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Updated on July 16, 2014

A Brief Survey on Ways to Improve Fluency in English as a Foreign Language

Also published in a slightly modified version in a pedagogical national magazine "Info Didactica", Issue no 7 per 2009, Sitech, Craiova, Romania, ISSN 2066-2149

Hypothesis/starting point: The most important aspect when checking whether the study of a foreign language has been successful is fluency/the ability to communicate/the speaking skill.

Presentation/elicitation: This survey or questionnaire has been carried out upon high-school pupils. The questions have been forwarded to pupils in three different classes, both special English language classes (the 9th grade, the 10th grade, intensive course), as well as to pupils in normal English teaching regime classes (with other profiles/specialty than English or languages, but within the advanced level). The interviewed students have tried to answer to this survey by giving me the following hints:

- A lot of the pupils asked by me (90%), in English specialty or humanities classes say they would like to work with the teacher in a less numerous class, where disruptive behaviour is less likely to intervene and where they can establish a better rapport with their teacher in a cosier English language based atmosphere. The sincerity of their answer has made me think about the fact that classes with many pupils are no longer something that might help teaching, but only complicate the existing hardships in our system, thus damaging not only the teachers, by reducing their number of classes, but also the pupils, by creating a mediocrity run environment rather than a quality one (especially since nowadays pupils are so difficult and problem behaviour is a reality).

- More than 85 per cent of the pupils asked have said that they would love to get rid of their communication problems, but there are a number of past impediments with which they were struggling:

  • Grammar, which was not learned or maybe even taught properly during the elementary school up until the 8thgrade ,(lack of material in schools with less favored financial background, and communities alike, the school syllabus both in English and in other subjects which was too busy, or wrong, coursebook defaults, lack of interest in school, unmotivated teachers, etc);
  • Literature or reading, which is done mostly on the internet –another impediment, thus pupils are no longer provided with an accurate and erudite exposure to written language, almost 60 percent of the pupils have admitted they no longer (or rarely have done that before) read books, whether readers, or newspapers, or magazines in English or some other kind of material.
  • · Almost 100 per cent of all my pupils do wish to have access to good English coursebooks, they do not deny its importance and we do use the coursebook so often, but they feel like there is a discrepancy between the old bad mentalities (of false educational “councilors”, of ministry or school inspectors, of syllabuses which require the use of certain coursebooks that are really bad –and I feel the same!), and the new way of thinking that should allow the good English teacher to teach the pupils not the coursebook, but to teach English by adapting the coursebooks which so many times fail to motivate students properly. The teacher should adapt, omit and replace, just like our modern methodology tells us, thus avoiding coming closer to a dead end of teaching the empty form, not the content and thus falling into a precipice of ignorance.

- The lack of listening materials in schools (almost 99 percent of the books which are granted by the Ministry come to us without cassettes or tapes), also the high cost of providing all the additional listening skills material prevents us from using budget funds in order to grant all schools access to at least some of all these necessary “ingredients”. Even though nowadays we can make full use of media channels which provide us excellent listening opportunities, in school, as an organized learning environment, we still need badly such accompanying additional “tools” (80 percent of the pupils in case said they would like to have tapes in their English laboratories, even though generally they do a lot of listening to English speaking channels and are exposed to English on a daily basis already).

Conclusions of the survey/ suggestions/means of improving this situation:

- proposals forwarded by language teachers to the state forums and educational high corners in order to really care about our education budget and allocate funds-but education should be left in the hands of the teachers who really want to do a good job and

not in the hands of irresponsible people who do not have anything to do with teaching after all.

-we can try to tackle this for the moment by buying our own “class portfolio”, with additional listening materials and written resource. (at least on some basic level and on a cheap price). Also, a constant incentive from the teacher for the students in order to really be responsible and mature and make full use of tv channels, -not a single day without listening to a news channel in English, or without hearing something in English, good movies with good subtitles, etc.

- special series of speaking as well as listening classes carefully planned and allocated by the teacher in the course of a semester, so that communicative functions and purposes should be high on our list –when I say “series”, I mean a deeper interest in it indeed!

- in order to improve fluency, the teacher should take care of building accuracy/more reading tasks especially as individual tasks at home, use of literary excerpts, coming back to spending time in the town/school library , writing tasks –creativity high on our list of priorities, etc

- setting up of webspaces designed for creative writing/students can post their own tasks there guided by the teacher, as well as their homework/research homework, diaries, class diary online, setting up of correspondence between our pupils and native speakers of their age from abroad, etc..

- special additional, English classes for challenging English language contests, visits to the town library (American corner there or other English speaking such spaces), setting up of projects with other schools for English language exchange, etc..

References/informative selected bibliography:

[1] Harmer, J., The Practice of English Language Teaching, Pearson Longman, fourth edition.

[2] Constantin Cucos, “Pedagogie”, Editura Polirom, 2002, ISBN: 973-681-063-1.


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