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Speaking & the Internet: an unlikely match?
by MJ. Auria, E. Lozano & M. Mansilla
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Task Allocation

This being a research project, square one was setting the grounds for research.

Project Targets had to be clearly defined, and Search Tools properly chosen.

  • As there was a candidly self-confessed ignorance on the part of the teachers involved, of any theoretical approaches behind the teaching of spoken English through the Internet, we made this our first research target.

The starting point in our search for theoretical approaches to the teaching of oral English through the Net was Donn Byrne's explanation of what teaching "speaking" involves:

"The main goal in teaching the productive skill of speaking will be oral fluency: the ability to express oneself intelligibly, reasonably, accurately and without undue hesitation (otherwise communication may break down because the listener loses interest or gets impatient). To attain this goal, the students will have to be brought from the stage where they merely imitate a model or respond to cues to the point where they can use the language to express their own ideas (...) Two complementary levels of training will therefore be required: practice in the manipulation of the fixed elements of the language (...) and practice in the expression of personal meaning "

On the understanding that teaching the speaking skill through the Internet must also meet these requirements:

a) present the learner with a model to imitate and respond to

a) present the learner with a model to imitate and respond to

, and

b) facilitate oral interaction with others so that information is exchanged,

our second research target was therefore constrained to finding courses and websites where there was a "model" to imitate and/or respond to, which in fact meant searching for online courses , teaching institutions websites, ELT webpages , ESL teachers' personal websites etc. that made use of video and/or audio-aided teaching material.

The overwhelming increase in ESL teaching material on the web was instrumental in our decision to divide the research target mentioned above into two search areas:

  • Websites/online exercises devoted to teaching oral skills and practising pronunciation, including prosodic features such as stress and intonation, by means of providing the student with a "model", as described.

  • Fee-paying and/or free online courses containing a genuinely interactive element which enables students to communicate, that is, to express and exchange ideas and feelings of their own.

Search Procedure

Once the research targets had been set, the decision on Searching Tools did not pose a problem since there was an initial consensus on having "Google" and "Yahoo!" as our main search engines, for one thing, all three team members were familiar with them and thought them quite useful. Other Searching Tools agreed upon were : printed journals, teaching magazines and books.

A final step was to clearly define the areas to explore, which eventually were named:

1) Theoretical approaches to teaching spoken English through the Internet

2) Teaching pronunciation through the Internet

3) Oral interaction within online English courses

Discussion Forum

The idea of using the Internet as a means of communication between the research group involved was paramount and presided over the whole project. With this idea in mind, the coordinator created a discussion group where relevant documents were to be uploaded, points of view exchanged and meetings called.

Having said that, every two weeks face-to-face meetings were held at the workplace, so that progress made on the project findings was appropriately checked and further action taken.

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