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Removing the Trainees’ Hesitation in Using English during Training Sessions

*Ramesh Prasad Ghimire

  1. Introduction

The spoken form of language is very crucial for any language learner because language is a powerful tool for communication, and most of human communication takes place through oral medium. Despite this fact, many students, in English classes, are very poor in spoken English. They feel fear in speaking English. This problem is pertinent not only among the students but also among some teachers from school to university levels in Nepal. As a teacher and teacher trainer, I have been facing this problem in my classes and training sessions for a long time.

Educational Training Center, Surkhet conducted a ten- day professional capacity development training on English Medium Teaching for Community School Non-English Teachers of Basic Level (Grade 1-5) from 2070/07/04 to 2070/07/13. There were altogether 50 participants and they were divided into two equal groups. The participants (trainees) were the community school teachers who were teaching different subjects at the basic level using English as the medium of instruction. But unfortunately, on the first day of the training, I found them so hesitant about speaking English. They themselves could not use English for even simple day to day communicative purposes. They were too shy and lacked self-confidence in speaking English. How can a teacher teach different subjects using English as a medium of instruction without being able to use English for a basic communicative purpose? As a trainer, I found this to be a pressing problem. Therefore I decided to carry out an action research in order to make those teachers able to communicate in simple English.

First of all I tried to explore the causes behind the teachers’ fear of English. I started probing the reasons behind their hesitation about using English in the classroom and training sessions. For this, I reflected myself; I looked back to my own experience of learning English and recollection emerged regarding the barriers that were prominent behind my own hesitation about using it. Similarly, I had a discussion with the teachers and my colleagues. I also consulted the Internet and other resources. From all these efforts, I found that the teachers feel hesitant about using English in the classroom because of psychological fear that English is a difficult language to learn; fear of making mistakes; lack of adequate knowledge about the English language and its basic lexical chunks; less practice in using English, inadequate English to English and the habit of using English and many more. Therefore the action research was conducted to enable the trainees to communicate in English fluently during training sessions. 

Methodology

Both qualitative and quantitative designs were adopted to carry out this research. The duration of the study in the first cycle was of ten days. The Second cycle will be conducted in 2071 during professional capacity development training on English Medium Teaching for Community School Non-English Teachers. The main tools for data collection in this research were the diary, interview, and observation checklist. 

Plan

I aimed at finding out the possible measures in order to boost up confidence of the trainees in using English. For this I had a discussion with the colleagues of the Educational Training Center, Surkhet as well as I consulted the Internet and other resources including the training manuals developed by National Center for Educational Development (NCED) and other training-providing agencies. Similarly, I went through English Language Teaching (ELT) methodology textbooks and resource materials. From all these attempts I found different techniques for enhancing communicative ability such as a) teaching the basic language functions b) teaching classroom language c) providing the trainees with some lexical chunks and  some basic vocabulary d) involving the trainees in communicative activities, such as role play, hot chair, think pair share, pen in the middle communicative drills e) making them practice of English sounds f) providing reinforcement and positive feedback g) using scaffolding during conversation g)  involving the trainees in peer teaching and observation h) involving the learners in pronunciation practice activities i) teaching communicative strategies. Among the above 10 strategies, I tried out only the first five (‘a’ to ‘e’ ) in the first cycle.

Having decided on the techniques and strategies, I implemented them in my sessions of the training conducted from 2070/07/04 to 2070/07/13. During this 10- day long training, my sessions were on all the days except on the fourth day. I tried out the intervening actions according to my plan and also went on observing the effects of those actions.

Action

One of the intervening actions I tried with was the teaching of some basic language functions to the participants. I introduced some of the basic language functions to the participants, such as ‘greeting, introducing, making a query and thanking’ in one session on the second day. I involved the participants in some communicative activities. The responses of the participants were observed minutely. I revised those language functions in my subsequent sessions allocating 4-5 minutes in each session. The participants were very excited to learn the language functions; particularly they were interested in understanding the deeper meanings of the exponents and the contextual factors that affect the use of those expressions.

The second intervening technique was teaching of some of the useful expressions that are used in the classroom, such as the expressions associated with how to begin a lesson, how to end a lesson, how to maintain discipline in the classroom, how to encourage the students for better performance and so on. I myself tried to use those commonly used classroom expressions as much as possible in my training sessions. In addition, I frequently revised them in almost all my training sessions spending about 4-5 minutes at the end of the session as a reminder. The participants remarked that this was a kind of new experience for them. They said that they had attended so many trainings on English language teaching, but no any training in the past incorporated sessions on classroom language. The participants had some difficulty in pronouncing of some of the expressions correctly, but they had a higher level of motivation in learning the expressions. 

