Love Monster. Learning English through stories.
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The relevance of oral abilities with a communicative intention must necessarily go through the creation of optimal learning conditions. In this light, Newton and Nation (2009) consider the “MINUS” framework as an acronym that refers to a set of relevant principles, especially interesting for the teaching of oral FLs at early stages. These principles can be resumed as follows:
Meaning: The main focus should be on language that learners can quickly use for their purposes. Meaning-focused listening and speaking may be directed towards classroom management, recalling or retelling stories or finding out about our learners´ preferences.
Interest: Considering the age of the learners in Primary Education and their limited attention span, activities should be short and varied.
New language: An overload in the presentation of new language and functions prevents students from gaining control over that language
Understanding: Before using the words in guided speaking, students need to be provided with plenty of comprehensible input through activities that require showing understanding. In this sense, the use of non-verbal language or visual aids offers a valuable contextual support.
Stress-free: It is widely accepted amongst researchers and FL teachers that anxiety influences students´ willingness to take active part in communicative activities. Thus, the creation of a safe and friendly cooperative classroom atmosphere is particularly important at early ages.
Nonetheless, before approaching the teaching of oral abilities, FL teachers should understand the nature of listening and speaking.
In most of the cases, the majority of opportunities to learn a FL take place within the school setting. This “artificial environment” should serve as a springboard for our learners to solve daily situations through the use of the FL, according to the methodological guidelines for the teaching of FLs, concerning general aspects of the foreign language area).
As we know, in the communicative FL classroom we apply some theoretical principles:
• The main goal is to favour the individual´s development of communicative competence.
• Regarding methodological assumptions, the learner must be given opportunities to practise; thus classroom interaction is at the heart of the FL teaching process.
• In relation to the language, the learner is encouraged to prioritise meaning over grammatical form and accuracy.
• The roles of both teachers and learners vary according to the task to be carried out.
• Error is seen as a natural part of the FL learning process and as a proof of evolution towards certain degree of communicative competence.
• The four macroskills must be covered through activities which provide students with situations where social interaction (pair and group work) is presented.
Notwithstanding, this communicative view of FL teaching cannot be attempted unless FL teachers create a positive classroom atmosphere, so that students do not feel daunted towards taking the risk to use English to get their meanings across. Seen in this light, Newton and Nation (2009) consider the “MINUS” framework as an acronym aimed at creating the optimal conditions for learning the FL; which can be resumed as follows:
• Meaning: language that learners can use for their purposes, such as classroom management.
• Interest: Considering the age of the learners in Primary Education and their limited attention span, activities should be short and varied.
• New language: An overload in the presentation of new language and functions.
- Understanding: provide students with plenty of comprehensible input through activities that require showing understanding; using non-verbal language and visual supports.
• Stress-free: creating a safe and friendly cooperative classroom atmosphere.
However, before getting theory into practice and start dealing with classroom variables, it is essential for the teacher to know the particular group of students in the classroom, since knowing the individual differences in learners will maximize the organizational measures. In this sense, Rod Ellis (1997) focuses his attention in three main dimensions: language aptitude, motivation and learning strategies:
a. Language aptitude. The natural ability to learn a foreign language is known as language aptitude and is believed to be a part of general intelligence. However, intelligence refers to how well we master a series of abilities (linguistic and non-linguistic); whilst aptitude has to do with a special ability applied to language learning.
b. Motivation plays a crucial role in FLL, since motivated students can achieve a working knowledge of FLL regardless of their aptitude and cognitive characteristics. In this light, Dörnyei (2001) identifies three indispensable motivational conditions: appropriate teacher behaviours and a good relationship with the students; a pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere; and a cohesive learner group with appropriate group norms.
- Learning strategies. They are the particular approaches or techniques used by students in the FLL process, usually problem-solving oriented.
Accordingly, Oxford, R (1990) notes that learning strategies are specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations”. In other words, learning strategies are steps taken by the students to enhance their own learning.
In this line, Selinker (1992) makes reference to strategies as the different mechanisms used either consciously or not in order to get, store, retrieve and use information.
Some other learners´ differences to be considered are:
d. Age. A common-sense view of this variable suggests that adults and children do not learn in the same way. On the one hand, adults may easily rely on formal features of the language (grammatical structures or functions); whilst children seem to be more successful than adults when it comes to the phonological system (the sounds of a language), even being able to reproduce native-like accents.
e. Learning styles. This variable is related to Gardner´s theory of the multiple intelligences. The cognitive style of each student refers to the way in which they perceive, conceptualize, organize and recall information. This mental functioning is different in each student (i.e. some people learn better through visual aids, others through hearing, manipulating, etc). In short, Gardner describes eight types of intelligences (visual/spatial, logical/mathematical, musical, bodily/kinaesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal, intrapersonal and verbal/linguistic), stating that we can be intelligent in different ways and that intelligence can be improved and developed. The consequence for FL learning seems clear; catering for different learning styles will provide the students with more chances to succeed.
f. Personality. Extroverted learners learn more rapidly and are more successful than introverted students.
Once analyzed the main factors to be considered within a communicative view of FL teaching, we shall now deal with some of the most outstanding variables in the organization of the FL class: the roles of both students and teachers.
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