In Romania the place of modern languages has always been officially encouraged by an institutionalized teaching, and in particular the knowledge of as many languages as possible at an advanced performance level, has been an element of social prestige. This is understandable if considering the relatively zonal character of the Romanian language use.
However, the Romanian system of primary and secondary education introduced since 1965 a wide offer of languages to be studied from the age of 8 years (second grade) for the first language and the age 12 for the second language. Pupils and their parents could choose between English, German, French, Spanish and Russian, the offer being more varied in urban areas, especially in big cities.
Despite the great variety of languages proposed in state schools in Romania, English is the most taught foreign language in our schools and is included also nowadays in preschool programs.
EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) is the most comprehensive global ranking of skills in English. The report identifies global trends and regional learning English and explores the relationship between English and economic competitiveness. The latest report “Education First – English Proficiency Index”, which is produced annually worldwide, ranks Romania 16th in the world a worthy place, excluding Anglo-Saxon countries, at knowledge and use of English, with an index of 59.69 points.
Nearly one third of Romanians speak English and more than two thirds believes that this is the most important foreign language for their children.
More than 20 years ago, English, as first foreign language, was studied in school, starting from grade III – V. It was a long and hard process, children managing to assimilate very little knowledge in one hour a week. With this pace of work, there was no way becoming fluent in English, even after years of study. The learning process was extremely tedious and it was achieved mainly through reading activities and grammar exercises by model. Therefore, you were learning kind of ‘dead’ language, which was found only in textbooks and grammar books. After years of study in this way, you were not feeling able to carry on a conversation with a stranger, you felt inhibited and clumsy when you had to have a dialogue with someone, as you could not find any words.
Language is one of the most important skills you acquire as a preschooler, and represents also, a key element in acquiring a good education later on. If by age of 3, children understand more words than they can reproduce, the situation begins to change at preschool age, when language develops at the same time with child brain and the child manages to reproduce almost all known words. In his years at kindergarten child, influenced by the requirements of education, there is a rapid assimilation of various aspects of language, thus developing new functions and forms of language.
Learning English may seem hard, but now is the right time to achieve it, since mental operational structures are easy to shape and yet unfinished, which constitute a big advantage.
Methods and approaches in communicative English teaching
When planning a course, the teacher’s primary task is to develop an approach, a method and a technique (Anthony 1963), or, using another terminology, an approach, a design and a procedure (Richards and Rogers 1985), that he can use in the classroom. For this particular reason, this chapter is focusing on the methods that have been used in Communicative language teaching throughout the second part of the twentieth century, how they evolved to the present and their functionality.
2.1 The Audio-lingual method (ALM)
Also known as Audiolingualism or Aural-Oral Method, the Audio-lingual method it developed both in the UK and in North America.
The novelty to the field of language pedagogy was brought by the introduction of listening or visual materials in the classroom ‘ students were supposed to listen to or view recordings of certain language situations. The teacher made sure that the target language was the primary manner of expression in the classroom. Students were immediately and firmly corrected when making a mistake and the correct usage of the newly learned structures was highly emphasized.
The typical structure of an Audio-lingual lesson, as proposed by Richards and Rodgers:
‘1. Students first hear a model dialogue (either read by the teacher or on tape) containing the structures that are the focus of the lesson. The teacher pays attention to pronunciation, intonation, and fluency. Correction of mistakes of pronunciation or grammar is direct and immediate. The dialogue is memorized gradually, line by line. A line may be broken down into several phases if necessary. The dialogue is read aloud in chorus, one half saying one speaker’s part and the other half responding. The students do not consult their book throughout this phase.
2. The dialogue is adapted to the students’ interest or situation, through changing certain key words or phrases. This is acted out by the students.
3. Certain key structures from the dialogue are selected and used as the basis for pattern drills of different kinds. These are first practiced in chorus and then individually. Some grammatical explanation may be offered at this point, but this is kept to an absolute minimum.
4. The students may refer to their textbook and follow-up reading writing, or vocabulary activities based on the dialogue may be introduced.
