Volume 17, No. 1 
January 2013

  Yulia Morozova


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by John C. Alleman

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by Ilya Ulitkin
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Translation Theory
Translation Strategies: A Review and Comparison of Theories
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TTR Changes in Different Directions of Translation
by Sergiy Fokin, PhD, AP

Business & Finance
Terminology for the English ⇔ Spanish translation of mercantile documents used in international trade
by Karina Socorro Trujillo

The Challenges of Interpreting Humor (a.k.a. “Don’t Kill the Killjoy”)
by Paula J. Liendo

How to Challenge a Brazilian Rear Admiral to a Duel
by Danilo Nogueirao

Translator Education
Methods of Enhancing Speaking Skills of Elementary Level Students
by Yulia Morozova
Looking for New Methods to Study the Regulation of Reading Comprehension
by Christian Soto, Valentina Carrasco
La innovación del Espacio Europeo de Educación Superior vs. la tradición educativa: la terminología y la fraseología del ámbito académico (español ⇔ inglés)
Esther Vázquez y del Árbol

  Caught in the Web
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by Gabe Bokor
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by Gabe Bokor

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  Translation Journal
Translator Education

Methods of Enhancing Speaking Skills of Elementary Level Students

by Yulia Morozova
Institute of Fundamental Education, Ural Federal University B.N. Yeltsin
Yekaterinburg, Russia
620002, Mira, 19 Str.


Speaking is one of the most important skills to be developed and enhanced as means of effective communication. For ELT (Elementary Level Teaching) the question of how to increase communicative competence was and tends to be the most crucial one.

In a short period of time English displaced other languages and became one of the leading means of communication worldwide. Its domination continues to extend. The modern world of media, mass communication, and Internet demands good knowledge of English, especially of spoken English. Nevertheless, most Russian students are not able to communicate in English fluently for many reasons. The present study is devoted to the research of the issue of speaking skills of today's students in Russia and to the existing methods of enhancing speaking skills of elementary level students. It is also related to discovering the reasons of unwillingness to communicate and the ways to overcome the language barrier.

Keywords: Speaking skills, communicative competence, enhancing, methods, oral communication background, motivation, psychological competence.

1. Introduction

n a short period of time English displaced other languages and became the leading means of communication worldwide. Its domination continues to extend. The modern world of media, mass communication, and Internet demands a good knowledge of English, especially of spoken English. Every person wishing to get the benefits of modern education, research, science, trade, etc., knows that it is impossible without a working knowledge of the English language and good communication skills. A person without oral communication skills will suffer in this era of competition and may find it difficult to achieve a higher position.

The main reason of poor speaking skills of Russian students is their unwillingness to communicate due to many factors.
Thus, the problem of teaching English to students, especially the problem of oral communication has not yet been solved, and one can find much to explore in this field. Because of the significant role of speaking, many researchers like Bailey (2005) and Goh (2007) have proposed methods to enhance speaking skills by means of syllabus design, teaching principles, types of tasks and materials, and speaking assessment.

This issue has also been in the focus of the Russian researchers GalskovaN.D., Gez N.I., Passov E.I., Rogova G. V., Shchukin A. N., and Skalkin V. L. Working on it they proposed ways to enhance speaking skills of Russian students with the help of different methods of teaching, the use of appropriate exercises, and learner-centered approach to studies.

Most researchers are sure that, since speaking is one of the four major skills necessary for effective communication in any language, speaking skills should be developed along with the other skills, so that these integrated skills will enhance the students' ability to communicate. Effective communication by means of speaking usually creates a number of benefits for both speakers and business organizations.

In general, for students it is essential to understand spoken utterances and give appropriate answers. Communicative competence, the ability and readiness to communicate (speaking and listening comprehension) is thus formed. To achieve this, students should be given integrated tasks which help them develop both skills.

The aim of this article is to define the strengths and weaknesses of speaking skills of today's students in Russia and to demonstrate the possibilities of enhancement of the speaking skills of students learning English.

Research suggests that the integrated use of modern techniques can yield positive results and lead to the improvement of communicative competence. Learning English by using new methods in education and traveling and working abroad encourages students to learn the language, develops their ability to speak fluently, and helps them overcome the language barrier.

2. Literature review

Existing literature deals with three main topics: speaking skills of today's students in Russia, existing methods of enhancing speaking skills of elementary level students, and ways to overcome the language barrier.

