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Intensive English Progress Report: The Importance of Interactive Speaking Confidence and Oral Fluency Comfort

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This paper examines the author's non-complex, yet beneficial, free-speaking in-class activity designed for his Intensive English classes at Kwansei Gakuin University's Language Center. Firstly, the importance of, and need for, oral fluency development and interactional speaking skills in Japanese EFL classrooms is explained through an examination of literature on this topic. Next, student survey results, which reveal an authentic need for EFL teachers to primarily focus on in-class speaking activities due to a deficiency in time spent speaking English in Japanese high school English classes, are used to support the author's approach to, and method of, teaching speaking. Additional student survey results identify speaking and communicating as the most popular English skills students want to improve during their Intensive English integrated skills course. Lastly, the author will explain his free-speaking activity and conclude by discussing post semester feedback questionnaire analysis results which suggest that the free-speaking activity not only successfully promoted effective oral fluency development, but also improved students' English interactional speaking confidence and phatic conversational comfort.
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Intensive English Progress Report : The
Importance of Interactive Speaking Confidence
and Oral Fluency Comfort
journal or
publication title Annual Research Report of the Language Center
number 22
page range 3-23
year 2019-03
URL http://hdl.handle.net/10236/00027666
Intensive English Progress Report: The Importance
of Interactive Speaking Confidence and Oral
Fluency Comfort
Brian WOJTOWICZ
This paper examines the author’s non-complex, yet beneficial,
free-speaking in-class activity designed for his Intensive
English classes at Kwansei Gakuin University’s Language
Center. Firstly, the importance of, and need for, oral fluency
development and interactional speaking skills in Japanese EFL
classrooms is explained through an examination of literature on
this topic. Next, student survey results, which reveal an
authentic need for EFL teachers to primarily focus on in-class
speaking activities due to a deficiency in time spent speaking
English in Japanese high school English classes, are used to
support the author’s approach to, and method of, teaching
speaking. Additional student survey results identify speaking
and communicating as the most popular English skills students
want to improve during their Intensive English integrated skills
course. Lastly, the author will explain his free-speaking activity
and conclude by discussing post semester feedback
questionnaire analysis results which suggest that the free-
speaking activity not only successfully promoted effective oral
fluency development, but also improved students’ English
interactional speaking confidence and phatic conversational
comfort.
The Intensive English course at Kwansei Gakuin University’s Language
Center is unique in that it offers groups of about twenty-five students English
classes three times per week for two semesters. These classes are streamed and
students are placed together according to TOEIC placement test scores so that
all students in any given class learn English with students having similar
proficiency levels. This course is promoted as an integrated skills course in an
all English teaching and learning environment. Each teacher individually
designs their own class syllabus without any external institutional instruction,
restrictions, influence, or constraints. Even though the course focuses on
improving reading, writing, listening, and speaking, the author of this paper has
chosen to primarily focus on speaking, and more specifically, oral fluency
―3―
development and interactive speaking skills. Speaking is not only often regarded
by teachers as being a prominently weaker area of English proficiency for
Japanese EFL students, but it also appears to be a commonly underdeveloped
skill several students desire to improve in the most, as based on the student
survey results discussed herein. This paper explains the author’s opinion that the
Intensive English course optimally benefits students when it is designed with a
focus on promoting oral fluency development tasks with an emphasis on
teaching students about interactive speaking techniques which might result in
students being better able to understand the importance of phatic
communication skills associated with interactive speaking and oral fluency.
Consequently, it is hoped that students, upon completion of their Intensive
English course, will be able to understand and use these newly learned
communicative conversational English speaking skills and techniques.
BACKGROUND
Even though, in Japan, communicative language teaching (CLT)
methods were implemented in the national curriculum at secondary school level
almost two decades ago (Butler & Iino, 2005; Tahira, 2012), it is common for
students in Japanese high school and university EFL classes to remain passive
or silent and be unable to communicatively interact when prompted to speak in
English both inside and outside of the EFL classroom (Campbell-Larsen, 2013;
Campbell-Larsen & Romney, 2017; Harumi, 2001; Harumi, 2010; Onoda, 2004;
Taguchi, 2005; Talandis Jr., 2017). Therefore, prioritizing an emphasis on
phatic conversation skills in relation to interactive speaking, and techniques
commonly associated with oral fluency development might be more beneficial
for students enrolled in university integrated skills English language classes in
Japan.
