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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010

Автор: Жаксыбаева Ж. Ж.

The subject of the present paper is an overview of main problems connected with teaching English at technical university. Nowadays it is still urgent to discuss what to teach and how to teach a foreign language taking into account the objective social and professional needs of future specialists in our country. Besides businessmen, tradesmen, engineers, scientists and scholars all over the world must know English because it is the international means of exchanging information and experience.

The situation with foreign language teaching in Kazakhstan Universities is in some ways different from that of many European countries. In Kazakhstan, students of all specialties have foreign languages on the curricula as an obligatory subject for one or two years out of the average four years of the full course. Thus, our students not only want to learn foreign languages, but also have to learn them because the students of any specialties must learn a foreign language as a part of their syllabus and as a necessary part of the state test at the second year of their studies.

At the beginning of the university course of foreign language teaching it is necessary to formulate its actual – and realistic aims and tasks. Students must know from the start what variety of the foreign language, and to what extent, they are going to master it. Many people get bitterly disappointed and lose interest in foreign language studies because they were not duly informed that it is not possible in the limited period of learning 2-4 hours for week for 1-2 years – to master a foreign language, to acquire all the various skills: reading special literature, newspapers, fiction, writing scientific papers, understanding the lyrics of songs, everyday speech, etc.

The tasks of teaching English must be formulated from the very beginning. In the universities programs these tasks are very humble: to teach students English, i.e. as an actual means of communication among specialists of different countries, meaning both – oral and written kinds of communication. In other words, teaching English at technical university is oriented towards mastering skills for professional communication.

As H. Radford points out the structure and content of language curricula, when modern languages were first introduced into universities, were much influenced by the need to achieve academic rEnglishectability (Radford, 1985). And still, it is the most frequent concept of teaching ENGLISH in universities. But the ability to speak the language is not emphasized as much as the ability to write, and, above all, the ability to read the language. Language curricula is therefore dominated by the systematic study of grammar, the regular carrying out of translation exercises into and out of language, the close study of set literary and science texts, the broad study of philological studies of the language (Maddock, 1994).

Another difficulty while teaching English at technical university is that the first-year students have different language background. From my point of view, the best way out in such situation is a modular type of English course curricula structure, but this is not quite acceptable in our universities because this type of curricula demands great reconstructions in a university programs on the whole. What we can really do is to introduce diagnostic tests followed by an introductory English course if there is a need for students. The goal of the diagnostic test is to check students’ knowledge in English and to see if students are ready to take on a Basic Course of English. The objects of test are lexical, grammatical skills.

Another important aspect to be taken into consideration is distinguishing between passive, aimed at recognition (reading, comprehension) and active, aimed at production (speaking, writing) forms of language use. The distinction is essential because these two forms require different means and methods of teaching and – most importantly – different teaching materials (S. Ter-Minasova, 1994).

Teaching methods must be learner oriented. In other words, English is concerned, first and foremost, with satisfying the real needs of the students and not with revealing the knowledge of the teacher. The intensive and efficient teaching of grammar, vocabulary, translation, etc. must be scientifically grounded and concentrate only on those items which students actually need for the purposes specified at the beginning of the university course. This is an important statement which in theory is universally accepted but in practice is hardly ever followed.

The primary goal of the teaching technical English course is to teach professional communicative competence that is the ability to communicate in English according to the situation, purpose and specific roles of the participants. The course builds on and extends the foundations for accurate communication. It extends the learner’s grammatical, lexical and functional skills (Homutova, 1999).

Professional communication may be taught by making up patterns of communicative process. It is based on a situation, as the whole communicative process is actually a continues dynamic series of changing situations (Zykova, 1999).

Communicative situation is a dynamic system of interacting objective and subjective factors, involving a person in communication and defining his speech behavior within a single communication act. There is a great need in making up typical communicative situations, covering the part of the professional communication domain that has not been considered yet, in selecting language and speech patterns to provide communication in typical situations, in constructing a complex of exercise base on the methods of teaching foreign language. While arranging teaching material it is necessary to pay special attention to the common situations and the way to define their list. In our case these situations are included mainly in the professional communication domain. In general oral communication domain is an aggregate of communicative situations being characterized by similar speech behavior, relations between the communicants and conditions. Professional communication domain is a complex of communicative situations, covering professional activities. This sphere comes into contact with the service domain, sociocultural domain and administrative and cultural domain, as a real communication of specialists cannot be limited by the discussion of purely professional problems. However, professional domain prevails.