2.1. Speaking skills of today's students in Russia

Lately, interest in the English language as a means of international communication has grown substantially. English has already become the language of professional communication in various spheres of life. Most students wish to learn to speak English; that is why speaking plays a primary role in teaching oral communication.

Speaking is considered to be one of the four macro skills necessary for effective communication in any language according to most research, particularly when speakers are not using their mother tongue. As English is universally used as a means of communication, especially on the Internet, English speaking skills should be developed along with the other skills so that these integrated skills will enhance communication competence.

In Russia, like in many other countries, the problem of speaking skills is crucial. A number of researchers investigated this field and came to the conclusion about students' low level of speaking ability and their inability to speak confidently and fluently. One among the many reasons to take into consideration might be the lack of confidence and anxiety about making errors as stated by Trent (2009) and in other related studies. Most college students are not confident in their ability to learn to speak; teachers must overcome their reluctance in order to change this situation.

As a rule, being willing to communicate is part of becoming fluent in a second language, which often is the ultimate goal of language learners. For example, Julius Kuhl's[1]1 theory of action control is introduced as an expansion of the conceptual framework for the study of Willingness to Communicate (WTC). Kuhl proposed three key concepts: preoccupation, volatility, and hesitation, which form part of the base from which WTC in the second language is built.

Other factors dealing with willingness to communicate can be divided into individual differences in the linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of language learning, such as motivation, aptitude, language learning strategies, language anxiety, and others ( Dörnyei, 2005). They have been a key focus of second language research for over 50 years (Gardner, 2009).

Recently, MacIntyre (2007) drew attention to the learner's decision to voluntarily speak the language when the opportunity arises, even as basic language skills are being acquired. Nevertheless, despite the emphasis on communication in modern language pedagogy and the well-accepted view that learners require practice in speaking in order to learn ( MacIntyre, 2003), some language learners habitually choose to remain silent.

In addition to the above, some researchers observe that not enough time is given to various exercises and opportunities for the improvement of speaking ability. Students often complain of scolding, and discouraging by their teachers for not speaking correctly. Although both teachers and students are responsible for the poor speaking ability of the latter, the teachers, who have the professional knowledge and skills, bear a greater responsibility.

Zaremba and Zhang hypothesize that, of the four macro English skills, speaking seems to be the most important skill required for communication (Zaremba, 2006). Students who study English as a foreign language usually have limited opportunities to speak English outside the classroom (Zhang, 2009) and also limited exposure to English speakers or members of the international community. This might be one reason for teachers to provide more situations and activities for students to strengthen their speaking competence.

In addition, there are a number of factors relating to speaking skills to be considered for effective English speaking performance. Pronunciation, vocabulary, and collocations are singled out as important factors to be emphasized in building fluency for EFL speakers. Providing students with a variety of situations and frequent speaking tasks plays a significant role in the improvement of students’ fluency when speaking (Tam, 1997). Confidence and competence usually reinforce English speaking skills. Patil (2008) asserted that building up the learner’s confidence to eliminate their fear of making errors was a priority that a teacher should consider in order to make learners feel comfortable with their language use. Confidence and competence in speaking could be developed from appropriate syllabus design, methods of teaching, and adequate tasks and materials (Bailey, 2005; Songsiri, 2007).

Regarding speaking effectiveness, Shumin (1997) pointed out a number of elements involved, including listening skills, sociocultural factors, affective factors, and other linguistic and sociolinguistic competences such as grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic, and strategic competence. Grammatical competence enables speakers to use and understand English language structures accurately and unhesitatingly, which contributes to their fluency, which, in turn, develops confidence in communication.

In general, the problems of Russian students related to learning to speak can be divided into four main groups:

1. Students feel shy speaking English because they are afraid of making mistakes. It is usually seen at the initial level as they are afraid of being criticized by teachers and other students.

2. Working in pairs (or groups), students often begin to use their native language.

3. Students don’t have enough information on the topics discussed even in their native language.

4. Students feel a lack of linguistic and verbal resources for solving the given task. In that case the teacher should create a friendly atmosphere of collaboration so that students will not be afraid of admitting their mistakes and will accept criticism.

Analyzing the topic of speaking skills, it becomes clear that speaking skills of most students, especially in Russia, are insufficiently developed. It is a real problem in the field of ELT and it should be solved by the use of different methods of enhancing speaking skills.