Identifying and teaching speaking functions
What exactly is meant by teaching Speaking? There are innumerable
reasons to speak to someone and infinite possible contextual situations to
consider (Luoma, 2004). The following three main functions of speaking, as
identified by Richards (2009), help to narrowly categorize the functions of
speaking and will be specifically referred to throughout this paper:
talk as transaction
talk as performance
talk as interaction
All three of these speaking function categories are important for EFL learners to
understand and educating students about the different functions of speaking is
important for successful and balanced spoken language acquisition. Students
need to understand the reasons why they are learning particular speaking tasks
and skills their teachers rationally and specifically choose for them to focus on
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in the EFL classroom. Understanding the purpose of classroom tasks is
important and it is beneficial for learner development if learners understand “the
link between classroom practice and learning needs” (Cotterall, 1995, p. 224).
Talk as transaction
Talk as transaction focuses on “making oneself understood clearly and
accurately, rather than the participants and how they interact socially with each
other” (Richards, 2009, p. 21). Talk as transaction most commonly relates to
EFL learning activities that are task-based or role-play in style since talk as
transaction emphasizes information exchanges or transaction completion
attempts where a specific outcome is sought and expected. Example activities
include: ordering food in a restaurant, checking-in at a hotel, asking someone
the time, doctor consultations, and so on.
Talk as performance
Talk as performance is primarily speaking in public where information
is transmitted to an audience and is often a monologue, and resembles written
language more than the other two functions of speaking (Richards, 2009). The
focus is on both the message and the audience but the information exchange is
usually one way. The most common examples are public announcements,
speeches, and presentations. Another common feature of talk as performance is
that the spoken output produced is usually prepared beforehand, pre-written, and
rehearsed (Campbell-Larsen & Romney, 2017). Talk as performance is a
common form of assessment in EFL classes in the form of reports, presentations,
speeches, and even debates.
Talk as Interaction
Talk as interaction is basically casual or formal conversation with a
social function. There is an emphasis on feeling comfortable where speakers can
focus more on “how they wish to present themselves to each other than on the
message” (Richards, 2009, p. 19). Skills associated with successful talk as
interaction include: “opening and closing conversations; choosing topics;
making small-talk; joking; recounting personal incidents and experiences; turn-
taking; using adjacency pairs; interrupting; reacting to others; using an
appropriate style of speaking” (Richards, 2009, p. 20). Talk as interaction is
phatic in nature and also constitutes the majority of time spent by people
speaking English communicatively on a daily basis (Campbell-Larsen &
Romney, 2017).
Oral fluency
Rossiter, Derwing, Manimtim, & Thompson’s (2010) research into EFL
textbook tasks not only found that there was a noticeable lack of proper oral
fluency tasks in ESL textbooks, but they also explained how oral fluency can be
enhanced through tasks that focus on:
consciousness-raising
rehearsal or repetition
―5―
formulaic sequences
use of discourse markers
communicative free-production
Therefore, in theory, by integrating all five of these aspects in classroom
speaking tasks, oral fluency should improve. The free-speaking activity
discussed later in this paper integrates all five of these oral fluency task
components and might be a contributing factor in the activity’s success with the
Intensive English students further developing their oral fluency skills. For
additional evidence of the importance of self-designing activities for improving
oral fluency tasks see Diepenbroek & Derwing (2013); Nation (1989); Ogura
(2008); Zhang (2009).
Trying to define oral fluency is, in itself, a daunting task due to the
abundance of definitions and explanations that currently exist (Hieke, 1985)
with no two being exactly identical. Since consciousness raising is an integral
part of oral fluency task design, explaining oral fluency to students is necessary.
The term oral fluency taught to students in their Intensive English class is a
definition by Hasselgreen (2004) since her definition pertains specifically to
second language learner fluency. Hasselgreen (2004) defines L2 oral fluency as
the:
ability to contribute to what a listener, proficient in the language, would
normally perceive as coherent speech, which can be understood without
undue strain, and is carried out at a comfortable pace, not being
disjointed or disrupted by excessive hesitation. (p. 184)
Her definition allows students to understand the importance of feeling
comfortable while speaking English as a foreign language and this is essential
since many Japanese learners of English do not feel comfortable or confident
while engaged in English conversation both inside and outside the English
language classroom.
Harumi (2001) notes that in Japan both monolingual and multilingual
classroom settings do not properly prepare students for being proficient
participants in English conversations in authentic social situations outside of the
classroom even after numerous years of learning the language. Lack of
confidence and inability to progress beyond an orientation to grammatical
perfection expectations are often identified as primary reasons English learners
in Japan do not feel comfortable speaking English with native English speakers.