5. Follow-up activities may take place in the language laboratory, where further dialogue and drill work is carried out.’ (Richards and Rodgers 2001, 64-65)
Because of the fact that it did not prove to be very effective in language learning and that it was attacked by Noam Chomsky’s theory on language learning as a set of habits, ALM is rarely used in the classroom activities today.
2.2 Situational Language Teaching (SLT)
One of the first methods used in teaching language based on communicative activities was called Situational Language Teaching or SLT. It emphasized the idea that the proper way of learning a language is to use it in context of real situations, such as asking questions and giving answers in various fields, for example in the lexical field of cooking, painting and so on.
Apart from concentrating on the grammatical correctness of the formulated answers, the teacher validates the student’s sentences based on them being in accordance with the situation to which they make reference. This method allows the real use of the language, rather than the production of examples of structures that are not related to a general situation.
SLT also recommends the usage of humorous situations or of situations to which the students of a certain age or members of a certain community might relate to, and thus show appreciation and interest when encountering them. For this reason, the student’s motivation in formulating an answer is enhanced.
The learning of the language in SLT is structuralized according to the frequency of the patterns found in spoken conversation, the level of difficulty that the exercises and the materials have and the different areas in which the patterns of vocabulary and grammar are used in real situations.
As forms of exercise, the most frequently used activity in SLT is substitution practice – similar sentences missing certain parts of speech must be completed by the students with the appropriate word. Oral activity is also very important and it is especially used in the beginning, with the elementary levels of the language. Reading and writing activities are considered important as well.
Teaching methods of SLT ‘stress PPP (presentation, practice and production)’. (Richards and Rogers 2001)
Presentation refers to the introduction of the new information by means of a support text, a speech given by the teacher or a conversation between the students and the teacher. After having presented the new vocabulary or grammatical structures, the teacher makes sure that the students have understood all the new notions.
The practice activity consists of exercises, such as the above mentioned substitution practice.
In the production part of the method less controlled practice activities are used. The students often use the newly introduced-vocabulary in sentences of their own, developing better fluency in the foreign language.
Though it is rarely used in classroom activities today because of its controlled and restrictive character, this method might still prove to be resourceful to those teaching languages with complex grammatical structures.
Together with ALM, the Situational Language Teaching it is nowadays considered to be one of the traditional methods.
2.3 Communicative Language teaching throughout time
2.3.1 Communicative Language Teaching in the 1980s
The 1970s brought a different vision in matters of prioritizing to the world of language pedagogy, as communicative competence started to be considered more difficult to achieve than the competence of correct usage of structures. British applied linguists, such as Henry Widdowson, Christopher Candlin, Christopher Brumfit, Keith Johnson and others emphasized the fundamental role of communicative practice in classroom activities.
The classroom environment lacked a direct student-language interaction. Information like the proper way to make a personal request or express a desire were neglected and considered either subsidiary or otherwise assimilated by the students. It is only at this point in history that the teacher started to develop classroom activities that included such aspects of the language.
This is how CLT appeared: both linguists and classroom teachers were aware of the fact that the class syllabus was perfectible; if not that it had serious gaps. It is why the method was so highly appreciated ever since its early beginnings.
Apart from the fact that it makes use of specific communicative functions (ordering, inviting, requesting), CLT proposes the usage of the target language in authentic discourse, and not in artificial structures as the previously methods did.
Mistakes are allowed in the classroom, more important is the fact that the students manage to express themselves in the target language, even if while doing so they construct imperfect utterances.
The vocabulary and the grammatical constructions are used in different settings that are meaningful and contextualized. They are also introduced in interesting situations, so as to promote both subconscious and conscious students’ learning.