2.2. Existing methods of enhancing speaking skills of students

In ELT, every teacher chooses a definite set of methods of enhancing students' speaking skills. Nowadays it is possible to use traditional and modern technologies either separately or in integration. Internet communication tools have begun to be used in education, especially in English language teaching. New technologies are supplementing traditional English teaching methods. Students learn faster and easier than before because of the use of technology in schools. If they are trained during their school years, they learn language and technology simultaneously. Learning English through the Web and using new trends in education in schools and colleges make students willing to learn the language. Web-based technologies and useful Internet sites provide new possibilities and latest trends for teachers and students.

English has become easier to learn than ever before with the availability of many sources to help people learn in an effortless and enjoyable way. Web-based learning is one of the fastest growing areas in education. It is widely accepted that advances in information technology and new developments in pedagogy provide opportunities to create well-designed, learner-centered, interactive, affordable, efficient, and flexible e-learning environments (Khan, 2005). For this reason, it could be suggested that internet-surfing is an alternative way to study English. Web-based technologies and useful Internet sites provide various new possibilities and latest trends for teachers and learners. Today it has become possible to enhance speaking skills with the help of tools such as Skype, e-mail, blogs, chats, and mobile devices.

To build effective communication skills students must learn to:

1. communicate using digital media and environments to support personal and group learning.

2. share information efficiently and effectively using appropriate digital media and environments.

3. communicate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively to different audiences using various media and formats.

Basic communication skills are at the core of every organization. It is crucial that we as teachers help students build this vital set of 21st century skills. Everything depends on our ability to be creative and to use modern teaching methods. The following is a suggested list of such activities:

- Reading aloud

- Students give their thoughts on topic assigned by teacher

- Students listen to classmates’ thoughts and respond

- Oral diary; oral weekly report

- Group presentations on a completed project

- Oral book report

- Picture description

- Storytelling

- Chained storytelling

- Creating riddles

- Role play

- Debates

- Dramatic monologues

- Radio drama

- Jazz chants.

We can choose any methods in ELT because all of them help to develop speaking skills. It is possible to use them in integration or separately to get positive results.

As it was mentioned above, given the significant role of speaking, Bailey (2005) and Goh (2007) proposed methods to enhance the development of speaking by means of syllabus design, principles of teaching, types of tasks and materials, and speaking assessment.

Promoting speaking confidence, together with appropriate task design, was recommended for the English skills development of EFL/ESL learners (Bailey, 2005; Nunan, 2006; Patil, 2008; Trent, 2009; Zhang, 2009). Other out-of-class factors that enhanced participants’ speaking abilities included frequent listening to English materials, such as listening to music, watching movies, listening to the radio, watching television programs, and accessing multimedia websites. Previous studies supported the finding that speaking and listening skills were usually intertwined in terms of language learning and development (Noon-ura, 2008). In addition, suggestions for EFL learners’ speaking improvement included a variety of course activities, encouragement of more listening through the media, and seeking opportunities to speak in real situations. Moreover, practice and exposure to both listening and speaking activities in real-world situations appeared to be a practical method to promote speaking confidence (Songsiri, 2007).

Classroom interaction is also necessary and useful as an educational strategy to enhance speaking skills. The role of interaction in a classroom context in enhancing speaking skills comes from the understanding of its main types: teacher-learner interaction and learner-learner interaction, where negotiation of meaning and the provision of feedback are highlighted. Classroom interaction involves verbal exchanges between learners and teachers. Teachers should know that the learners need to do most of the talk to activate their speaking, since speaking skills require practice and exposure.

Some authors consider that, at the basic level, more emphasis should be placed on books and speaking ability, since learning is a step-by-step process and such competencies cannot be improved abruptly. English should be taught as language, as well as a subject, so that more time may be available for the students to perform various activities/exercises in a natural way. Some individual activities, such as speaking on a certain topic for a minute or so should be assigned to students in the beginning speaking stages. Students should be given motivation, encouragement, some psychological training, reassurance, and counseling for removing their shyness and fear of being laughed at by their classmates and scolded by their teachers. Teachers should also be trained not to discourage the students and to control the other students in order to provide a friendly and stimulating environment in the classroom.

Linguistic skills such as familiarity with grammatical structures, vocabulary, and phonetics should be emphasized by the teachers in the classroom. Students should develop the habits of listening to BBC, CNN and similar programs for the improvement of their speaking skills. Checking the students' language competency at various levels viva-voce as a compulsory part of the examination system may be included. There should be a balance between literature and language in reading materials, since presently they are more literature-oriented and lack language competency activities.