Harumi (2010) suggests that both students and teachers in Japan are aware of
the existing expansive gap between “linguistic knowledge and oral skills” (p.
263) and she believes that certain techniques like teaching students about fillers,
predetermined useful phrases, and questioning technique awareness; which are
similar to some of the oral fluency task traits identified by Rossiter et al. (2010),
―6―
such as discourse markers, formulaic sequences, consciousness raising, and
repetition and rehearsal; could help learners communicate more confidently and
comfortably in English.
Onoda’s (2014) claim that, “despite promotion of communicative
language teaching techniques, oral fluency development has virtually been
ignored in Japanese secondary and university-level English education” (p. 121),
further supports the often held opinion that Japanese students are not speaking
English in their English classes. There are some legitimate reasons, not entirely
the fault of individual teachers, for limiting speaking time due to conceptual
constraints (traditional teaching learning style complications), classroom-level
constraints (lack of nonnative teacher confidence), and societal-institutional
level constraints (teaching to the entrance exams and lack of opportunity to
speak English outside the classroom) (Butler, 2011). However, spending little to
no class time speaking the language being taught seems counterproductive and a
futile way to learn anything, let alone a language.
Literature on the subject of student English speaking time in Japanese
EFL classes appears to support Talandis Jr.’s explicit claim that “Japanese
English classes actually contain precious little spoken English” (2017, p. 11).
This, unfortunately, runs counter to established language-learning methods and
approaches. Regardless of institutional or societal constraints, this problematic
situation urgently needs to change if Japanese learners of English are to ever be
better able to communicate socially and interactively in a global community
outside of the EFL classroom. A lack of class time devoted to students speaking
in English is not only perturbing for many EFL teachers, but it also appears to
be an evident realization and concern for students as well, as the following
Needs Assessment information reveals.
NEEDS ASSESSMENT
High school English speaking time in Japan
To investigate the previously mentioned claims the author conducted a
survey asking Japanese university students to answer one simple question: “In
your previous English class in high school, on average, how much time per
class was spent speaking in English”. Respondents needed to select one choice
from the following list: a) None, b) Less than 5 mins, c) 5 – 10 mins, d) 10 – 15
mins, e) 15 – 20 mins, f) 20 – 30 mins, g) 30 – 40 mins, h) 40 – 50 mins, i) 50 –
60 mins, j) over 60 mins. From April 2016 up until November 2018, 1,901 first-
year Japanese university students have answered this survey question.
Respondents have mostly been from the Intensive English classes and the lower
level Intro classes and all attended the same private university in Hyogo, Japan.
Students’ English level proficiency scores, as calculated by TOEIC placement
test results, range drastically from beginner, at around 250, up to advanced, at
over 900. Table 1 shows the results.
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TABLE 1
In Class Speaking Time during High School
Speaking
Time in
Minutes
None
5 or less
5-10
10-15
15-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
Over 60
Total
Number of
Students 280 384 406 283 166 135 95 76 45 31 1,901
Percentage
(%) 15 20 21 15 9 7 5 4 2 2 100
The fact that almost 300 students claimed to have never spoken in
English during their high school English classes seems deeply troubling. Even
though much of the class time in high school English classes is realistically
spent on entrance exam preparation (Taguchi, 2005; Talandis Jr., 2017;
Thompson & Yanigita, 2017), students must be given some class time to use
and speak English in order to have more speaking confidence and feel more
comfortable speaking in English since it has been documented that self-
confidence influences improved second language speaking performance
(MacIntyre, Clement, Dornyei, & Noels, 1998; MacIntyre, Noels, & Clement,
1997; Park & Lee, 2005; Wojtowicz, 2017). With just under 60% of nearly
2000 first-year university students saying that they probably spent less than 10
minutes, on average, during their high school English classes, actually speaking
English, the author believes the survey results further support his belief that
there is a desperate need for university English classes in Japan to focus
primarily on speaking and give students the majority of class time to actually
speak, communicate, and interact in English.
Intensive English student needs
Survey results from a survey given to 50 Intensive English students
from IE 9 and IE 11 at the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester show that
students themselves seem to also want to spend more time speaking English
during class. Students were asked to identify their self-perceived English ability
strengths and weaknesses, as well as their personal English ability improvement
goals specifically for the Intensive English course, and finally identify
motivational factors for choosing to enroll in the Intensive English course.
There was no list to make selections from, but rather, the four questions were
open-response. The total responses do not evenly add up to 50 for each question
since students could identify more than one ability or reason in their answers to
the questions. Table 2 shows the survey results.