Providing the participants with some basic vocabulary and the lexical chunks, such as ‘well…, ok…, yes…, I know…, please…, thank you…, here you are…, hmm…, I see…, that’s great…, etc’. was another intervening technique that was used in this research. Such chunks were presented in some of the sessions as a refresher. The participants enjoyed using the expressions among themselves even during breaks. 

Communicative activities, like hot chair, pens in the middle and communicative drills were used in some of the sessions. The participants were found to be enjoying hot chair very much. They responded that communicative drills are more effective than traditional imitation drills. But they did not seem to enjoy ‘pens in the middle technique’ in comparison to other techniques.

Since some of the participants were having difficulty with English pronunciation, some activities for pronunciation practice were conducted in each session. The focus was given on practicing the sounds of English. For this, techniques like minimal pairs, sounds comparison, finding out same and difference and drawing the organs of speech were used. Only the five sounds were practiced in one day. The participants were found interested in understanding the ways of making various sounds of English. Some of the participants were more interested in drawing the organs of speech showing how the articulators work in producing various sounds. 

Observation

In most cases, actions and their observation went simultaneously. What happened during the implementation of each activity is already mentioned in the action section of this report. Since the intervening techniques were used along with the regular sessions, the participants felt that they were learning something new and important for them. The participants were highly motivated to learn what was provided to them as an input. I asked them why they showed such an interest and they mentioned that the subject matter was really useful and practical for them and for their teaching. In some of the activities like hot chair and pens in the middle, some of the participants were not found participating actively. In my personal assessment, they were not active due to their very poor proficiency in English. Some of the participants were relatively younger and they were having university education in addition to teaching. Such participants seemed more active and extrovert than the adult participants who had already left their university education and were involved solely in teaching.

The responses of the participants, their feelings and reactions and my own experiences were recorded in a diary. In addition, the participants’ use of the spoken English was recorded in an observation checklist. The participants were also interviewed on different occasions using semi-structured interview schedule to find out their feelings and ideas about the learning of English. The observation checklist and the interview schedule are included in the appendix.

The observation checklist was used to assess the participants’ spoken English. The observation was done in the beginning of the training as well as at the end of the training. The participants were made to make short presentations and their language features were observed. From the observation it was found that there was a gradual improvement in their spoken English. There was some progress in almost all areas of spoken English, such as clarity in expression, ease in speaking, naturalness, pronunciation and accuracy. Interestingly, great progress was seen in the participants’ level of confidence. The status of their English in the beginning of the intervention and at the end of intervention is presented in the sample observation checklist in the appendix. 

Reflection

Through my observation I found that poor proficiency in English is not a sole reason behind the learners’/language users’ hesitation to use English. Lack of opportunity to use the language, low level of self- confidence, lack of English friendly environment, over emphasis on grammatical accuracy, psychological fear that committing error in language is a kind of sin, etc. are some of the major factors that inhibit the learners from using English in the Nepalese context. I asked my participants why they feared to speak English and their responses were like the ones I mentioned in the lines before. Therefore, most of my intervening actions were focused on in the direction of encouraging the participants to use English without worrying too much about grammar or form of language; rather they were focused on the intended meaning.

The reason behind teaching the participants some language functions and classroom language was to provide the participants with some basic expressions for day to day communication in classroom and outside classroom context. I found that the basic knowledge of language functions and classroom expressions helped them increase their confidence dramatically. Similarly, the hidden intention behind the use of lexical chunks was to help the trainees to develop fluency by diverting their attention from grammatical and longer stretches of sentences and also to provide them with some ready -made expressions which are available immediately without too much mental processing. The participants’ basic command over some of the lexical expressions helped them to use English for communicative purposes and to maintain fluency in speech.

One of the major insights I got from my action is that creating a ‘win-win and no-lose’ situation is instrumental for helping learners to use any language. By ‘win-win and no-lose’, I mean no one loses in conversation linguistically and everyone wins. None is wrong even if he/she makes serious grammatical mistakes. When the learners were convinced that making errors is very natural in the process of learning a language, and their errors would not be taken seriously; their linguistic contribution in the communicative activities like ‘pens in the middle’ and ‘hot chair’ was increased interestingly. 

Improvements/results

From the first cycle of research I found the following improvements in the participants:

  • There was some improvement in the way the trainee teachers expressed something clearly in English.
  • In the beginning they felt difficulty in speaking English, but after the intervention they were found to be speaking English relatively easily.
  • The trainee teachers were found to be giving special attention to the pronunciation of words and expressions after the intervention. Before it, they were seen not giving any due attention to it.
  • There was some improvement in the fluency as well as accuracy in their spoken English.
  • The trainee teachers’ level of confidence was found to be dramatically increased. They were seen to be using English without any fear of committing errors.
  • They were found to be using appropriate classroom expressions (classroom language) in their micro teaching sessions.

