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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007

Автор: Новицкая Ю.В.

This paper is devoted to traditional and communicative language learning. “Communicative” is a word which has dominated discussions of teaching methodology for many years. Although in a monolingual English language classroom, “real communication” in English is impossible, in “communicative methodology” teachers try to be “more communicative”. That is to say, even though it may be impossible to achieve “real communication”, we should attempt to get closer to “real communication” in our classrooms. At that, a lot depends on a textbook the teacher chooses for a class. The book may determine the way the language is taught, the choice of exercises for patterns drill, and, to some extent, the results.

Who needs a textbook?

There exist different opinions concerning classroom textbooks. Some teachers say they don’t need them at all. They think they know their students and their interests and needs better. And so they prepare their own materials and handouts.

Of course, every teacher feels the need for some individuality and freedom. We have our own personalities, and wee all know that every class is different. Thus, the same lesson almost always has to be taught differently to different classes. Even so, it is very difficult for a teacher to teach systematically without textbooks.

In addition to that, most students invariably want a textbook. They find that a folder full of classroom handouts fails to satisfy their needs the way the textbooks can. The textbooks offer a systematic revision of what the students have done and a guide to what they are going to do.

All professional teachers think that a perfect textbook does not exist.

What kinds of books are used in classrooms?

There are two categories of textbooks: traditional and communicative. The traditional textbooks try to get students to learn the language as a system. Once they have learned the system, it is hoped that they are then equipped to use the language for their own purposes in any way they think fit. Traditional books have all or most of these characteristics:

- They tend to emphasize the forms, or patterns, of language (the grammar) more than the communicative functions of the language.

- They tend to focus on reading and writing activities, rather than listening and speaking activities.

- They often make use of a great deal of the first language.

- They emphasize the importance of accuracy.

- They tend to focus rather narrowly on the syllabus and examinations.

- They are often attractive to some teachers, because they seem easy to use, and are highly examination-oriented.

The traditional textbooks have the great advantage that, generally speaking, a teacher can use them without much difficulty. The main problem with traditional textbooks is the following: students work with them, sometimes for years, and often conscientiously. However, despite this, in the end of their studies they are still incapable of using the language: they may know its grammar, but they cannot communicate in it.

Communicative textbooks try to solve this problem by creating opportunities for the students to use the language in the classroom. These days the word communicative has become a buzz word: almost every book claims to be communicative. What exactly does this mean? Communicative books vary a great deal, but very broadly they have the following characteristics:

- They emphasize the communicative function of the language.

- They try to reflect students’ needs and interests.

- They emphasize skills in using the language, not just the forms of the language, and therefore, they are activity based.

- They usually have a good balance among the four language skills, but may emphasize listening and speaking more than traditional textbooks do.

- Both content and methods reflect the authentic language of everyday life.

- They encourage work in groups and pairs, and therefore make heavier demands on teacher’s organizational abilities.

- They emphasize fluency, not just accuracy.

Communicative books usually contain exercises of communicative type. In its purest form, a communicative activity is an activity in which there is a desire to communicate, a communicative purpose, a focus on language content not language forms, a variety of language used, no teacher intervention and no control or simplification of the material.

Let's examine each characteristic in turn.

1. A desire to communicate. In a communicative activity there must be a reason to communicate. When someone asks a question, the person must wish to get some information or some other form of result. There must be either an “information gap” or an “opinion gap” or some other reason to communicate.

Just asking questions about the contents of the text does not stimulate students’ desire to communicate. This is a good exercise to check upon students’ understanding of the text, but not more. The texts and the questions should be designed so that they provoked students’ thinking and urged them to speak.

2. A communicative purpose. Ordinarily, communication has a purpose: to convey information. Activities in the language classroom simulate communication outside the classroom when they are structured with such a purpose. When we ask students to describe their bedroom furniture to their partners, we are creating an artificial “communicative purpose” and making the activity more artificial by asking them to do it in English.

We also create artificial “information gaps” by giving different information to pairs of students so that they can have a reason to exchange information.

In these classroom activities, students use the language to fill an information gap by getting answers or expanding a partial understanding. For example, students work in pairs, and each is given half of a map, grid, or list needed to complete a task. The pair then talk to each other until they both have all the information.

3. A focus on language content not language forms. In real life, we do not ask about our friend's family in order to practice “have got” forms. We ask the question because we are interested in the information. That is to say, we are interested in the language content and not in the language forms.

In order to learn a language, instead of merely learning about it, students need as much as possible to hear and read the language as native speakers use it. Instructors can make this happen in two ways.

