1.2 Literature Review
1.3 Main Research Questions/Hypotheses
2. Research Methodology
2.2 Data Collection, Interpretation and Triangulation
3.1 Face to Face Interviews
3.2 Focus Group Meeting
Being able to communicate in a language other than one’s own native language has become paramount not only in business but also in people’s private lives. Many businesses operate in more than one country and people travel across the world to experience the different cultures of other people. Being able to communicate in another language brings people much closer together and much faster. Language teaching plays a vital role in developing and fostering people with the necessary attitude, motivation and driving force to become proficient in another language. This is not an easy task. Every person is different and responds in a different way to language teaching approaches and methods. Language teachers need to keep themselves informed of new technological advances, for examples, to improve the effective and efficient means of teaching a foreign language to students. Some countries have been more exposed to the need to learn other languages depending on their geographical position and their economic situation, such as tourism being a major income provider. Europe, for example, has a long tradition of language teaching and language learning. Most European nations are close to each other or they are bi-or multilingual themselves. The need to communicate with one another across languages is therefore an old and obvious one.
Much of today’s business discussions and negotiations are conducted primarily in English and many tourists use English as a common means to communicate with others in countries such as Cuba, Spain and Italy. The learning and teaching of foreign languages such as English, Spanish and German is of enormous importance across the world. It appears that publications on language teaching have often been seen as the lowest step of a staircase according to Appel (1995). At the top there is theory and as one walks down, the lower steps become more and more practical until class room interaction is reached. Practical applications in many and varied forms are what makes successful language teaching today. As knowledge methods of how to teach languages increase, so does the effectiveness of the end results. It appears that an emphasis on how languages are taught does not necessarily combine with changes in practice. Some teachers have shown a strong resistance to educational change. This has often been the subject of complaint. Some scholars suggest that language teaching practice has been going on as if advances in research had never happened, such as Appel. The attitude and the associated behaviors of language teachers and Heads of Language Schools are of paramount importance. It is here where fundamental positive steps forward can be achieved.
One such forward-thinking institution is the Faculty of Humanities at the Universidad de Oriente (UO) in Santiago de Cuba. Language teachers of foreign languages such as English and German regularly review contemporary literature to keep up to date with the latest thinking in foreign language teaching methods. In addition, they conduct research via the Internet and by contacting language teaching institutions outside of Cuba to gather knowledge to make informed decisions to improve their own language teaching approaches. The UO currently teaches topics such as British and American History and Literature so that students learn about a new topic whilst at the same time improving their practical language skills, including linguistics and semantics.
Students have workshops and exams that provide opportunities to recycle the newly-gained knowledge. Early indications show that students perform better when the passing on of knowledge is approached in such a way that the level of motivation within students is increased noticeably and significantly. There is clear evidence that students enjoy and benefit from visits by foreign scholars who share their knowledge and experience in the appropriate language. These encounters are landmark points for the students as part of their training and development plan within the University and their later professional/working life. For example, recent encounters at the UO included presentations and interactive class room discussions about topical business issues such as Conflict Management, Team Building and Effective Communications. These sessions are very intense and provide superior levels of learning over a much shorter period of time compared to regular classroom teaching. The use of equipment is limited to available resources but this does in no way limit the positive and proactive spirit of the teachers and the learners of new languages.
This research presents the outcomes of a study that investigated the close relationships between attitudes, behaviors and teaching competencies of foreign language teachers at the UO in Santiage de Cuba, how the students benefit from their proactive and forward-thinking teaching approaches and what the benefits are to the students in terms of increased levels of language proficiencies (Fig. 1).
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Figure 1 The Relationship between Language Teachers, Language Students and Language Proficiency
1.2 Literature Review
According to Doernyei (2009), it will not come as a surprise to hear that language is a part of psychology. The reason for this is that language is not just a communications code or a cognitive linguistic system. Language is at the centre of everything human beings do, from the most prosaic to the most profound. It is the basic ingredient of virtually every social situation. Lightbown and Spada (2006) suggest that the acquisition of language is one of the most impressive and fascinating aspects of human development. It appears that the two fields of psychology and linguistics had the potential during the 1960s to work much closer together.
In contrast, Segalowitz (2001) considers that this opportunity never materialised. Segalowitz takes the grim view that “The sad truth is that many psychologists interested in language have not kept up with recent developments in linguistics and it would also seem that many linguists are not aware of what is happening in psychology, especially in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuropsychology” (p.4). According to Doernyei linguists and psychologists have looked at the same phenomenon from different perspectives. Accordingly, for example, teachers of languages tend to concentrate more on the descriptive rules and patterns of the language system such as grammar. Doernyei suggests that psychologists, on the other hand, focus more on the mental processes and structures whereby people understand, produce, remember, store and acquire the actual language.