―8―
Table 2
Intensive English Fall 2017 Beginning of Semester Survey Results
Ability Strengths Weakness Improvement
Goals
Motivational
Factors
Speaking 7 29 34 31
Communication NA NA 15 NA
Listening 23 14 8 1
Reading 11 4 3 NA
Vocabulary 3 18 6 NA
Writing 2 9 1 NA
Pronunciation 2 1 3 NA
Gestures 2 NA NA NA
Grammar 1 4 3 NA
Confidence NA 2 NA 4
Totals 51 81 73 36
These survey results clearly show that many students identified
speaking as a weak area they desired to strengthen because it was most often
identified as a course improvement goal. Almost all 50 students mentioned
either speaking or communication as an area they hoped to improve by taking
the Intensive English class and 86% of the comments about motivational factors
for choosing the Intensive English course were to specifically use English for
speaking and communicating; furthermore, many comments written for this
question mentioned a hope to be more confident speaking to native English
speakers outside of the classroom while traveling or studying abroad.
Interestingly, students self-identified many more weaknesses than strengths
which suggests a pre-existing lack of self-confidence in their overall English
abilities; however, this can only be assumed and not be interpreted as fact since
language learners often underestimate or overestimate their language abilities
for self-evaluative purposes (MacIntyre, Noels, & Clement, 1997).
Results of this survey were somewhat similar to student questionnaire
responses from Harumi’s (2010) research which asked just under 200 EFL
students in Japan to self-evaluate their English proficiency skills in reading,
―9―
writing, listening, and speaking. She found that students were less confident in
their speaking ability then their reading, writing, and listening abilities.
OBJECTIVES AND METHOD
Aim
The aim of this report is to explain how the author designed a free-
speaking activity for an Intensive English course to specifically help improve
his students’ interactional speaking confidence and oral fluency comfort.
Course details and participants (IE 9/39 and IE 11/41)
The students enrolled in the Intensive English classes (sections 9/39 and
11/41) were Japanese (L1) native speakers studying English (L2) as a foreign
language. Classes met for three ninety-minute lessons per week, for a total of 84
lessons in twenty-eight weeks over two semesters. The two classes were
streamed according to the results of TOEIC proficiency tests and the TOEIC
score range was between 560 and 630 (about CEFR Mid-High B1 to Low B2
levels). The course began in the Fall 2017 semester and both classes (IE 9 and
IE 11) had 25 enrolled students. The course concluded at the end of the Spring
2018 semester and both classes (IE 39 and IE 41) had 24 students each in the
Spring 2018 semester. The students were the same both semesters. Each class
had one less student in the Spring 2018 semester due to both absent students
studying abroad.
Classroom practice: Free-speaking
From the three functional genres of speaking (talk as interaction, talk as
transaction, talk as performance), teachers need to decide which will receive the
greatest focus in their class activities. Two efficient ways of identifying student
needs is through learner observation and questionnaires (Tsang & Wong, 2002).
The student responses to the two survey questionnaires conducted at the
beginning of the Intensive English classes, which were previously discussed
herein, determined that students in fact not only need to focus on speaking, but
also want to speak English for casual communicative purposes. Therefore, the
author decided to focus a majority of class time on the talk as interaction
function of speaking and designed the free-speaking activity to promote
conversation for casual social purposes. The free-speaking activity was also
designed to allow the teacher to prioritize learner observation immediately at the
onset on the course and allow him to identify areas students needed
improvement in or skills and techniques that were completely absent from their
speaking performances.
The free-speaking activity designed by the author can be described as
just having students engage in phatic conversation without any instruction and
for no assessment purpose immediately from the first semester’s initial class.
Students self-select their speaking partners and arrange themselves in pairs or
small groups. They are given absolutely no topics and all speaking is initiated,
generated, and conducted by the students. For the first three to four weeks,
―10―
students spend anywhere from twenty to sixty minutes engaged in this free-
speaking activity each class. The sheer amount of time students spend actively
participating in free-speaking is itself an oral fluency development benefit since
any type of oral fluency task repetition will increase oral performance and
language output production (Ahmadian & Tavakoli, 2010; Bygate, 2001;
Rossiter et al., 2010).
While students are free-speaking, the teacher listens for not only what is
verbally produced, but more importantly, what is not being said or done in
accordance to the list of skills attributed to talk as interaction (Richards, 2009),
as previously identified in the Background section above. After the initial month,
the free-speaking activity is then augmented by the teacher so that students are
consciously focusing on improving the interactive speaking skills the teacher
deems most necessary for those particular students, such as knowledge and use
of discourse markers, question asking techniques, turn taking practices, self-
selecting and changing topics, and so on. The free-speaking environment
remains mostly the same (no topics given and no error correction) throughout
the entire year, but some variables might be augmented as deemed necessary by
the teacher, such as partner allocation or time restriction.
