Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses

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    Speaking in a second language: strategic interactions
    Bejjani, Raynale ( 2005)
    The purpose of this study is to improve speaking skills in a second language. It focuses on a group of Year 11 students who, in spite of learning French for between 6 and 12 years, are still reluctant to speak it. The interest in investigating speaking skills stems from years of witnessing the students' frustration and experiencing my own while following the communicative approach in teaching French as a second language. The research project offered an opportunity to address speaking difficulties in the target language classroom and to explore a new way in dealing with them. The study places an emphasis on the classroom where the learning takes place; learning being situated in a social context whose language differs from the one being studied. More specifically, this study examines the extent to which classroom practices of speaking can encourage this group of learners to use the target language more often by creating an authentic communicative context, similar to that encountered in real life. The simulation of real life necessitates, however, the deployment of a communicative technique which facilitates the transfer between the inside classroom reality and the outside world in which the foreign language operates. Imagination, combined with a potential opportunity for self-projection into a new role and self-expression leading to the achievement of a meaningful purpose become key to a successful transfer. The chosen technique which embodies these four components is the scenario, developed by Di Pietro in 1987, at the heart of which lies the principle of "Strategic Interactions", whereby the learner is required to enact a role in the target language with the purpose of fulfilling a personal agenda or arriving at a resolution of an issue through interacting with others. The study argues that speaking, like other linguistic skills, can be acquired in the classroom if students are consciously given the time, space and voice along with a meaningful context and a purpose, all complemented by an explicit teaching of the target language in context. Moreover, the study claims that the practice of speaking in the classroom should be first and foremost the goal of all second language learning programs. The difficulty of speaking in a second language is not, however, new. It is the classic problem of most learners and has been investigated in literature since the late 1960s. While extensive work has been done to explore the causes, less work has been conducted about successful implementations of speaking programs. Without underestimating the underlying causes which inhibit speaking, this research has a pragmatic orientation; it will experiment with a technique which is conceived to encourage the use of the target language in the classroom and then examine its impacts on students' speaking behaviour. It is worth noting that while this study is exploratory in nature, it also hopes to improve speaking amongst these students who are pursuing learning French in year 12, particularly since Year 12 French is considerably based on oral assessment. The analyses are based on a ten-week period of participant observation and experimental methodologies from the end of July 2004 till the end of October 2004. During the examined period, students participated in an experiment depicted by a weekly scenario. Data collection consisted of a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. These methods included criteria-based systematic weekly evaluations of scenarios assessed on a numerical scale completed by the teacher, self (i.e. student), insider and outsider peer groups. These multiple angles allowed the perspectives of all participants to be represented in the final analysis. Field notes taken by the teacher during scenario sessions generated an insider perspective and an in-depth understanding of students' speaking behaviour. A questionnaire and an interview were also conducted at the end of the study by each of the participants and provided a wealth of additional data. An important finding was that during the examined period, students who were initially reluctant to speak, gradually showed readiness and willingness to present orally. For a while, the classroom created a legitimate context for second language use, and for students a need and reason to communicate. Thus for all of them, it was a snapshot of a long lived dream that was finally coming true.