CLT proposes so many aspects that a teacher must take into account before addressing to a classroom of students, that it started to be considered an approach more than a method. Aspects such as:
– The domain in which the student will be using the target language (for example the medical field, or the religious one);
– The place and the time in which the student will have the opportunity to use the language it could be while being on vacation, or perhaps while visiting distant relatives every once in a while, which would give him the occasion to use the language more often;
– The role the student plays in the interaction with a native speaker of the target language: he could be a traveler or a host, in public function or on his own free time;
– Rhetorical skills – he will need to be able to formulate a presentation or a story in order to efficiently express his ideas;
– The varieties of the language – referring to the diversities offered by the American, the British English, the Australian;
– The notions of vocabulary and grammar that are necessary in all these situations and domains of the language, (van Ek and Alexander 1980) are all to take under consideration in order to know how to approach the learning of the target language.
Regarding the syllabus, Breen and Candlin (1980, 9) argue that there are three aspects to take under consideration: ‘the process of teaching and learning, the roles of teachers and learners, and the role of content within the teaching and learning.’
The uniqueness of the classroom is a quality rather than a flow (it could be regarded as such because of the submission to error).
Judging from this perspective, the individuality of the participants in the classroom allows the teacher to easily introduce communicative situations resembling the outside world (Breen and Candlin 1980, 16)
The teacher should always expect feed-back from students, which is useful in evaluation teacher’s part, from the part of the other students and self-evaluation.
This leads to a monitored and acknowledged progress. Also, new abilities of the students will be discovered.
The role of the classroom is dual: ‘Observatory and laboratory during a communicative learning-teaching process’ (Breen and Candlin 1980, 19).
The teacher’s role is to facilitate the communication between the participants in the classroom and between the students and the activities. His role is also of an interdependent participant within the learning – teaching groups. (Breen and Candlin 1980, 20) The teacher must also conduct the research and prepare it as activity for the class.
‘Content would be subdivided and broken down in terms of activities and tasks to be undertaken, wherein both knowledge and abilities would be engaged in the learners’ communication.’ (Breen and Candlin 1980, 21)
In other words, the activities should lead to communication.
Although there were other types of syllabus proposed in this period of time, apart from the two shown above, Threshold Level was recognized as the classic CLT (van Ek and Alexander 1980). It was considered to be the most appropriate syllabus because it comprised situations, topics, notions, together with vocabulary and grammar.
It was this proposal for the syllabus that led to the English for Specific Purposes movement.
2.3.2 English for Specific Purposes (ESP)
It developed from the request of some learners to study the particular areas of the language, such as biology, architecture, kinetic-therapy etc.
The specific type of vocabulary and grammar used for these purposes, alongside the specificity of the materials to be used, the particular skills required from the teacher and the students and the different functions to be covered led to the development of this branch of CLT.
It mostly addresses to college students, medical staff, engineers etc.
There was also another branch that developed from CLT called Learning by Teaching – though it is not as well-known as ESP.
2.3.3 Learning by Teaching (LdL)
It is a very popular method in Germany. It was established by Jean-Pol Martin, a professor of foreign language teaching, under the name of Lerner Durch Lehren.
It allows students to take the teacher’s role and teach their colleagues, an experience that facilitates the learning for both the students that learn from their colleagues, and for the ones that have taken the teacher’s role. It is a concept that has been experimented in other countries as well.
2.3.4 Dogme Language Teaching
Started in the mid 1990s, Dogme Language Teaching is considered a method, as well as a movement. Though it had its debut in the film industry, with the Dogme 95 film movement (initiated by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg), it is still considered to have developed from CLT.
In language pedagogy, the method is considered to have started with Scott Thornbury’s article on language education Dogme: dancing in the dark?
The method encourages teaching without addressing to textbooks, it promotes the idea of conversation among the teacher and the classroom, with eventual explanations given also in oral form, and thus practicing the same form of communication.
Its principles are:
1. Interactivity – in order to facilitate the learning process.
2. Low on text – the texts should be short, but exhaustively exploited.
3. Emergent – the communicative needs of the learners will lead to the usage of the language, and not the other way around.
4. Facilitative – the grammatical, lexical, discourse components of the lesson should be presented many times orally or in written, for a better understanding.
5. Reflective – students are invited to present their own thoughts in the classroom.
6. ‘Grammar – lite’ – grammar should be treated as an extension for lexis, in other words the main interest when teaching should be the high frequency words.