During the first three to four weeks of free-speaking, it is essential that
the teacher refrains from getting involved in the conversations as an error
corrector since teacher turn-taking intervention often results in being counter-
productive in improving oral fluency (Walsh, 2002). The L2 speaker’s struggle
through awkward silence is integral to advancing interactional speaking abilities
and in his study of teacher talk in the ESL classroom, Walsh (2002) also
explains that teacher silence in the language learning classroom is necessary,
and not just in refraining from error correction interjection, but also in filling
silences with any form of teacher speak:
Teachers need to be discouraged from always ‘filling in the gaps’ in the
discourse of the EFL classroom. By doing so, they may be creating a
smooth-flowing exchange, but reducing opportunities for interactional
adjustments and learning potential. (p. 20)
In the Intensive English free-speaking activity the teacher acts more like a
facilitator rather than an instructor since one of the goals of this free-speaking
activity is creating a phatic conversation environment with a comfortable and
casual atmosphere so students can hopefully become more self-confident while
speaking English.
According to Seedhouse (1996), creating authentic natural conversation
in a learning environment is unrealistic since talk is taking place in an
institutional setting for institutional purposes. Even though, in theory,
conversation cannot occur in a classroom, the author believes free interactive
conversation in an EFL classroom is possible when:
―11―
speaking participants and turns are unrestricted
topics are self-selected and negotiated
the teacher is an equal participant or completely uninvolved
participants are not assessed
Therefore, two uncompromising variables of the free-speaking activity
throughout the entire course were no topics given and no direct assessment
component assigned. The author strongly believes that the casual atmosphere
created by the lengthy initial free-speaking activity sessions better helped the
students feel comfortable and confident when engaged in conversation for social
purposes even though the conversations occurred in an institutional setting.
Analysis
Success of the free-speaking activity was gauged by interpretation of
three questions from two different student questionnaires administered by the
teacher at the end of the year-long Intensive English course. Specifics of all
three questions are outlined in the following Results and Discussion section of
this paper. Two of the three questions were closed-response and one was open-
response. The open-response question asked was a broad open question,
because they “allow for a deeper exploration of one issue, and they…prompt the
respondent to write a succinct answer of more than a phrase and up to a
paragraph” (Brown, 2009, p. 203). Even though “open-response items are
relatively difficult to analyze and interpret” (Brown, 2009, p. 211), focusing on
broad open-response question answers permitted the author to analyze the data
specifically in relation to students self-identifying the free-speaking activity as
being responsible for improving oral fluency comfort and interactional speaking
confidence.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Questionnaire One: Questions One and Two
At the conclusion of the Intensive English course, students completed
two questionnaires. The first, which was correctly completed and submitted by
44 of the 48 students, was entitled “IE End of Spring Semester Survey 2018”
and contained the first two questions discussed herein. The first question
analyzed asked students “How well do you think you improved in each area
after finishing your IE English course?” in relation to the following common
and course-specific L2 language learning categories: A) speaking confidence, B)
speaking ability, C) vocabulary, D) grammar, E) use and knowledge of
discourse markers, F) reading skills, G) presentation skills, H) listening skills,
I) writing skills, J) conversational English communicative ability, and K) asking
and answering detailed multi-part discussion questions. Students answered the
question for self-evaluation interests by using a Likert scale from 1 to 10, where
1 signified “No” improvement and 10 suggested “Extremely” improved. Table 3
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shows the total average scores of all respondents for each skill area and ranks
them from most improved to least improved.
Table 3
IE End of Spring Semester Survey 2018: Most Improved Areas Ranking
Rank
Likert
Scale
(Mean)
Category Rank
Likert
Scale
(Mean)
Category
1. 7.94
J) conversational
English
communicative
ability
7. 6.86 B) speaking
ability
2. 7.80 H) listening skills 8. 6.60 F) reading skills
3. 7.71 E) use & knowledge
of discourse markers 9. 6.50 I) writing skills
4. 7.63
K) asking &
answering detailed
multi-part discussion
questions
10. 5.93 C) vocabulary
5. 7.62 G) presentation skills 11. 5.50 D) grammar
6. 7.11 A) speaking
confidence
The top four ranked improvement categories can all be legitimately
associated with the free-speaking activity. The top average ranked area of
improvement was J) conversational English communicative ability, which most
relates to the speaking function of talk as interaction; moreover, the third ranked
area, E) use & knowledge of discourse markers, and fourth, K) asking &
answering detailed multi-part discussion questions, both also relate to talk as
interaction and were skill areas that were identified by the author as weak or
absent from the initial free-speaking activity observations; and skills that
students focused on during lessons.