Another problem of teaching English is vocabulary from the general and professional points of view. Vocabulary plays a key role in teaching foreign languages in general and in professional course in particular. Teaching English implies teaching the vocabulary of a special text. However, there are no easy points as far as living human languages concerned. Indeed, the vocabulary of a special text consists of three strata, three layers: general words, scientific words and terms. Basic general words must have been learnt before the University. Terms are the gist, the essence of the specialty and are usually better known by students than by teachers. The emphasis, consequently, is on the scientific vocabulary which is, as it were, the skeleton of every special text. However, the general vocabulary is never taught properly at school and has to be acquired at the University level, specialty oriented English now is the demand for so-called colloquial language has become so great since the prospects of direct, live contracts with foreigners have become so real. This is one more problem to think about. A very important point in English course is the actual words to be studied, the topics to be discussed and learnt, the thematic choice of language to be activated. The next component of technical English course is Basic Grammar. Grammar is seen as an important component of communicative competence. The Basic grammar for the English course must be developed on the basis of statistical research and be represented by most frequent communicative grammatical structures and units which are approached functionally (sentence structure, predicate, subject, attribute, etc.) rather than traditionally/ morphologically. However, very often grammar is taught par excellence, in its full splendor, regardless of the actual aims of teaching, of the actual skills to be acquired. The difference between seeing a difficult grammatical form in the text and actually using it is often disregarded and different grammar points are taught with equal enthusiasm. Teaching communication for special purposes must be based on the previous linguistic analysis of special texts resulting in recommendations for teaching those grammar forms and structures which are the most characteristic of these texts. Another urgent problem is a good grammar book. Most textbooks repeat the same definitions which are colorless and difficult to understand because they are “universal”, i.e. written regardless of the nationality of the learner. Grammar books must take into account on the one hand the peculiarities of the English in question, and, on the other, the characteristic features of the grammar of the student’s mother tongue. For example, what is difficult about the English language for Russians may be easy for Italians and vice versa.

Another problem concerned teaching English is connected with the teaching material arrangement. According to S. Ter-Minasova, the teaching material for developing passive skills is a topical informative text supplied with the learner’s commentary. The teaching material which may be recommended for developing active skills is a modeled text that is a text which, by method of analysis through synthesis, is shaped into such a perfect, pure, standard form that it can be safely reproduced by a foreign learner.

And the last aspect – psychological. Learning a foreign language, like no other subject, requires a special psychological approach, the atmosphere of relaxation, trust even love and faith. Indeed, learning a strange language, a strange world picture, strange mentality is a difficult psychological barrier for many learners. Teaching foreign languages to university students of non-philological specialties is complicated by the fact that for these students a foreign language is not a part of the special, professional education, which may result in a lack of motivation. Another point to remember while teaching English nowadays is that it is necessary to take into account changes in the nature of students’ need and the context in which they live, study and work. In any case the syllabus of English must improve the students’ skills in all the aspects of language activities. The goal is the development of professional qualifications, for practical training abroad, for work in joint ventures, etc. To make good progress, a student has to practice various language activities, related to reception, production, interaction, each of these types of activity being possible in oral or written form, or both. These language activities are connected with very diverse fields, but, considering language learning at university, may be classified into four main spheres: the public sphere, the personal sphere, the educational sphere, and the occupational sphere.

Each act of language use should be set in the context of a particular situation within one of the spheres in which a person’s social life is organized. The number of possible spheres is indeterminate. It may be useful to distinguish between:

- the personal sphere centered on home life, family and friends;

- the public sphere in which the person concerned acts as a member of the general public engaged in transactions of various kinds;

- the education sphere in which the person is involved in organized learning within an educational institution;

- the vocational sphere which will be concerned with the person’s job or profession.

In my point of view, the language learning process at university should be more focused on the public sphere in the first semester and on the educational and vocational spheres in the second and/or third semesters, because these are related to the future specialists’ needs. In these spheres the situations which arise should be described in terms of:

- the locations in which they occur;

- the institutions, the structure and the procedures which can normally be controlled;

- the persons involved in the relations with the learner;

- the events that take place;

- the actions of persons involved.

There are some possible situational categories, classified according to the spheres which should be taken into consideration in teaching technical English at the university. They are shown in Table 1 – Table 3.

Communicative activities (productive: speaking, writing; receptive: listening, reading; interactive: oral interaction, written interaction), spoken and written texts should promote the learner’s motivation; learning should stimulate their interest and sensitivity to the world around them and to their future profession. Thus, developing a course in English for technical students must result in a course that covers the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening with particular emphasis on reading and writing. The technical English course must be built on and extend the foundations for accurate communication. It must extend the learner’s grammatical, lexical and functional skills and cover the public, educational and occupational skills. As a model it should include Basic Learner’s Vocabulary, Basic Grammar, Diagnostic Test, Introductory course, Achievement Tests to Introductory Course, Student’s Book, Teacher’s Manual, Tests to Student’s Book, Workbook, Sci-Tech Text Reader, Audio-Visual Aids and Final Tests.

Reading and Translating Strategies, most frequent logical and semantic connectives of different types of texts. The active reading skills will be needed and used in technical English courses in transition form from the “learning to learn” stage to the “reading to learn” stage, and later the learners will use them in their career and life to produce accurate, thoughtful, and informed English responses to what they have read.


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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010

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