7. Problematizing – the tasks assigned in class should pose problems, which could lead to a debate or a speech from the students’ part.
8. Non-incremental – the syllabus is not to be followed in a certain order: the teacher may return to what was previously discussed and then move ahead.
9. Self-sufficient – students are encouraged to do a lot of individual work outside the classroom, according to their own interests and needs.
10. Cheap – learning should be accessible to all. (Thombury 2000, 1-2)
Because of its revolutionary agenda Dogme Language Teaching can be seen as a critical pedagogy. Though not fulfilling all the necessary requirements – it does not seek social change, it militates for an anti-establishment approach to language teaching, which makes its character somewhat critical.
It is a method highly criticized, for it does not approve of either textbooks or audio-visual materials, limiting the teacher’s freedom in the matter of what resources to use inside the classroom.
2.3.5 Communicative Language Teaching Today
Depending on certain factors, like the age of the learners, their occupation, their level, as well as their goals and so on, Communicative Language Teaching method is nowadays mostly based on features and principles, agreed upon and enhanced in time.
While in 1991, David Nunan recognized five major features of CLT:
‘ ‘ an emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language,
‘ the introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation,
‘ the provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning management process,
‘ an enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning
‘ an attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom’, (Nunan 1991, 20)
in 2003, Jacobs and Farrell identify the eight following components as essential in CLT (1. Encourage Learner Autonomy; 2. Emphasize Social Nature of Learning; 3. Develop Curricular Integration; 4. Focus on Meaning; 5. Celebrate Diversity; 6. Expand Thinking Skills; 7. Utilize Alternative Assessment Methods; 8. Promote English Language Teachers as Co-learners, (Jacobs and Farrell 2003, 7)) demonstrating the rapid development suffered in a rather short amount of time by the Communicative Language Teaching method.
As it is shown above, CLT has had a rapid development, especially after the 1990s. It has evolved in different directions from the ones traditionally set in the 1970s.
Considered to be more of an approach than a method, mainly because of the various developments it had throughout time, CLT is nowadays applicable in a classroom and frequently used by teachers all over the world.
We may also presume that with time CLT will undergo an even greater development, since it nowadays receives different interpretations from one teacher to another and, unlike it’s above mentioned branch – Dogme Language Teaching, it allows the implementation of a vast repertoire of teaching materials, not limiting the teacher’s freedom in the matter of what resources to use inside the classroom.
There are even suggestions to how CLT could be improved. For example in 2006, Ton van Hattum, in The Communicative Approach rethought, argues that CLT is flawed by the fact that the teacher, when sharing the same nationality with the students, shows understanding to those errors made by the students that are explicable to only those of the same nationality. He resumes that the teacher should not empathize with the students in this respective area: he should pretend not to understand the general idea of the student’s utterance as long as it is a mistake that is typical to the community to which the students and the teacher belong, and not one that could be understandable to the native speakers of the target language.
Though there are many ways in which CLT may be used, since such thing as a single syllabus model does not exist, a functional syllabus using CLT as a method nowadays should incorporate grammar, vocabulary, functions, and it should take into account the students’ personal competences in using the language.
What is Communicative use of English? ‘ Examples of class activities
The purpose of any syllabus should be that of teaching the students how to use the target language in different situations. As I shall further on expand, these situations refer to the kind of activities that a teacher should develop in the classroom with their students.
The age and the level in language usage of the students are of great importance and must be taken under consideration when creating the syllabus. This is why this paper work will refer to a specific level of language competence. It will pursue the teacher’s goal of reaching the level of advanced with a ninth grade class of students, categorized as upper intermediate users of the language.
This chapter is dedicated to distinguishing the competences that communicative language teaching covers. Further on, various ways of implementing those inside a classroom of upper intermediate students, are offered so as to raise the general level to an advanced one.
Consequently, a reference to the goals that the teacher has when teaching the communicative use of the language, namely reaching an advanced level of Communicative Competences inside the classroom is going to be made.
