I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting the Students to Speak - the Magic Ingredients

Speaker: Clive Oxenden
Organised by: Oxford University Press, ELT Division, Bangkok
Date: 18 January 2006
Location: Kattareeya 2, Ambassador Hotel, Sukhumvit 11, Bangkok

Mr. Oxenden’s second lecture was about “Getting Students to Talk”. He presented the results of a research in which 40 conversations were analysed to determine why communication breaks down. The research revealed (as expected) that most communications break down because of pronunciation problems (27 out of 40), followed by a lack of vocabulary (8). Only 1 (!) problem was caused by grammar.

He identified the factors that determine the success of a conversation as:
G (Grammar) + V (Vocabulary) + P (Pronunciation) + MC (Motivational Context) = S (Speaking). These are what Mr. Oxenden calls the magic ingredients.

He went on to discuss why pronunciation is difficult for students:
  • the rules are unclear and/or unsystematic
  • teachers are insecure
  • the belief that some aspects can not be taught
  • pronunciation is not systematically taught in course books.
To solve the first problem, teachers should stress the REGULARITY of the language. 85 % of the English language is regular and should be presented as such. Present the rules to the students and note the exceptions. For example, the “h” in the words hate, horse, house and hard is pronounced the same and that is the standard, but the word hour is an exception. Other points of attention are word stress, sentence stress and rhythm, intonation, individual sounds, sound/spelling patterns and the need for the students to understand phonetic symbols, so that they can check the pronunciation.

Teachers should be confident to speak with the students in the language they teach. Pronunciation is important, but accent doesn’t matter. Even native English speakers don’t pronounce words the same way and it is not relevant for the communication.

As expected, pronunciation activities are included in New English File. He gave a short demonstration on how to teach pronunciation with exercises from the book.

Before Mr. Oxenden gave us the numbers, we had to guess the main cause of communication breakdowns in conversations. I had given pronunciation 25 out of 40, so that was pretty close. Based on my experience teaching my students and travelling around the world, this had to be the main factor. Grammar is rarely a problem, which is exactly what I keep telling my students when I teach conversation.

Mr. Oxenden’s suggestion to stress the regularity of English pronunciation, instead of its irregularity, was very good. It will be less discouraging for the students.

He also recognised that the teachers are a vital factor in helping the students with their pronunciation and should become confident about using English with the students. He didn’t make any suggestions on how to achieve this though; I think it is quite a challenge and a big effort to build a teacher’s confidence and it can maybe only be achieved in a native-speaking environment.

What I appreciated most, was Mr. Oxenden’s statement that accent doesn’t matter and that teachers don’t have to be native speakers.

I keep wondering whether it is necessary to use specific exercises or books to teach English pronunciation. All materials provide texts that can be discussed and used to practice speaking in context(!), which will make it easier for the students to remember (as Mr. Oxenden remarked in part 1) than separate exercises or books.

Oxenden, Clive et al. New English File Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book. UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

The other part of Mr. Oxendens lecture Presenting New Language can be found at http://education-articles-and-conferences.blogspot.com/2011/11/presenting-new-language.html

(c) cafavier, 2006-2011

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