Saturday, November 26, 2016

ESL Classroom Strategies That Compel Students to Communicate

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Introduction: Aiming for Bilingualism

Bilingual Stop signOver the past decades, many countries have started to encourage citizens to adapt another language and become bilinguals, or better yet, multilingual. With this popularity of language learning, experts in English as a second language have never halted seeking for plans and designs that would ensure effective language acquisition among those who learn. For the majority of the language learners and proponents, learning to communicate in languages other than their mother tongue helps achieve progress on any chosen endeavor. Because English is the most prominent of all languages being learned, it is considered international and is often spoken in the business world.
Learning English is a complicated process. It covers four major skills namely:
  • listening
  • speaking
  • writing
  • reading
Language Ability and Success
Speak EnglishIn the field of language teaching, achieving fluency and accuracy in one’s speech is the aim. It also means that being able to communicate what one means by production of sounds is an essential part of success academically or in life. Speaking and the role it plays in learning English are imperative to one’s accomplishments. Like learning other languages, the ability to speak and convey intended meaning is of utmost importance. Looking at the records of language teaching techniques, it is clear that many educators have put more emphasis on learning how to speak above the three other language skills. The number of people devoting much time and effort learning to speak English is important evidence that it is crucial to one’s achievement in school, the workplace and the competitive world.

Interdependence of First and Second Language
The 1986 research conducted by Cummins and Swain construed that there is a strong interdependence between L1 and L2 in bilingual education. This interdependence is rooted on the fact that the first language plays an important part in learning a second language successfully. Strengthening skills in the first language is also somehow dependent on one’s ability in the second language. It has been emphasized that competence in the language used in school is important in developing academic skills and comprehension of content presented in that medium. The classroom, then, is a melting pot of developing competitiveness in the second language. With exposure to linguistic activities, students are able to improve processing and discriminating input in English. Equally important, beginners in the language tend to translate ideas first as they can’t think in the target language directly. This is quite different from what many traditional teachers expect from them. It is helpful to understand that for many who are approaching fluency and advancement in the language, code switching or translation is essential in comprehension.

Dictionary learnCompelling Strategies
Activities in the classroom open opportunities for class members to communicate. It is through this that many teachers devote much time in designing techniques that would cater to developing the speaking skills and the participation of the students. When students face situations that demand participation or relates to interests, class members are likely to take their part in the process. Strategies and activities serve as a springboard of group sessions in the ESL classrooms. Because they are supposed to serve their purpose in developing fluent speakers, they must be properly observed and effectively practiced. The following are the most popular strategies employed in the ESL classrooms to compel students to communicate:

1)  Functional Language Exposure
Often not given enough emphasis, functional or real language exposure is found to be most effective in compelling students to communicate in the target language. Because of its scope and demand, many schools may have shied away from implementing this strategy that includes the whole academic community. Success of its implementation actually demands the active engagement of the teachers, the administration and the students themselves. In many instances, students claim that they did not speak English inside the school premises because they do not find the need for it. For others, unwillingness to try can be a factor. Younger students are not as intrinsically motivated to speak in English as the adults are. Additionally, some students may consider English as an ordinary everyday language employed by people around them. Sadly, a number of students think that there is no relevance in talking to their teacher in English and thus will never be accustomed to it.
English class teacherAs most teachers wish to develop their students proficiency in the language, they may employ the rule on speaking and transacting business with them in English. As an influential factor in the academic life, teachers can be role models and leading the way maximizes the chance to become fluent. In 1993, research by Green claimed that a sensitive teacher is able to generate and sustain the desire to learn the language even with poorly motivated learners. Additionally, the implementation of the “English Zones” pushes students to speak in the target language to keep up with those around them or to avoid getting fined. When school zones demand communicating in English and are implementing it strictly, students are compelled to adhere to the rules while getting themselves accustomed with the target language.
When communicating in English is observed only in the classroom, it causes confusion and limits the chance to develop communicative competence. Because communication is an essential part of life, students definitely should talk with their peers as much as possible and in varied environments. Making use of this fact to develop language acquisition will establish interest in and among the students. And, because they are exposed to this strategy daily, they are likely to develop willingness to use the target language. The spontaneity in speaking and listening to others will become an essential part in language advancement.