3.1 The user’s Communicative Competence
The ability of using language in a correct and appropriate way in order to accomplish communicative goals is what we understand by communicative competence.
Communicative competence incorporates the following areas: Organizational Competence, which includes Grammatical Competence and Discourse (or Textual) competence, and Pragmatic Competence, which includes Sociolinguistic Competence and ‘Illocutionary’ Competence. (Bachman, 1990)
3.1.1 The user’s Grammatical Competence
Grammatical Competence refers to the ability of recognizing and producing grammatical structures of a language and of using them effectively in communication.
It concerns the forms of the language, respectively sounds, words and sentence structures. In other words it is related to Phonology, Vocabulary, Morphology and Syntax.
But how does a teacher introduce these rather intricate fields of linguistics to a class of ninth graders in an accessible approach? Coming up with an explanation that involves using terms like phonemes, allophones or a morpheme is not a recommended strategy. It is better to use less theoretical information and focus on the practical part of the language when it comes to discussing these notions with students that are not dedicated to studying these fields of language individually and at a more complex level.
This issue will be discuss in detail in the subchapters dedicated to teaching strategies, where are also suggested several activities that facilitate the usage of grammatical competences by the students and which can be introduced in the classroom.
3.1.2 The user’s Discourse Competence
Discourse (or Textual) Competence refers to the ability to understand and construct monologues or written texts of different genres. We can distinguish between the following discourse genres (Serban, 2012):
– Referential (or informative) – expressing objectively concrete or abstract facts. It is subcategorized into informative discourse (like the one practiced by the written press, on radio or television), scientific discourse (the one we find in science books) and exploratory discourse (based on questioning).
– Expressive – rendering the emotions and inner states of the addresser from a subjective point of view. We encounter it in letters, diaries, and confessions.
– Persuasive – it has the purpose of changing the opinion of the addressee by using argumentation, rhetorical techniques based on pathos. It is the type of discourse we find in advertising or political campaigns.
– Phatic – the conversations that maintain social relationships, for example a chat about the weather or the latest concerts that the people engaged in the conversation have attended.
It is the teacher’s responsibility to introduce topics that regard all these genres inside the classroom. Such topics will give the students the opportunity to practice, apart from their discourse competences, their abilities to create grammatical structures as well, since while presenting an advertisement in front of the classroom, for example, the student also has the opportunity to practice his pronunciation and his ability to create sentences by using syntactic rules, while at the same time he is making use of his persuasive function (trying to convince his audience that the product in his presentation is worth buying).
3.1.3 The user’s Sociolinguistic Competence
Sociolinguistics refers to the appropriate way in which one must address to someone belonging to a certain ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age. It also makes reference to the ability to interpret cultural references and figures of speech.
The teacher’s responsibility lies in showing the students how to express themselves freely in the target language. The intention is not that of imposing a certain belief, the students are entitled to their own opinion.
Students must be accustomed to the English traditional way of using compliments more frequently. Cultural references are very important when teaching a foreign language.
Students must also be familiarized with the figures of speech frequently used in the target language. For example the commonly used expression ‘Break a leg!’ can be interpreted as ‘Good luck!’ (Not as the actual breaking of someone’s leg) and must be translated as such in most contexts.
Sociolinguistic competence is also a matter to be introduced together with grammatical competence, and it may interact with the students’ discourse competences as well. For example, while reading a page of a fictive diary the student could use the expression ‘to make a big deal out of it’, expression that the other students may wrongly interpret as ‘to develop a small business to the level of a brand’. The student will explain the term to his peers, and in doing so he will appeal to his sociolinguistic competences, while at the same time he has made use of his expressive competences (by writing the fictive page of a diary) and he has used his grammatical competences as well (by reading aloud his work, he has put at practice his phonological competence and by forming the correct structure of the sentences he has utilized his morphological and syntactic competences).
3.1.4 The user’s ‘Illocutionary’ Competence
‘Illocutionary’ competence is coming from the illocutionary act, which is ‘an act (1) for the performance of which I must make it clear to some other person that the act is performed and (2) the performance of which involves the production of conventional consequences as, e.g., rights, commitments, or obligations’ (Austin 1975,116f.,121, 139).
