF TEACHING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE Student instructions: Listen to this video clip about hobbies. Then ask at least three different


people in the classroom what they like to do for fun and record their answer on your handout. Be prepared to tell the teacher what your classmates like to do when asked.

Activity 2: Shapes colors and patterns Objective: Students will be able to describe objects based on shape, color and patterns as well as recycling previous vocabulary. Teacher instructions: After reviewing vocabulary to describe characteristics using one example picture, divide students into groups and give each group another picture. Have students take turns describing the picture, each student saying something different than the one before. Have tables write down the major characteristics and present their image and descriptions to the class, allowing other groups to add to the descriptions. Student instructions: In groups, describe the picture that is presented to you. Take turns and each person should say something different than the one before them. Write down the descriptions you give and then present your descriptions to the class.



Activity 3: Getting to places Objective: Students can interpret and tell directions for getting places around town. Teacher instructions: Have students choose a location and describe how to get to that location from their current location without saying what the destination is. The teacher can narrow the options by restricting the destination to certain areas of town or on the schoolgrounds. Students will work in groups to tell each other how to get to that place and the rest of the group has to guess the location being described. Afterwards if time permits, one person from each group can be nominated to describe their location and someone from another group can draw what they think is being described on the board.



Student instructions: Each student should choose a location to be the destination and should write down directions to get to that place. Get into groups but dont tell anyone what your destination is. You will describe to your group how to get to that place and they must guess your destination. Afterwards, nominate the person who gave the best directions to say to the whole class. Another classmate will draw out the directions being given on the board and the class will give feedback.