2)  Topical Conversations from Daily News
Newspapers and magazines are rich sources of timely topics that can jump start conversations. They are also fountains of vocabulary and the developments in social linguistic trends. A context-rich medium, they include a variety of topics on literature and issues that students may have opinions about. Usually, reading topics and preparing for conversations about them are assigned as homework and are stated as part of the requirements for passing English subjects. When not forming part of the syllabus, it can be treated as part of enrichment activities for reading and speaking classes. The challenge, however, comes with the students’ willingness to read the headlines regularly.
Reading NewspaperSince periodicals are an authentic material for language learning, it helps students enhance their skills in vocabulary and sentence construction. Often, as students read, they become familiar with the styles employed by writers and may even find some to adapt as their english composition technique. They also serve as a challenge to students’ comprehension and opens doors to learning things they had hardly heard of or known before. As readers, they will develop into students with social consciousness. With the information they get from what they read, students are equipped with knowledge, making them more competent in expressing opinions with confidence.
As language acquisition requires patience and consistent practice, students are to be obliged to learn the language even outside the classroom and communicate using the target language whenever possible. Exposing students to language through journalism helps them develop language processing and acceptance. When it becomes a habit, they will find production of thoughts in the target language natural and normal. Though there is a need to process information through the first language, students are likely to improve language skills through reading newspapers. These skills are writing style, analysis of content, grammar, syntax and expression of ideas through journalistic conventions. Using newspapers and magazines as language sources is beneficial in two ways- reading and background knowledge as prerequisites for speaking.
3)  Oral recitation
Developing communicative competence among students can be done by having oral recitation sessions in the classroom. To be able to score well in this activity, students are to study and recall the important information discussed previously. With this, they develop the habit of reviewing lessons rather than forgetting them after the lecture. When grading recitations include the weight of the answers and the number of times each student has participated, thus, making them prepare for it.
Oral RecitationsPreparations for oral recitations compel the students to review and thus develop their dispositions in academics. Additionally, preparing to perform well in oral recitations exhibit their attitudes towards expressing what they want to say. With their level of motivation and preparation, they are likely to develop the ability to acquire language faster than others. Equally important, when students are bound to prove they can do better in class, part of uplifting status is participating in recitations and nailing the ideas teachers want to hear.
When unprepared, students tend to shy away from recitations, especially those that are graded. Failure to equip one’s self with the needed knowledge to take part in the communicative environment demanded by recitation activities results in students missing the chance to improve both on content areas and the language. When functional output is hindered by the lack of background, students are likely to fail in acquiring language as quickly as their participative peers. Because recitation also requires a quick response to prompts, it challenges both the students’ level of processing and their ability to turn ideas into oral response. Question and answer activities like this also expose the students to many different contexts by which a certain set of vocabulary can be used. It should be noted, however, that willingness to participate in oral recitations, whether voluntary or at teacher’s discretion, depends on the way students perceived themselves as communicators or as class members. This in turn will either develop or hinder their English language acquisition.
4)  Class-based reporting
Often used in content areas like the social sciences, reporting can be utilized to challenge students to make their peers understand ideas by the use of personal communication styles. When given the chance to deliver reports in the target language, students will not only be forced to understand the content of the subject but to master the art of explaining it clearly.
Presenting in classroomBecause good reports are the ones that are delivered in an informal way, students are exposed to authentic practice they can employ outside the classroom. Alternately, the teacher can ask some students to share what they have to say about the topics discussed. Equally important, post-reporting activities may include clarifications or explanations of ideas.
Because speaking in front of the class requires confidence, and also creates unique language learning opportunities. Students must be well-versed in the topics assigned or at its simplest form, memorize what they have to say in class. This improves not only memorization but language processing as well. As questions may be asked by class members, they have to cash in on their background knowledge and linguistic ability to make points clear. With continued practice, students develop self-confidence and competence in speaking in front of the audience, making language learning natural and even enjoyable.

Concluding Points
Teachers are equipped with abilities to make language learning fun and easy for students. With their desire to produce students who are competent language users, various strategies are employed in the classroom. Teachers are important factors in the language learners’ lives. As one of the main sources of linguistic faculity, they are to model the use of language.
Because many people tend to become bilinguals, either because of personal interests or social demands, it is essential that opportunities to communicate are observed. With English being the most widely studied second language, teachers and students can take advantage of English written materials.  Learning English is not only about mastering one skill, but also requires practice in the three others. Though listening, reading and writing are as equally important as speaking, writing is viewed as an excellent starting point in developing fluency quickly.

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