Oral History and Communication Difficulties Between Student and Teacher

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This research reports a case study of English majoring student-teachers’ oral communication difficulties at Arba Minch College of Teacher Education during their fourth round teaching practice. The overall aim of the study was to investigate the difficulties that English majoring student-teachers face in their oral communication in the teaching of English during their final teaching practice. To do this, the study employed qualitative and quantitative methods. Interview, questionnaire, classroom observation and focus group discussion were used to gather relevant data from student-teachers, students and ACTE instructors. The quantitative data were analyzed using SPSS software and the qualitative data were reported verbally. The results of the study revealed that the majority of the student-teachers have faced difficulties to express and share their ideas using English, to pronounce words correctly, to use grammatically correct sentences and to speak English consistently. Thus, it is better to recommend the concerned bodies should mitigate the identified problems through well built mobilizations. Various factors can create difficulties to oral communication. Pathan (2013) indicated that unfamiliarity with the sound system of English, inadequate range of vocabulary, inability to form certain grammatical constructions like WH questions, passive sentences, reported speeches, etc, and failure to use different word classes according to the demand of the sentence are the main barriers of oral communication.

One of the most difficult challenges in teaching oral English is finding effective ways to help students improve their discourse fluency. Large mixed-ability classes, little exposure to the English language after class and tongue-tied students inevitably form obstacles to teaching (Qiqiyichu, 2003). A research result of Holmes (1998), in Ibrahim (2001), in Indonesia show that second language (English) is not adequately developed; they will have difficulty in expressing themselves in it, and this situation can create a feeling of frustration or powerlessness, which in turn may affect their self-esteem or self-confidence. This condition can be counter-productive for their language and academic developments. In addition to lowering self-confidence, a poor English proficiency among teachers may lead to students’ negative perception of them. This can occur because a person’s perception or attitude to a language depends on who uses it and how it is. Since educated people frequently employ the English language in prestigious domains, its image is then associated with these attributes. Thus, teachers who cannot speak or write English well are likely to be negatively viewed and lowly regarded by their students, regardless of the teachers’ grasp of the course content material.

The quality of communication is very essential in getting the required message along. For instance, taking the context of language teaching and learning into account, Ibrahim (2001) states that teachers and students’ low oral communication proficiency may lead to inefficient and ineffective teaching and learning. Teachers who cannot speak English fluently and accurately will probably be incompetent to perform one of their chief traditional roles, and lecturing. Pauses, hesitancies, circumlocutions, wordiness, and grammatical, lexical, and pronunciation inaccuracies may characterize much of their explanation, and this certainly will slow down or even hamper their students’ grasp of the instructional content. Those who are poor in oral proficiency will not have courage to ask questions and clarify their confusion.

Shumin (2002), cited in Szelest (2011), who, referring to adult English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners, said that they ‘are relatively poor at spoken English, especially regarding fluency, control of idiomatic expressions, and understanding of cultural pragmatics. Few can achieve native-like proficiency in oral communication’ Speaking a foreign language is a very complex skill, including vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and fluency, the ability to structure talk or even non-verbal abilities. Among these elements, pronunciation is one of the most difficult ones, especially if the learner aims at acquiring native like pronunciation. Reaching this aim may require years of hard work and even then some learners may not be successful. Failure in pronunciation acquisition may be caused by various factors, such as age, aptitude, personality, inappropriate attitude, weak motivation as well as application of ineffective learning strategies (Calka: 2011:149).

Wrobel (2011) suggestes that anyone involved in language teaching is probably familiar with the fact that no matter how much practice students put into it, they do make mistakes. Their language is communicative but often far from the English that they would like to use. This may even be considered a disaster as the idealistic goal for many involved in foreign language teaching and learning is native-like fluency and accuracy. A native-like control over a foreign language is not restricted to the knowledge of ability to manipulate morpho-syntactic rules or the possession of vast vocabulary.

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The study has identified various oral communication difficulties of the student-teachers through various instruments applied. Translation was found to be the common problem (students’ questionnaire, student teachers’ interview, ACTE English instructors and FGD) and was observed among all student-teachers. In line with Ur’s (1996) argument which clarifies that every one tends to use mother tongue because it is easier to speak, some student teachers were speaking their first language while delivering the target language lessons because they thought that such process would help their students understand the lessons well. Harmer (2001) also argues that it is entirely natural thing for students to use their mother tongue in the classroom because they use translation almost without thinking about it when they learn foreign language, particularly at elementary and intermediate levels. However, Atkinson (1987), cited in Harmer (2001), states that excessive use of mother tongue should be avoided.