The problem of poor speaking ability is a crucial one in many countries and Russia is no exception. This is why Russian authors pay much attention to the issue of enhancing speaking skills of students because English has become very popular in our country and it is necessary to build communicative competence of learners. We can name such well-known researchers of this field as Zimnaya I.A., GalskovaN.D., Gez N.I., Passov E.I., Rogova G. V., Shchukin A. N., Skalkin V. L. and others. Some of them (Zimnaya I. A., Galskova N.D) highlight the necessity of integration of communicative and personal-pragmatist approach and offer to connect aspects of ELT with personal psychological characteristics of students. Others, like Gez N.I., Passov E.I., Rogova G. V., Skalkin V. L., discuss the role of modern teaching techniques like the development of skills of monological and dialogical speech, various verbal exercises, and different types of work with texts. Almost all Russian researchers mention the necessity of use of audiovisual means of learning and emphasize their importance in enhancing speaking skills. Teachers should create motivation for communication (Rogova G. V.) using various forms of dramatization/improvisation according to students’ interests. Shchukin A. N. highlights methods such as projects (role-playing, creative work like composition, translation, rendering. He also speaks about the necessity of computer and audio-visual technologies in enhancing speaking skills.

It is evident that foreign and Russian authors have many common views on the problem of enhancing speaking skills of modern students. In general, to improve the speaking ability of students, the following steps should be taken:

1. place more emphasis on the quality of study books at the basic level,

2. give enough time to speaking and phonetic drill of students,

3. no scolding but rather providing a friendly environment,

4. use practical and applicable strategies by teachers for students while speaking in English most of the time,

5. develop boldness and confidence in students to ask questions of their teachers,

6. no overcrowded classes,

7. awards and motivation for students,

8. encourage listening to CNN and BBC, keep up-to-date and constantly retrain teachers,

9. arrange various activities and balance in the courses with respect to literature and language.

If teachers take these rules into consideration and try to use them in their work, they will be able to build communicative competence of EFL speakers and improve their speaking ability.

Analyzing all the existing methods of enhancing speaking skills of today's students it became clear that those methods are not as difficult as they seem to be and every teacher can choose those that she considers more appropriate for her students according to their level of knowledge of English. In Russia like in many other countries we try to use modern technologies in ELT, including Internet-based techniques, listening to audio and video, creative tasks like role-playing, storytelling, describing pictures, and the like. All these,together with students’ interest in learning and their WTC, help teachers enhance speaking skills and make progress in ELT.

2.3. Ways of overcoming the language barrier

During our research we found out that the main reason for poor speaking skills of Russian students was their reluctance to communicate for many reasons, including psychological discomfort and fear of making mistakes. It is no secret that with increasing emphasis on authentic communication, WTC has been proposed as one of the key concepts in L2 learning and instruction. Given that language development can occur only through interaction, it can be assumed that more interaction leads to more language development and learning. Under this assumption, it is reasonable to argue that WTC, which has been found to influence the frequency of communication (Clément et al., 2003; MacIntyre and Charos, 1996; Yashima et al., 2004), can contribute to second language acquisition (SLA) and needs to be emphasized in L2 pedagogy.

Researchers have suggested that generating WTC is a crucial component of modern language instruction (MacIntyre et al., 1998, 2003). WTC as a goal of language learning and instruction can lead to outcomes that may not be achieved when communicative competence is the only goal of language learning and instruction. The current emphasis on communicative competence may produce students who are technically capable of communicating, particularly inside the classroom, but may not be amenable to doing so outside the classroom (MacIntyre et al., 1998). Dörnyei (2003) also stated that many competent L2 learners tend to avoid L2 communication.

If this is the case, L2 learners with high communicative competence may not utilize their opportunities to learn language through authentic communication. By engendering WTC, on the other hand, language instruction may achieve its social and political goal of bringing cultures into contact and nations together (MacIntyre et al., 1998). In addition, when we create WTC in L2 learners, we can expect to produce more active language learners. First, L2 learners with a high WTC are more likely to use L2 in authentic communication, which facilitates their language learning. Second, they can function as autonomous learners, making independent efforts to learn the language through communication, without the teachers’ help. Third, they can extend their learning opportunities by becoming involved in learning activities not only inside, but also outside classrooms.