In other words, the illocutionary act is a speech act where the speaker produces an utterance with a certain communicative intention generally resulting in the actual understanding (from the addressee’s part) of the intended meaning of the speaker’s utterance. (Crainiceanu, 2012)
The illocutionary competence makes use of four functions:
– Ideational function – expressing one’s ideas;
– Manipulative function – determining the addressee to do what the addresser desires him to do;
– Heuristic function – solving problems by using self-educating techniques;
– Imaginative function – expressing imaginary ideas.
(Littlemore and Low, 2006)
Sociolinguistic and illocutionary competences can’t be taught. They are matters of knowledge that students possess, use, develop or lose. The teacher’s job is to offer opportunities so that the students might develop these competences.
In the following subchapters several strategies that the teacher can use in order for the class of upper intermediate learners to reach the advanced level of competences are suggested.
3.2 Teaching Pronunciation ‘ Class activities
It is one of the most frequently neglected areas of communicative teaching, mostly because of the fact that English phonetics and phonology are difficult to understand, even for the teacher. Due to the fact that the English language has suffered multiple modifications in pronunciation throughout time (especially in the Renaissance period, when, after the vowel rotation applied in Germanic languages, words such as ‘love’, ‘time’ gained silent vowels in the end) it is rather difficult to differentiate between all the rules, modifications and exceptions that the language harbors.
This is why, before coming up with different activities to introduce in the classroom, the teacher must make sure that he has fully understood how sounds are transcribed, that he can recognize rhythm and stress, intonation patterns and different accents.
Nevertheless, having a good phonetic competence is not enough for a teacher. He must also find the appropriate way in which to facilitate the students’ understanding in this area.
During my traineeship for this Master, I was given the opportunity to observe and teach a class where I conducted an experiment. At a certain point during the class, I asked the students to spell the word ‘immediately’. 30% of the students misinterpreted the meaning of the word ‘spell’, 20% of the students did not know the correct form of the English word and 50% of them spelled the word using the Romanian phonemic alphabet\spelling system. None of them tried to spell it using the English phonemic alphabet. This was a class of advanced learners and the students were very good at vocabulary, reading, writing, grammar and speaking activities.
This is a problem that most teachers are facing with when it comes to teaching this branch of grammatical competences and it is something that some prefer to limit to a 10 minutes activity once in a while, which is by far insufficient for teaching pronunciation.
So, several questions to be answered:
-How does a teacher manage to implement pronunciation activities in class without allocating too much of a class time to it?
-How can the teacher make the activities arouse the students’ interest?
-How can the teacher make these activities become accessible to the users of the language?
Here are some activities suggestions for teachers to introduce in the classroom:
1. A 5 minutes weekly activity with the class. The students are asked to prepare a list of 10 new words to spell, pronounce and transcribe phonetically in front of the class, making use of Learning by Teaching method. It is a useful activity because of the fact that students are given the opportunity to prepare in advance and they are allowed to control the situation, since they can choose whichever words they prefer. However, this means that the teacher must be very well prepared so as to give eventual supplementary explanations to the class or to correct the possible errors that the students can make.
2. The teacher creates groups of two students and gives them the task of listening to each other’s pronunciation of words in turns. Then each student presents to the class the errors in pronunciation he thinks he has heard, explaining how the words should be pronounced correctly.
It should not be a time consuming activity, no more than two or three minutes – the students must be able to remember the mistakes in pronunciation they think they have heard.
It is an activity that makes use of the ideational function (expressing one’s ideas), it can be easily adjusted to include discourse competences by giving the students the assignment of creating a short story or writing a letter and reading it to their desk mate, or describing the student’s daily program, his hobbies or the dreams he has for the future.
3. The teacher prepares a written presentation with several monologues of people from different countries that share the quality of being native speakers of English. Each of the monologues contains information about cuisine, geographical characteristics, historical background or some famous festivities of the addressers’ homeland.