The results from instructors’ interview, student-teachers interview and classroom observations revealed that mother tongue (Gammo and Wolaita languages) interference (influence) was one of the major problems for student-teachers’ poor pronunciation. The problem was particularly noticed during the classroom observation. For instance, interference between /p/ and /f/ sounds in their pronunciation was common for almost all student-teachers’. Many student teachers first language was interfering with the target language (English). This interference made meaning change in their speech. These were ‘please’ [pli:z] is pronounced as fleas [fli:z] play [pleɪ] as fly [flaɪ], open [əʊpən] as often [ɒfn] part [pɑ:t] as fart /fɑ:rt/ and copy ['kɒpɪ] as coffee ['kɒfɪ]. Szelest (2011) claims that speaking is a process during which speakers rely on all the available information (background and linguistics) to create messages that will be understandable and meaningful to the intended audience. Similarly, Patel &Jain (2008) suggest that the teachers' pronunciation must be good and correct and it must separately be imitated by his students. Sobkowiak, (1996) cited in Szpyra-Kozlowska, (2011) disclosed that one of the striking features of learners’ English was highly deteriorated of mispronunciations of different words. A useful distinction between global and local errors can be made. Thus, the student-teachers’ pronounced many words wrongly that brings meaning change to their students.

Furthermore, results from the student teachers’ questionnaire and classroom observations indicated that student-teachers faced grammar inadequacy despite the fact that Mills (1998) argues that grammatical errors damage speaker’s credibility and also confuse the listener. It was also noticed from classroom observation that the students of student-teachers were not attracted by the student teachers’ English language oral presentation in the classroom though a teacher needs to possess an ability to render an idea in a clear and comprehensible way in our complex and ever-changing society as to the view of Mills (1998).

The result from students’ questionnaire also revealed that the student-teachers were unable to share information they obtained from radios, TVs, magazines and news papers to their students. However, Mills (1998) makes clear that at all levels of communication, both formal and informal people engage in informative speaking, and in this “Information age” it is used with accelerating frequency. We are now experiencing an unprecedented explosion ideas and information; new concept is one of the hallmarks of an educated person. Moreover, this informative speech imparts materials that increase a listener’s knowledge of a given subject. Nowadays, information is source of life. We are in the information age. Thus, student-teachers need to be aware of the time. They should be alert for timely messages.

Though student-teachers tried to give oral feedback, they were not confident to allow their students to ask them to provide feedback. Scriver (2005) pointed out that many teachers never ask their learners for feedback as the teachers fear hearing comments about their work and teachers are unsuccessful in giving oral feedback on spoken errors because they did not involve students actively. The author also advises that students must be involved actively in the feedback process if learning is to take place. The other report from student-teachers questionnaire and interview, classroom observations and focus group discussion revealed that student-teachers lack word power. This made them fail to express their ideas. In their teaching, some student-teachers were frustrated during oral communication and their speech was disconnected. However, Patel &Jain (2008) state that when teacher introduces new ideas, then new word also should be introduced to students so that students could be acquainted of new words. With little efforts, students can learn two or three words of English language. Thus, students can be strong in remembering of words. Mills (1998) says that “when words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain”.

All the instructors participated in the study agreed that student- teachers’ oral communication difficulties were observed during individual presentation, particularly during practicum reflections. Ibrahim (2001) states that teachers and students’ low oral communication proficiency may lead to inefficient and ineffective teaching and learning. Shumin (2002), cited in Szelest (2011), says that adult English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners ‘are relatively poor at spoken English, especially regarding fluency, control of idiomatic expressions, and understanding of cultural pragmatics. Consistently, the student teachers in the college faced similar difficulty. As indicated, this study was designed to investigate the existing difficulties on the English oral communication difficulties of third year English majoring student teachers attending a teacher training program at Arbaminch Teacher Education College. The various linguistic problems (for example, grammatical, lexical and phonological problems), the tendency to use mother tongue, translation, inability to express their ideas using English were found to be oral communication challenges of the student-teachers.

Diverse strategies could be used to minimize student-teachers' oral communication difficulties of ACTE. Some of them include using simple language, by teachers, allowing student-teachers to speak more in the classroom, letting the student-teacher share experience with teachers working at schools during their practicum sessions and exposing them to relevant trainings besides the regular classes. Student-teachers may also apply their effort to improve their oral communication proficiency. The student-teachers seem to possess positive attitudes towards oral communication skills. This helps them to better prepare themselves to improve their oral communication proficiency and thereby their actual teaching practices. The sources of the prevailing attitudes of the student-teachers towards the oral communication consist of the wide importance of English language in academic and public sectors and the role that the language plays in worldwide communication.

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