Monday, October 22, 2012

'Small Talk': A Comprehensive Approach to Accuracy and Fluency in OralProduction

One of the main problems that language teachers face is how to develop both accuracy and fluency in students' speaking since one oftentimes seems to come at the expense of the other (Hunter, 2012).  This article review frames a few essential questions around the article, 'Small Talk': developing fluency, accuracy, and complexity in speaking.

Hunter (2012) researched the struggle teachers have to develop both accuracy and fluency with language learners as well as the challenge of persuading learners to step out of their comfort zones when using more complex and spontaneous language by studying the following:

  • Do students get more speaking practice during 'Small Talk' than during a traditional, teacher-fronted class?  Do they make more errors?

  • What percentage of students' errors receives CF (corrective feedback), and what percentage of uptake is there?

  • Do some students receive more CF than others, and if so, why?

Hunter researched 12 adult intermediate students in the US with varying languages spoken as a mother tongue over a period of 10 weeks.  Each week, 'Small Talk' sessions were videotaped which were later analyzed by six different teachers (one being the class teacher).  The findings show that language learning speakers do speak more than more traditionally-lead classes, and they tend to make slightly fewer errors than those in teacher-controlled activities.

With regard to the second research question, the average of six different teachers were taken into account, giving an overall average of 40% (high of 57% and low of 24%).  This average compares to an average of 17% found in Lyster and Ranta (1997), who researched more extensively the types of teacher-driven feedback provided to the language learner.

To answer the final research question, the findings confirmed that CF closely reflected the needs of the individual students.

As this study makes a connection between 'Small Talk' as a method and the accuracy, fluency, and complexity of the language learning speaker at the intermediate level, how might this same study be duplicated or adapted to adult learners at a more basic level?  Moreover, how might this method be adapted to children, both at a basic and intermediate level? And finally, how might this method be implemented so that the focus becomes more on self and peer CF versus teacher-driven CF?

How have you implemented activities that address accuracy, fluency, and complexity when it comes to the oral production of language learners?  What are some strategies that have worked well and what challenges have you faced?