Discourse markers are not specifically identified in the talk as
interaction skills list identified by Richards (2009); however, they are a crucial
aspect of opening and closing conversations, choosing topics, and turn taking
since all three of these attributes of conversation naturally involve hesitation
marking for fluent conversation progression (Aijmer, 2011; Guilquin, 2008;
Hasselgreen, 2004; Schiffrin, 1987). Furthermore, these three talk as interaction
―13―
skills were specifically chosen by the author as skills students needed to be
taught about and then focused on by students during the free-speaking activity
for both Intensive English classes. K) asking and answering multi-part
questions was another skill the author specifically taught to both Intensive
English classes because question asking is important for talk as interaction
(Richards, 2009), and it was a skill observed by the author that the students
performed weakly and required assistance with improving.
The second highest ranked area, H) listening skills, may also be
attributed to having improved due to the free-speaking activity since no
traditional text listening style activities were conducted during any of the 84
Intensive English classes. Listening skills were never taught directly, but rather,
it is possible that improvements in listening could have occurred while students
were engaged in speaking during their Intensive English classes. Even though
not all listening took place during free-speaking, a substantial amount of class
time was used for free-speaking; therefore, the author believes this noticeable
improvement in listening by the students can be partially attributed to the free-
speaking activity.
The fifth ranked area, G) presentation skills identifies a talk as
performance speaking function. For the sixth and seventh rankings, A) speaking
confidence, and B) speaking ability, it is impossible to know which type of
speaking the students were considering when they replied to this question and
their answers could have taken into consideration all three functions of speaking
or any combination of the three. This is an unfortunate limitation to the analysis
of the responses. Interestingly though, the eighth through eleventh rankings
(reading skills, writing skills, vocabulary, grammar) are all categories not
typically associated with speaking activities. The author regards these results as
being supportive of his primary course goal to focus on developing oral fluency
and interactive speaking since, on average, students self-identified
improvements primarily in speaking based skills and abilities, according to their
self-evaluative survey question answers.
The second question examined from the “IE End of Spring Semester
Survey 2018” asked: “From the list of categories from the previous page (A –
K), what was the most important to you as an English language learner?”
Categories (A – K) were the same as in the previous question: A) speaking
confidence, B) speaking ability, C) vocabulary, D) grammar, E) use and
knowledge of discourse markers, F) reading skills, G) presentation skills, H)
listening skills, I) writing skills, J) conversational English communicative ability,
and K) asking and answering detailed multi-part discussion questions. Table 4
displays the results by ranking them from most selected to non-selected.
―14―
Table 4
IE End of Spring Semester Survey 2018: Most Important Areas Ranking
Rank
Total
Percent
(Number)
Category Rank
Total
Percent
(Number)
Category
1. 32%
(14)
J) conversational
English
communicative
ability
6. 5%
(2)
C)
vocabulary
2. 20%
(9)
B) speaking
ability 7. 2%
(1)
K) asking &
answering
detailed
multi-part
discussion
questions
3. 18%
(8)
A) speaking
confidence 8. 0% F) reading
skills
4. 11%
(5)
E) use &
knowledge of
discourse
markers
8. 0% I) writing
skills
5. 7%
(3)
G) presentation
skills 8. 0% D) grammar
6. 5%
(2)
H) listening
skills
Once again J) conversational English communicative ability was ranked
first and was unanimously chosen by the students as the most important aspect
of English language learning with 14 (32%) out of 44 learners choosing it from
the eleven possible categories. It is interesting how all top four ranked choices,
totaling 70% of all responses, were related to speaking; however, as with the
previous response analysis, no proven connection can be made between B)
speaking ability and A) speaking confidence and either talk as interaction or the
free-speaking activity, yet the author thinks it can be justifiably inferred.
However, J) conversational English communicative ability, again ranked first,
and E) use & knowledge of discourse markers, ranked fourth, and both can be
directly related to talk as interaction and the free-speaking activity as explained
in response to the first survey question.
These student self-evaluative results coincide with the Intensive English
Fall 2017 Beginning of Semester Survey Results (Table 2) that identified
speaking as the skill these Intensive English students most hoped to improve in
―15―
the Intensive English course. For some of those students who completed the
survey, they seemed to have achieved their goal of improving in some aspect of
English speaking proficiency and many still mainly consider speaking to be the
most important component of their English language abilities at the completion
of the Intensive English program.
