Towards enhancing listening, speaking skills

Towards enhancing listening, speaking skills

To excel in a group discussion one should be a good speaker and good listener with the right attitude, writes Jayashree N .

The long wait of English teachers of the schools affiliated to the CBSE has come to an end with the introduction of Assessment of Speaking and Listening (ASL) in classes 9th and 11th in the academic year 2013-14.

It is mandatory for all schools to conduct examination in Listening and Speaking strictly adhering to the specially designed materials provided by the CBSE for the second term and the documents like mark lists, audio files etc. should reach the official concerned before the 31st of January 2014. The CBSE has framed this programme in collaboration with Trinity College, London and in all respects it is on par with the standards of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages.

 In language teaching, the development of four major skills namely listening, speaking, reading and writing is emphasized and all these skills are systematically incorporated in the methodology followed in English language teaching all over the country. The teachers ensure that the students get ample opportunities to pick up all these skills as naturally as possible within the period.

In the case of the mother tongue the first two skills, i.e. listening and speaking are acquired very naturally and by the time a child reaches the formal education institution he/she is proficient enough to catch up with the next higher skills of reading and writing. But in the case of a second language this is not the case, children do not listen English nor do they speak English before they come to school; and then they are compelled to start with all the four skills simultaneously. This affects the learning process quite adversely.

Education is viewed from the examination point of view .  Thus the skill of writing somehow acquired the foremost position in the hierarchy. For any evaluation we depend mostly upon written examinations. Though objective tests and even online tests have won considerable popularity these days, in the basic levels written examinations still enjoy fairly high position and we cannot do away with highly serviceable means of evaluation at all. In these circumstances the skill of writing gets an edge over the other skills and as a result both teachers and students tend to overlook the importance of listening and speaking the two major skills the mastery of which make a job seeker confident.

Realising this the CBSE has adopted many modern ways and methods for evaluation. There have been serious and determined efforts to reduce the undue weightage given to pen and paper tests and we have witnessed a lot of new techniques with far reaching consequences being introduced in the fields of both instruction and evaluation. Introduction of ASL in the secondary and senior secondary levels is one among them.
One can soar high in the professional world with high proficiency and command of the English language. More than one’s knowledge and competence in subject areas employers these days consider the attitude of a candidate. The right attitude in turn is decided by one’s confidence level and it is mainly determined by his or her ability to communicate effectively.

An English teacher’s lesson plans always contained a section exclusively for the development of listening skill, all these years. But the competence of the learner in this area has never been a part of the official scheme of assessment. Now the CBSE has introduced this missing element of assessing the listening skill by way of ASL in the higher classes. As part of CCE a few tasks to assess both listening and speaking were introduced earlier and now the introduction of ASL has provided  a new dimension  to all such activities .

In campus interviews, companies employ group discussions and debate as screening tests.  Some others conduct preliminary interviews over the phone. Here one’s language proficiency becomes the deciding factor. To excel in a group discussions one should be a good speaker and a good listener with right attitude. One should be bold enough to initiate a discussion, establish his or her point and convince the other members. Though youngsters generally possess good command over their subjects, when it comes to group discussion or a presentation they falter because they lack exposure in these areas.
Listening is generally considered a passive activity because we can listen when we are involved in other activities.

However, this is not listening, but just hearing. Hence we should make our children understand the fact that listening, like reading and writing, is an active skill and one should get systematic practice to develop this skill. It becomes the responsibility of the educational institutions to provide more opportunities to students to listen to good sound tracks spoken by both Indian and native speakers. This will familiarize the students to the subtle nuances of spoken English. With lot many possibilities of advanced technology this will not pose any challenge.  Good audio tracks are available in the market. A resourceful teacher can make his/her own recordings too.

In ASL, speaking skill is assessed on the basis of a pair work in which to candidates will together interact with the examiner. There are three steps in which the participants will introduce themselves, talk on a selected topic, ask questions each other and finally engage in a spontaneous discussion based on a particular situation/problem provided in the form of a written cue.

The examiner also takes part in the discussions and meanwhile the examiner will keenly analyze the performance of each candidate. Marks in four specific areas like interactive competence, fluency, pronunciation and quality of language will be awarded as per the performance descriptors provided by the CBSE. For class ix one pair can complete the performance within 8 to 9 minutes and for class xi it may go up to 10 to 11 minutes. The CBSE insists that the interaction should be recorded with the help of a MP3 voice recorder.

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