4. A variety of language is used. In normal communication, we do not repeatedly use the same language forms. In fact, we usually try to avoid repetition. In many classroom activities we often try to create situations in which students will repeatedly use a limited number of language patterns. This is also artificial.

Teachers should always try to use the language as naturally as possible when they are talking to students. Slowing down may seem to make the message more comprehensible, but it also distorts the subtle shifts in pronunciation that occur in naturally paced speech.

It is appropriate to speak at a normal rate, use vocabulary and sentence structures with which students are familiar and state the same idea in different ways to aid comprehension.

The teacher should also give students authentic reading material from newspapers, magazines, and other print sources, review them carefully to ensure that the reading level is appropriate, introduce relevant vocabulary and grammatical structures in advance, provide context by describing the content and typical formats for the type of material.

Advertisements, travel brochures, packaging, and street signs contain short statements that students at lower levels can manage. The World Wide Web is a rich resource for authentic materials. Reading authentic materials motivates students at all levels because it gives them the sense that they really are able to use the language.

5. No teacher intervention. When you are talking to an airline representative on the occasion of your lost baggage, your teacher is not usually beside you to “help” or “correct” your English. Teacher intervention in classroom communicative activities adds to the artificiality. At all proficiency levels, learners produce language that is not exactly the language used by native speakers. Some of the differences are grammatical, while others involve vocabulary selection and mistakes in the selection of language appropriate for different contexts.

In responding to student communication, teachers need to be careful not to focus on error correction to the detriment of communication and confidence building. Teachers need to let students know when they are making errors so that they can work on improving. Teachers also need to build students' confidence in their ability to use the language by focusing on the content of their communication rather than the grammatical form.

Teachers can use error correction to support language acquisition, and avoid using it in ways that undermine students' desire to communicate in the language, by taking cues from context.

When students are doing structured output activities that focus on development of new language skills, the teacher should use error correction to guide them. For example: Student: I buy a new car yesterday. Teacher: You bought a new car yesterday. Remember, the past tense of buy is bought.

When students are engaged in communicative activities, the teacher should correct errors only if they interfere with comprehensibility. It is appropriate to respond using correct forms, but without stressing them. For example: Student (greeting teacher): I buy a new car yesterday! Teacher: You bought a new car? That's exciting! What kind?

Instead of being the dominating authority in the classroom, the teacher facilitates the communicative process among all the learners and between the students and the various tasks, giving guidance and advice when necessary. Furthermore, teachers act as independent participants within the learning-teaching group. Any unnecessary intervention on the teacher’s part may prevent learners from becoming genuinely involved in the activities and thus hinder the development of their communicative skills.

However, this does not mean that once a teaching activity is in progress, the teacher should become a passive observer. It is still the teacher’s obligation to develop the students’ potential through external direction. Although the teacher may be nondirective in general, it is still the teacher’s responsibility to recognize the distinctive qualities in the students and to help the students develop those qualities.

6. No control or simplification of the material. In the classroom, we often use graded or simplified materials as prompts for communicative activities. These will not be available in the real world.

It is understandable that not all classroom teaching activities have to be real-life. Some obviously non-communicative class activities have been found to be really useful for language learning. For instance, many students find exercises which require them to imitate sounds and structure of the language very helpful. Such exercises are drills – they can be useful for learning, but they are not themselves communicative.

Other non-communicative exercises may also be useful: dictation, grammatical explanations, and accuracy exercises such as blank-filling and sentence completion. Very often too, such activities may be necessary because of examination styles: many examinations test both the students’ ability to carry out various functions in the language, and their knowledge of the language as a system.

Communicative exercises develop students’ communicative competence, while traditional exercises develop linguistic competence. The relation between linguistic competence and communicative competence also is important. At the foundation stage, linguistic competence is the spontaneous, flexible, and correct manipulation of the language system. Communicative competence involves principles of appropriateness and a readiness on the part of the learner to use relevant strategies in coping with certain language situations. Linguistic competence, then, is the basis of communicative competence. Without linguistic competence, there is no communicative competence. But communicative competence does not automatically result from linguistic competence. Forms of classroom activities such as role-playing, simulations, and real-life interactions should be used to provide as much practice as possible for students to develop communicative competence while practicing linguistic competence.

In contemporary English teaching, the teacher’s function should become less dominant than before, but no less important. For example, his/her role as an independent participant within the learning-teaching group is closely related to the objective of his/her role as communicative activator. These roles include a set of secondary roles for the teacher: first, as an organizer of resources and as a resource; and second, as a guide and manager of activities. A third role for the teacher is that of researcher and learner, with much to contribute in terms of appropriate knowledge, abilities, and actual and observed experience in the nature of learning (Breen and Candlin 1980).