Questionnaire Two: Question Three
The third and final question response discussed in this paper was from
the “Main IE Assignments Survey”, which was completed appropriately and
submitted by 44 of the enrolled 48 students. The question was open-response
style and prompted students to: “Write any positive or negative comments or
criticisms you had regarding any of the assignments or activities listed above or
any other activity or assignment you can think of that you did during your IE
class”. Activities students could have chosen to write about were: Individual
PowerPoint Presentation, PPT Presentation Video Self-Evaluation, Free-
speaking, Paired Conversation Video Self-Analysis Report, Self-Maintained
Vocabulary Book, Book Reports, Group Poster Presentation, Paragraph
Writing Work, Question Writing Activities, Teacher Chosen Topic Discussion
Activities, and English Central™. Since the question was open-response, a
majority of students wrote positively about multiple activities and their
comments identified several activities as being beneficial to their overall
improvement in English. The following discussion, however, focuses solely on
twenty-two student responses that specifically commented positively on the
free-speaking activity (see the Appendix for all twenty-two comments). The
free-speaking activity was not the only activity students attributed to helping
them improve their speaking ability, but it was mentioned the most.
Even though the end of semester questionnaire did not specifically ask
about the free-speaking activity in relation to improving oral fluency or
interactional speaking ability, several responses identified the free-speaking
activity as being important for students’ improvement as an English language
learner specifically in relation to feeling comfortable and confident speaking in
English. Seven students mentioned or suggested that the free-speaking activity
made them feel more confident or comfortable speaking English interactively.
Seven students commented that the free-speaking activity was beneficial for
improving their communicative English speaking ability. Six students used the
words “important”, “helpful” and “have a lot of meaning” to describe the free-
speaking activity in connection to their language learning. One student indicated
specifically that the free-speaking activity helped him to more comfortably
change topics while speaking (a direct talk as interaction skill). One person also
explained that the free-speaking activity allowed her to better use discourse
markers (a specific oral fluency enhancing technique). The positivity towards
the free-speaking activity reflected in some of the student responses is a
noticeable indication that many students regarded the free-speaking activity not
only as an enjoyable activity, but also as a helpful tool that caused some of them
―16―
to further develop as English speakers. Many of the open-response comments
revealed that some students believed they became more comfortable and
confident speaking English for phatic purposes during the free-speaking activity.
Similarly, in his research on talk as interaction with Japanese university
learners of English, Campbell-Larsen (2013, 2014) reported that when students
are engaged in regular and repetitively occurring “undirected, naturalistic,
spontaneous conversation” (2014, p. 195) where the students are not given any
topics for discussion, there are no specific assessment or goal established for the
speaking activity, and students self-select speaking partners, EFL students can
better develop natural phatic conversation skills. Campbell-Larsen’s research
into talk as interaction skill development for casual conversation purposes for
students engaged in regular topic-less in-class conversations also found that
after a year-long EFL course at a university in Japan, “the students were more
able to engage in conversation in a more naturalistic, confident and fluent
manner than at the beginning of the year” (2013, p. 41).
CONCLUSION
The author believes that the survey question results analysis for the
Needs Assessment section of this paper clearly reveal that speaking is not being
prioritized in many Japanese high school EFL classrooms, and that speaking is
actually what a majority of the university students who answered the survey
questions want to do in their tertiary level EFL courses. The end of semester
survey responses also clearly showed that some of the students who answered
the survey questions found the author’s course design, which focused primarily
on spoken output performance activities and tasks which mainly included talk as
interaction and talk as performance function styles, to have had a beneficial and
positive impact on their English speaking abilities and skills. More importantly,
the author’s free-speaking activity was evidently successful in helping some
students become more confident and comfortable communicating in English for
social purposes. However, these findings cannot be considered universal truths
for all EFL learners in Japan. Furthermore, the end of semester survey questions
did not specifically ask the students if the free-speaking activity helped them
improve their interactive speaking confidence and oral fluency comfort. Even
though no empirical quantitative data evidence was gathered in this research to
verify the author’s claim that students have in fact significantly improved in
their interactive speaking confidence and oral fluency comfort, the amount of
open response comments by the students enrolled in the Intensive English
program satisfy the author’s curiosity as to whether or not the free-speaking
activity was beneficial for students and assisted them in becoming more
comfortable and confident speaking English communicatively during casual
social encounters. Further research utilizing a qualitative study of student
speaking may reveal empirical evidence showing observational differences in
interactional behavior throughout the Intensive English course.