Conclusions

From this action research it has been concluded that inadequate proficiency in English is not the sole reason behind the participants’ hesitation of using English; rather the lack of self- confidence is the primary factor in it. Similarly, lack of basic communicative expressions in the learners’ language competence creates great difficulty in the learners’ fluent use of spoken language. Therefore, the learners’ command over some basic lexical chunks and vocabulary helps them in the easy use of spoken language. When the language users have some command over the sounds of language, they feel a bit confident in using the language in oral communication. Making mistakes is a way of learning so far as language learning is concerned. If the language users fear committing mistakes and keep quiet, they can never learn language. For this reason opportunity to use language in a non-threatening environment plays very important and supportive role in the process of language learning. The more opportunity the language users have to use the language, the better the learning. Furthermore, creating a learner friendly environment is instrumental in developing the learners’ confidence and removing their hesitation in using the language. Over emphasis on grammatical accuracy in the beginning days of language learning has a counterproductive effect in learning the language. Finally, I would like to mention that action research is a powerful tool in solving our own problems that occur in our day to day professional life. It helps in addressing the problems by using available materials and resources in our own local context.

Appendix I: Implementation Plan

S.N. Actions  for improvement Process Time Duration Materials Tools for data collection Supporting person/agency
1. Teaching the basic language functions Firstly, I will introduce the basic language functions using communicative activities. Then I will revise them on subsequent sessions focusing on their use by the participants. The second session of the second day will be devoted to introduction to language function. Introduced functions will be revised periodically in coming sessions. Handouts, role cards, PowerPoint slides  Diary, Observation checklist and questions for interview Myself
2. Teaching classroom language I will introduce some useful classroom language. The participants will be encouraged to use the classroom expressions. I will be using those expressions as frequently as possible in all the sessions. Basic introduction will be done on the second session of the third day. The frequent use will be emphasized on each session. PowerPoint slides, videos, news print paper Diary, Observation checklist and questions for interview Myself
3. Providing the trainees with some lexical chunks and  some basic vocabulary Some lexical chunks and basic vocabularies useful for day to day spoken English will be presented in all the sessions. Five to seven minutes per session in some of  my sessions Flash cards, board marker, Power Point slides Diary, Observation checklist and questions for interview Myself
4. Use of communicative activities: hot chair, pen in the middle  and communicative drills These activities will be used in almost all sessions according to the nature of the subject matter to be introduced. As per the demand of the session and nature of the activity. Role cards, chair, pens, list of words, etc. Diary, Observation checklist and questions for interview Myself
5. Practice of  English sounds Five sounds of English will be practiced at the beginning of each session. Five minutes in each session. Minimal pairs, flash cards, diagram of organs of speech Diary, Observation checklist and questions for interview Myself

 

Appendix II: Observation Checklist for Recording the Spoken English of the Participants

(Observation before the Intervention)

Name of the participant:……….A………………. Date of observation: 2070/07/04

S.N. Categories Very poor Poor Average Good Very good
Clarity in expression   √
Ease is speaking
Naturalness
Pronunciation of words and expressions
Fluency
Accuracy
Use of discourse markers and gap fillers
Level of confidence
Use of paralinguistic features
Selection of right word in right context

 

(Observation after the Intervention)

Name of the participant:……….A………………. Date of observation: 2070/07/13

S.N. Categories Very poor Poor Average Good Very good
Clarity in expression  
Ease is speaking
Naturalness
Pronunciation of words and expressions
Fluency
Accuracy
Use of discourse markers and gap fillers
Level of confidence
Use of paralinguistic features
Selection of right word in right context

Appendix III: Interview Schedule for the Participants

  1. Do you feel hesitant while speaking English? If yes, why do you feel so?
  2. Do you worry about grammatical accuracy and possibility of committing errors while speaking English?
  3. Do you try to maintain stress and intonation while speaking?
  4. In your opinion, what might be the causes behind the language learners’ hesitation to use the spoken English?
  5. What do you think should be done in order to remove the hesitation of the language users in speaking English?
  6. How confident do you find yourself while speaking English?
  7. Do you try to use various discourse markers while speaking English?

 (*Mr. Ramesh Prasad Ghimire is Trainer of English, ETC, Surkhet. Mr. Ghimire completed his M. Ed. from the Central Department of English Education, Kirtipur. He taught in the same department for about two years before joining public service as a trainer of English. There are some articles and books in his credit. )

 

 

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