Based on these expected advantages of L2 learners with WTC, it is believed that they are apt to achieve the ultimate goal of language competence, authentic communication, and to learn L2 more successfully. If this is the case, WTC is a significant factor in determining the success of SLA, which in turn supports the need for WTC as a goal of L2 learning and instruction.

A number of researchers have examined the effect of an individual’s characteristics on WTC. Two among these characteristics--perceived communicative competence and communication anxiety--have been found to be the key predictors of WTC (Baker and MacIntyre, 2000; MacIntyre et al., 2001; McCroskey and Richmond, 1991). Other individual characteristics, such as sex and age (MacIntyre et al., 2002), attitudes towards the international community (Yashima, 2002; Yashima et al., 2004), and prior immersion experience (MacIntyre et al., 2003) have also been found to influence WTC.

WTC is influenced by immediate situational antecedents--the desire to communicate with a specific person and the state of communicative self-confidence--and more enduring influences, such as interpersonal motivation, intergroup motivation, self-confidence, intergroup attitudes, social situation, communicative competence, intergroup climate, and personality.

Reflecting this situational view, researchers have investigated how WTC can be affected by situational variables, such as social contextual variables. MacIntyre

et al. (2001) showed that social support, particularly from friends, influenced WTC outside the classroom. Clément et al. (2003) also showed that L2 WTC was influenced by the frequency and quality of L2 contact, which interacted with each other, through the mediation of L2 confidence.

These findings, as well as MacIntyre et al.’s (1998) model, have convinced us that WTC is subject to situational variables. And to build it we should motivate students to speak and help them overcome the language barrier.

One of the most effective ways of enhancing WTC and as a consequence, of speaking skills of Russian students, can be considered work and studies abroad. Nowadays we have a number of programs such as “Work and travel USA or Canada” which give our students a chance to overcome the language barrier and improve their speaking ability. Many students from the UralFederalUniversity participate in such activities every year and they prove the fact that students are more willing to communicate after a stay abroad. They show more interest during classes and easily communicate on any topic.

Another way of strengthening one's WTC is to study any foreign language in language schools where teachers use modern methods of teaching English. Students who attended such institutions show higher level of speaking skills and can communicate freely without the fear of making any mistakes.

Nevertheless, some authors are sure that before helping students to enhance their speaking ability any teacher should assess the reasons for the language barrier and choose the materials that will awake interest in learning English accordingly. But the main condition is confidence in one's own strength. It appears when a speaker ceases to concentrate on his mistakes in language practice. So to begin speaking any foreign language, one has to overcome his lack of confidence.

Some teachers allege that the language barrier does not exist, or that it was created by people. That’s why any person who begins to learn a foreign language should not think about any possible mistakes and misunderstandings. Everything depends on the ability to concentrate on the material and being a good listener. So, at the initial level one should listen and repeat as much as it’s possible. The best way to express one's thoughts is by simple words and phrases. One can train the ability to understand the gist of speech using key words. More than that, it’s more important to discuss interesting topics. And, of course, the conditions of communication should be comfortable.

Sometimes, to overcome the language barrier, it is necessary to use fairy-tales, poems, jokes, or to become a part of a situation where one should speak only the foreign language.

In our opinion, whether the language barrier exists or not, we should try to overcome it and find the best way to build WTC. Otherwise it will be impossible to enhance our speaking skills and become fluent in any foreign language.

3. Conclusion

In this study we discussed the issues of communicative competence, methods of enhancing oral communication, motivation and ways of overcoming the language barrier. It was significant to learn different views of Russian and foreign researchers on the problem of speaking skills of students.

So, the aim of this article: “to define strengths and weaknesses of speaking skills of today's students in Russia and to demonstrate the possibilities of speaking skill enhancement of students learning English” was achieved as we proved that the integrated use of modern techniques may yield positive results and lead to the improvement of communicative competence. Learning English by using new methods in education and traveling and working abroad makes students willing to learn the language, develop their ability to speak fluently, and help them overcome the language barrier.

The findings from this study also show that the main reason of poor speaking skills of Russian students is their unwillingness to communicate due to many factors We can conclude that WTC needs to be an important component of SLA. So, the main suggestion is to overcome the language barrier and build a strong WTC. Only then will it be possible for the student to be a fluent speaker and not to be afraid of communicating in any situation.


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