Here we return to the idea of importance of choosing a right book for classroom use. Considering all mentioned above the teacher’s task is

- assessing the students’ aims, the learning styles, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and their weaknesses;

- deciding what methods and materials are most appropriate, given the aims of the syllabus;

- deciding whether to use, adapt, replace, omit or supplement the methods and materials used in the book.

Sometimes, of course, the teachers have no choice. They have to use a book that someone else has chosen. This is fine if the book is good. But when the teacher thinks it isn’t, then sooner or later, he will have to answer the question: “What have you got against it? Have you got any better ideas as to what book we should use?”

Of course, the perfect book does not exist. But the best book available for the certain teacher and his students certainly does. Such a book should satisfy three conditions:

- it should suit the needs, interests and abilities of the students;

- it should suit the teacher. (the best book in the world will not work in the classroom if the teacher has good reasons for disliking it)

- the textbook must meet the needs of official teaching syllabuses or examinations.

Before the teacher starts using a book, it should be evaluated on some sensible, principled basis. This process of evaluation is the first step towards deciding how a book should be most profitably used in the classroom and how it should be adopted.

There are three stages in the process of textbook evaluation: initial evaluation, detailed evaluation and in-use evaluation. On initial evaluation the teacher needs to asses whether a textbook is likely to be worth looking at more closely. At this stage the teacher filters out obviously unsuitable materials. And at this stage it is very important to avoid making judgments that are too hasty, particularly if the textbook appears to be rather unusual in its format.

It is not easy to evaluate a book in a short time. One of the ways to decide whether the textbook is worth looking at more closely is to apply the “CATALYST” test (Communicative? Aims? Teachability? Available Add-on? Level? Your impression? Student interest? Tried and tested?). A textbook should act as a catalyst in the classroom: it should facilitate change. The words in the mnemonic represent the key questions the teachers should ask themselves:

- Communicative? Is the book communicative? Will the students be able to use the language to communicate as a result of using this book? May teachers think this question to be fundamental.

- Aims? Does it fit in with our aim sand objectives? These may be laid down by the authorities, or devised by ourselves.

- Teachable? Does the course seem teachable? Does it seem reasonably easy to use, well-organized, easy to find your way around?

- Available add-ons? Are there any useful “add-ons” – additional materials such as teacher’s books, tapes, workbooks, etc? if so, are they available?

- Level? Does the level seem all right?

- Your impression? What is your overall impression of the course?

- Student interest? Are your students likely to find the book interesting?

- Tried and tested? Has the course been tried and tested in real classrooms? Where? By whom? What were the results? How do you know?

Once the CATALYST test was applied and the teacher decided that the book will do, then it is time to decide how well it will do, and whether it is more or less suitable than other books that are available. It would be very appropriate to try the course out. This is what many language schools do. After piloting a new course for a term or two, they then decide whether to adopt it or not.

However, piloting new materials is not always possible. Many teachers have to rely on their own judgment in choosing new materials. At the stage of detailed evaluation the teacher is to assess the book against more specific questions: is the book culturally acceptable? Are there enough authentic materials, so that the students can see that the book is relevant to real life? Does it achieve an acceptable balance between knowledge about the language, and practice in using the language?

Once the book was adopted, it is necessary to reevaluate it constantly. No preliminary evaluation can give a conclusive answer to the final test: does it work in the classroom?

Thus, the main points of the article are the following:

- The results of teaching in many cases are pre-determined by the book used for classroom teaching;

- Traditional textbooks help to develop language competence within students, while communicative textbooks contribute to students’ communicative competence;

- Communicative competence (fluency) cannot be achieved without language competence (accuracy), consequently both traditional and communicative types of exercises are important for language learning;

- Communicative exercises require from a teacher revision of his/her role in class;

- A textbook should catalyze the communicative process in class, so it should meet certain requirements and be evaluated prior, during and after being in use.

REFERENCES

1. Byrd, P., 1998, “Grammar in the foreign language classroom: Making principled choices”, Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages, Grace Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

2. Grant, N., 1987. Making the Most of Your Textbook. London; New York : Longman.

3. Zhenhui, R., 1999, “Modern Vs. Traditional” English Teaching Forum Online, vol. 137, no. 3, retrieved from http://exchanges.state.gov/ on January 20, 2007.



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007


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