At the beginning of the activity the teacher reads the monologues in front of the class, using the appropriate accent for each monologue (British, American, Australian, Irish, Scottish and so on), then he asks the students to guess what the nationality of the addressers is.
The exercise can be continued: students are asked to choose one of the monologues which were previously presented and summarize it in writing, then read it in front of the class, while optionally using the specific accent themselves.
It is an exercise that gives students the opportunity to use their sociolinguistic competences. It is however somewhat difficult to put in practice if the teacher has difficulties with impersonating accents, but he can also use recorded materials with native speakers.
It is also an activity that makes use of competences in vocabulary, morphology and syntax.
4. The teacher presents an audio material of a famous English song and allocates the appropriate amount of time for the class to listen to it. Then students are asked to identify the accent of the singer and the pronunciation of the words. For example, a British interpreter will most likely not be using jargon in his songs, while an American interpreter will probably pronounce words like ‘mornin’ or ‘jumpin’ in his songs. Such an activity also helps familiarizing students with the specificity of the English culture: an Irish song has certain rhythms that are singular in the English repertoire.
This is an activity that stimulates the sociolinguistic competence of the students, but it also makes reference to the ideational function of the illocutionary competence of the users. It also familiarizes students with the expressive competence of the addressers.
The activity can be adjusted according to the amount of time that the teacher wishes to allocate to it. Several songs can be introduced to the class with several types of pronunciation of the words.
The teacher may also suggest that the students prepare as homework their favorite song and make an analysis of it, in terms of type of accent that the singer or the singers use, the various ways in which certain words can be pronounced from one geographical area to another, from a century to another, the permissibility of the culture the artists belong to, with respect to the appropriate expressions to use.
5. A 5 to 10 minutes activity in which the teacher uses a recorded material with a dialogue between several participants, all non-native speakers of English. The accent of the addressers can be Romanian, Hungarian, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French and so on.
The students are firstly asked to listen to the recorded material; their second task is that of identifying the origin of the accent, then, they must also correct the most obvious mistakes in pronunciation that the participants in the conversations have made.
This activity can be adapted to the recording of the students themselves, which leads to auto-correction.
It is an activity that utilizes the heuristic function, and it also addresses the competences of vocabulary, syntax, morphology, alongside the phonetic competences of the students.
6. In order to catch the students’ interest and to verify the level of attention they allocate to such activities, the teacher may make use of an activity that is inventive and at the same time not time consuming.
It is suggested an activity that requires a combination of the users’ grammatical competences: the teacher gives a dictation on the topic of cultural differences – an activity that the students usually find to be quite dull, but at the same time, he switches accents when passing from one cultural difference to another and he pronounces words incorrectly on purpose from time to time, underlying the errors purposely made by using a stronger tone of voice and waiting a couple of seconds for the students to notice it.
This activity will most likely generate an atmosphere that is more relaxed and more animated, and at the same time more interesting.
The teacher may also take time to ask certain questions about the text, for example what type of accent he had used and what words he had incorrectly pronounced.
What we are trying to underline is the fact that apart from being prepared in the field of his expertise, the teacher needs to create the appropriate activities to utilize, activities that students will find interesting, accessible and not too much time consuming.
3.3 Teaching Vocabulary ‘ Class activities
If you spend most of your time studying grammar, your English will not improve very much. You will see most improvement if you learn more words and expressions. You can say very little with grammar, but you can say almost everything with words!’ (Dellar, H and Hocking D. 2000, 8). This is the advice that Dellar H and Hocking D give to students in their coursework called Innovations.
However, while acknowledging the utility of this recommendation, some students avoid the study of vocabulary. This is mostly due to the fact that learning new words supposes making a distinct mental connection in the case of each word family and then creating a mental net that ties the words together, while when learning a grammatical rule, the brain resorts to associating it with the previously acquired grammatical information, so the data are stored in a hierarchical manner. In other words finding vocabulary competences more difficult to assimilate than grammatical competences is a matter of personality.