Belyayev (1965) considers that students who learn a foreign language must by force of necessity learn to think in that language. Consequently, the whole process of language teaching is to be envisaged as the switching of the student’s thinking from one language to another. Belyayev asserts, based on some research, that once students have mastered a foreign language, the learner does not need to revert back to his native language to use the resources of that tongue. The learner has acquired the ability to think directly in the new foreign language he/she has learned. According to Belyayev (1969), based on some further research, language teachers have an important role to play in the effective teaching of foreign languages. Belyayev considers that thinking in a foreign language reveals specific characteristics and presents certain distinctive features in relation to thinking in the native language. This is why language teachers need to master the art and means of communication in a foreign language so that the language student evolves a different way of thinking. Belyayev did not elaborate on what he meant by “thinking”. Littlewood (1981) considered earlier that communicative activities are paramount to the successful learning of another language. He defines communicative learning as an activity whereby the student engages in activities with the main purpose of communicating meanings effectively to another student or the teacher. Littlewood suggests a number of contributions that communicative activities can make to language learning. For example, whole task practice is a structured approach in order to suit the learner’s level of ability. This integrates all of what has been learned so far. Littlewood asserts that learners want to participate more in communications with others and are therefore more motivated to learn much faster. The actual use of the new language is also an important part of the total learning process. Natural learning is a result of applying, for example, in conversations what has been learned. Communicative activities create environments that support the individual in their efforts to learn.
Lynch (1996) suggests that it is important that teachers observe how foreign language students succeed or fail in their efforts to communicate in the classroom or language laboratory. It can help them to intervene to make learners’ use of the foreign language more effective. Teachers should never be afraid to search for new teaching techniques and approaches to improve the effectiveness of language teaching. Some methods may well work better in some settings such as rural schools or Universities but of paramount importance is to have the right attitude to at least try some new way of teaching.
Teachers should always try out something themselves so they can use this practical experience to argue in favor of any desired approach changes. Lynch points out that students should be encouraged to interact through classroom tasks such as presentations and group exercises by using the traditional language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. Comprehension plays an important role in the development of the foreign language learner’s competence in that language. As part of the teaching process, teachers of foreign languages must develop the active listening skills of students. To become competent in another language involves much more than just recognizing what is being said. Comprehension is multi-layered and requires or allows interpretation at different levels. When people, for example, listen to their own language, they often go beyond the input in many ways. This is where language schools can provide learners with appropriate help. Research has shown that low-level learners tend not to use the effective listening strategies that they would apply in their first language.
Lynch quotes Krashen (1985) who argues that under suitable affective conditions such as positive feelings and motivation, language learners will use some parts of this input not only to comprehend the current message but also to pick up new items of grammar and vocabulary and to improve their fluency in speaking. Interactive negotiations are on effective route to improve language proficiency. Lynch considers that language teachers play a vital role in the effective teaching of foreign languages to students. Teachers, based on years of practical class room experience, recognize the important link between comprehension and progress in a foreign language and then design classroom teaching appropriately. This includes the effective utilization of tools such as the language laboratory and inviting native English speakers to interact with students. Krashen reports that it is the teacher’s personal style that makes a fundamental difference how students pick up language skills, for example, by how they ask questions. This has a major impact on how students learn. Krashen asserts that those teachers’ abilities to close the gap between the students’ perception what the teachers are trying to focus on and what they actually are focusing their attention on is of paramount importance to the effective teaching of a foreign language. The authors, based on years of practical classroom teaching in foreign languages, suggest that regular interactions with native speakers of languages provides students with opportunities to acquire and use, for example, new vocabulary, grammar and contemporary expressions and phrases in the relatively safe environment of the classroom. Native speakers of languages must modify their speech content to ensure that the messages sent are received as intended.
According to House (2008), language is the most important means of communicating, of transmitting information and providing human bonding. It is a person’s prime means of acquiring knowledge of the world, of transmitting mental representations and making them public and inter-subjectively accessible. House considers that language per se has an influence on its speakers’ thinking, their world view and behavior. This is in contrast of the view that language “reflects” the culture of a social group. House suggests that some people have acquired language proficiency in more than one language.
This is the kind of person who has been exposed to, for example, the language intricacies of his own native tongue and those of another language. Such a person has the potential to develop “his or her own third way, based on the combined knowledge and experience of more than one native language (p.19). This puts students into a precarious position but ultimately one of enrichment. Such experiences offer the intercultural speakers deeper insights and understanding in both cultures (own and learned). It appears that English is the preferred option for linguistic unity, allowing people from different first language backgrounds to communicate (Soler, 2008). As a consequence, nearly all Europeans, irrespective of social class, are provided with instruction in English. The language is also accepted as an international or global language. It should be noted that the following statements are not questioned and some are perhaps the fundamental reason why so many students across the world study English at University level:
- English is the language spoken by more non-native speakers than native speakers
- English is the language to have access to journals and conferences
- English is the dominant language in publishing
- English is used when the content of courses, manuals and software have a bilingual or trilingual pattern
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- ISBN (Buch)
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba – Faculty of Humanities
- English language teaching Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) Communications Psychology Language Teachers