―17―
The author believes that it is of utmost importance for Japanese EFL
learners to be taught about interactive speaking that is communicatively phatic
in nature and they should be prompted to use this skill during their in-class
speaking activities because “the most common kind of spoken language is the
daily, conversational interactions that are largely phatic in nature and are the
main locus of social action” (Campbell-Larsen, 2014). That is not to say that
other functions of speaking are not valuable in an EFL classroom; however,
from the author’s personal experience teaching English in Japan, it can be
speculated that a majority of EFL activities and projects are not genuinely phatic
in nature and more emphasis on talk as interaction in relation with oral fluency
development is needed so that EFL learners can feel more confident and
comfortable when they find themselves outside of the EFL classroom in a
situation where they need to communicatively interact with someone in
conversational English.
―18―
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―21―
APPENDIX A.
Student Survey Responses Mentioning the Free-speaking Activity
Each student quotation is followed by a student reference number. For example:
(IE39-S1) indicates a comment written by student 1 from Intensive English
class section 39.
Confidence and Comfort:
“In first class, I don’t have any confidence, but now I can talk everyone
in class and now I can talk no embarrassment in free time. I can get
used to speak in English. In this class there are various student. Some
can talk very smoothly, some have creative thinking, I’m taught by not
only teacher but also students” (IE39-S1)
“At first I was not interested in speaking English in free time because I
must talk with people I met first time in English despite it is difficult to
talk with them. However, I gradually got to accustomed to using
English and began to enjoy talking, so I feel English familiar to me now”
(IE41-S1)
“And thanks to a lot of talking time in English, I had more confidence
that speaking English than before. I became thinking that it is important
to speak English without stopping as I can. And also I thought even if I
use a wrong grammar, I don’t have to afraid to speaking English”
(IE41-S2)
“I think free speaking is good activity. It’s fun and helpful. We could
talk about various thing we did or experienced that day. In addition to
that, I could get used to speaking English than before” (IE39-S2)
“I like free speaking very much! This class have many communicative
activity, so we have good relation with classmate. Through free
speaking I could know my classmate and now we are in good relation”
(IE41-S3)
“I could get along with classmates in free speaking time. It made me
more friendly and I could feel that communication in English is
enjoyable” (IE39-S3)
“Thanks to free talking I could be used to speaking English” (IE41-S4)
Improvements:
“Through this IE class I think I could improve a lot, especially speaking.
I really agree the way of your class that speaking is the most important,
so I try to speak in English a lot and have fun speaking in English. I
enjoyed many things, but especially free speaking. I could improved my
speaking a lot, and also I was known that communication is not all
about skill, but heart to tell. Thank a lot” (IE39-S4)
―22―
“I learned skill of communication from this IE class. Free talking time
improved my communication skill, I think” (IE41-S5)
“I thought free speaking was useful for improving my English and I
could enjoy speaking. There were few opportunities to speak or make
conversation with someone before I take this class. So it was a good
opportunity” (IE39-S5)
“When I think about me when IE started, I think I improve a lot,
especially speaking. So thanks to have many speaking activities like
free speaking and discussion I could improve my speaking skill” (IE41-
S6)
“Most good activity that I enjoy is free speaking. We can speak
ordinary story that we always speak in Japanese. It is good chance to
improve my English” (IE39-S6)
“I think free speaking improve my speaking ability” (IE39-S7)
“Free speaking help to improve my English, maybe” (IE39-S8)
Important Activity:
“I think free speaking and discussion was very important activity for us”
(IE41-S7)
“I thought free speaking was important and enjoyable because we could
talk about various topic or event” (IE39-S9)
“In the classes there was much time to talk with friends in English. In
my lifestyle, there was little time to do it. So these chances were so
vivid and important to me. (IE41-S8)
“I’m interested in to speak a lot with my classmates in English. I found
free speaking have a lot of meaning for studying English. Also, what
my classmate talk is very interesting” (IE39-S10)
“Free speaking was nice. I was able to practice speaking well because
every class had talking time. So they were so helpful” (IE41-S9)
“I think enjoying is very important to learn language. I liked the style
we talk in English a lot in class and we do something that we can do by
ourselves outside of the class, such as reading and writing” (IE41-10)
Topic Changes:
“I like Free Speaking the best in class. I can get ability to think topic
and change topics and talk with many people” (IE39-S11)
Discourse Markers:
“I like English now because I learn discourse markers and talk with my
friends many times like the free speaking” (IE41-S11)
―23―
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