The process of making a distinct connection every time a new word is introduced produces an initial state of vagueness in the student’s mind at first, leading to frustration and eventually to the impression that either he is incapable of learning the new words, or that the teacher is not properly trained to teach.
In the case of upper intermediate aspiring to advanced learners, vocabulary learning may be seen as less frustrating, because the students are already used to making the distinct mental connection previously referred to. However, still remain the problems of the false friends, the errors in spelling, the complication of memorizing complex words, the confusion created by words that overlap in meaning, the difficulty in choosing the right register, the grammar issues, such as using the correct prepositions that follow certain verbs, for example, the complexity of making associations of synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy between words, and so on.
The teacher will facilitate the students’ learning process by presenting words in their typical contexts as often as possible, by using materials that students find interesting and to which they can easily relate, by creating as many opportunities as possible for direct exposure to the target language, by presenting various sources for individual vocabulary acquisition, or offering a large number of examples to the definitions he gives to the different words. Translation exercises are also recommended when teaching vocabulary, and also using illustrations and visual materials.
As it can be observed, learning vocabulary includes studying grammar, but it also makes reference to the illocutionary, sociolinguistic and discourse competences of the students. A complete syllabus will include activities that concentrate on stimulating all these competences.
Here are some activities suggestions for teachers to introduce in the classroom when teaching vocabulary:
l. The teacher prepares a written or an audio material which includes a large number of words that belong to a certain lexical field and possibly to the same lexical category, such as nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs or adjectives, for example.
The students are asked to read or to listen to the material. The activity can even involve role playing, if the chosen material allows it.
After listening to the students’ reading of the material, the teacher will ask questions regarding the words that are newly introduced or that have been encountered in the previous lessons.
The students are helped in giving a definition of the words, translating them into the native language, making a grammatical classification, for example ‘to see’ as a transitive verb can be used either with its external argument, the Subject, ‘He sees’, or together with its internal argument, the Direct Object: ‘He sees something’.
At this point, the teacher can give other examples of different contexts in which the words can be used, apart from the ones that were used in the presented material.
The students are asked to translate the examples offered by the teacher. Then students form sentences of their own using the new words from the lesson.
Homework can be included to this activity – students have to prepare a composition, a dialogue or a letter in which they use the words presented in the classroom.
2. After having conducted the previous activity, the teacher will continue to use the same words in different exercises. For example he can use the adjective ‘glamorous’ in a sentence and then pronounce a multitude of words from which the students are asked to choose only the ones that are synonyms or antonyms to it. Or he may simply start uttering words from which the students have to find the ones that don’t belong to the same lexical field.
3. Another way to make sure that the students have completely understood the context in which they should use the newly introduced vocabulary is to ask them to translate sentences from the target language (preferably sentences in which idiomatic expressions appear).
For example, the teacher may ask the students to translate the following sentences:
a) The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers.
b) The constant bombing finally beat them down.
c) The rain beat down on us for an hour.
d) She was beaten down and worn off by her busy schedule.
e) He promised to beat them up if they said anything else on the topic.
f) He didn’t like his nephew because he was always beating around the bush.
g) Her heartbeats were irregular.
By performing this activity, the students:
– will be able to differentiate between the distinct values that the word ‘beat’ has (that of both proper and common noun and of both transitive and intransitive verb);
– will be able to understand the difference in meaning given by the usage of the proper prepositions and also by the distinct contexts in which the word has been used.
One of the sentences even offers a synonym for ‘beat down’ in ‘wear off’ making the meaning of the words in the respective sentence more accessible to the students.
4. The same sentences can be used in testing the vocabulary acquisition of the students under a different form:
– the teacher explains to the students the various meanings of ‘beat’;
– he writes the words ‘Beat’, ‘beat’, ‘beat down’, ‘beat up’, ‘beat around the bush’, ‘heartbeat’ on the board;
– he presents the sentences written above and leaves empty spaces that the students are asked to complete by using one of the previously written words for each sentence.
5. Another activity is to simply start up a conversation with the class on topics that regard the sociolinguistic and the discourse competences and allocate as much time as the students are willing to allow to it.