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Topic 7 – The oral foreign language. The complexity of understanding the overall meaning in oral interaction: From audition to active and selective listening. Taking word of imitative reproduction to autonomous production.

INTRODUCTION

Speech, or spoken language, is the most obvious aspect of language; it is the universal material of human language. For many hundreds of thousands of years human language was transmitted and developed entirely as spoken means of communication.

Using a foreign language requires having a number of different abilities. Linguistics have identified four major abilities, which are called linguistic skills. They are: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

In this unit we are going to study the listening and speaking skills, first how our pupils involve from hearing to active listening, and second, from imitative speaking to autonomous talking.

Perhaps, the most important difference between writing and speaking is related to the need for accuracy. Native speakers constantly make mistakes when they are speaking: they change the subject in the middle of a sentence, hesitate and say the same thing in different ways. These mistakes, except in extremely formal situations, are considered as normal.

Another characteristic is that speech is time-bound, dynamic and transient. It’s a part of an interaction in which both participants are present, and the speaker has a specific addressee in mind. Meanwhile, in most of the cases, the writer doesn’t know who the addressee is, so that there is a little expectation of a reply.

In this regard, participants are in a face-to-face interaction and share the same situational context; as a result, they can rely on non-verbal devices, as body language, facial expression and gesture, as well as rely on the context, in order to help make clear what they mean. This does not happen in speech.

Another characteristic is that speakers do at least three things at once: planning what to say next, saying what they have planned, and monitoring what they are saying in order to check that it is what they meant to say. On the other hand, in the speech prevails the spontaneity and the speed, so it’s more difficult to engage in complex advanced planning. Whereas, writers can be more precise and organised about what they have to say and also because they have more time for planning and revision.

Talking about the linguistic features, a speaker has a great range of expressive possibilities, since he can vary his intonation and stress. The writing system cannot directly represent the prosodic features of speech. Only a very few graphic conventions relate to prosody, such as question marks.

As grammar and vocabulary regards, the syntax of speech is much simpler than the syntax of writing. The lexicon of speech is also often vague, using words which refer directly to the situation. In written language these expressions are very unusual.

7.1 LISTENING AND READING: BASIC PRINCIPLES OF RECEPTIVE SKILLS.

The fact that comprehension can develop ahead of production is something that should be recognised and exploited in language teaching. Another point to bear in mind is that language acquisition is based on a rich, varied and intensive contact with language, and that a rich exposure to language can only be provided through extensive and listening.

We will look now some basic principles that apply to both reading and listening, these skills are performed with different mediums, there are underlying characteristics and skills that are may be applied to both of them.

FIRST TIME WITH A TEXT OR A LISTENING

  • Extracting specific information.

The reader/listener will disregard everything except the information he is interested in. This skill when applied to reading is called scanning.

  • Getting the general picture.

It is often called skimming and presupposes the ability to pick up the main points and discard what is irrelevant, redundant, or what is only detail.

MORE DETAILED ANALYSIS WHEN THE 1º TYPE HAS BEEN WORKED ON.

  • Inferring opinion and attitude

A reader/listener often has to be able to work out what the writer or speaker opinions and attitude are, particularly to recognize linguistic style and its use to achieve appropriate purposes.

  • Deducing meaning from context

It is important for a language user who will often meet unknown words and we will try to train students in the same way to guess the meaning of unknown words from the context in which the word occurs.

  • Recognising function and discourse patterns and markers such as “for example” and “in other words”

It is an important part of understanding how a text is constructed.

7.2 LISTENING COMPREHENSION

Listening is essentially an active process. Teaching the comprehension of a spoken language is of primary importance if we want to achieve communication.

At early stages, students have to listen with much greater attention, consequently, they find difficult both to select important items of information and retain them in their memory. So, we as teachers, have to train our students in identification and selection.

Speech is very different from writing. Spontaneous conversation is not very organised, and the listener has to discard the redundant parts of what is said in order to listen only the main message.

Also, listening to a teacher or to a tape recorder is not the same as real life conversations.

7.2.1 PROCESSES INVOLVED

  • IDENTIFICATION

We first learn to perceive that there is a systematic rather than an accidental noise in a continuous stream of sound. We learn to recognize a characteristics rise a fall of the voice, varying pitch levels and recurrences of certain sound sequences.

  • SELECTION

We identify in what we are hearing segments with distinctive structure, and we impose a structure on what we are hearing according to our knowledge of the grammatical system of the languages.

  • RECIRCULATION, SELECTIVE, RECODIFICATION FOR STORAGE

We recirculate the material we are hearing through our cognitive system to relate to later segments and thus make the final selection of what we will retain as the message.

7.2.2 STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT.

IDENTICATION OF THE PHONIC AND SYNTACTIC PATTERNING

The recurring elements which give form to segments of speech. Recognition of familiar elements in the mass of speech without being able to recognize the interrelationships within the whole system

IDENTIFICATION AND SELECTION WITHOUT RETENTION.

Listening for pleasure with no question to be answered

IDENTIFICATION AND GUIDED SELECTION WITH SHORT TERM RETENTION

Students are given some prior indication of what they are going to listen. They demonstrate their comprehension immediately in some active action

IDENTIFICATION AND SELECTION WITH LONG TERM RETENTION

Students demonstrate their comprehension developing activities which require the use of the material previously learnt.

7.3 LISTENING TO PERCEPTION EXERCISES

The main aim of this type of exercise is to give the learner practice in identifying correctly different sounds, sound combinations and intonations. It is the only category where actual comprehension is a secondary consideration, the emphasis being on aural perception. Thus, in most of the exercises. Visual and context clues are eliminated in order to induce the learner to rely upon his ear for the complete understanding of the text.

1) LISTENING AT WORD LEVEL

At the early stages students need practice in hearing and saying the sound of isolated words as they are ideally pronounced .At this level , the listeners main problem is simply to identify the right phoneme and hence the right word.

Learning new sound is a matter of acquiring habits. The process of teaching them is mostly based on a behaviourist.

There are different oral activities that may do in order to develop this perceptive skill:

  • -Repetition
  • -English or not?

Contrast the new sound with the nearest equivalent in the native language.

  • -Same of different?

Using minimal pair distinctions , the teacher calls out two words and challenges the students to say if they are the same or different.

2) LISTENING AT SENTENCE LEVEL

Words are integrated into sentences with colloquial, spontaneous speech, recognizing them becomes more difficult: The contraction and even disappearance of weak forms or unstressed syllables, assimilation or elision of consonants.

As oral activities, we are going to use repetition, students are asked to repeat short phrases or complete utterances either said by the teacher or recorded.

7.4. LISTENING TO COMPREHENSION EXERCISES.

A) LISTENING AND MAKING NO RESPONSE.

No response exercises can be used as exposing students to relatively large amounts of spoken English. We call it input.

  1. FOLLOWING A WRITTEN TEXT

Teacher reads out a story or question, and the students follow his word in their textbooks. This is a valid technique for presenting new material and getting the used to the correspondence between written and oral language.

  1. LISTENING TO A FAMILIAR TEXT

We rarely in real life know exactly what we are going to hear, though we usually have some general expectations. Listening to a familiar text does not demand such intensive exercising of the comprehensive skills. But has a value as a sort of easy transition between listening for a perception and listening for comprehension.

  1. LISTENING AIDED BY VISUALS

Learners look at visual material at the same time they follow a spoken description of it. The latter may be limited strictly to details that can be verified visually or may include extra information, using the illustration as a jumping off point for longer narrative, description or discussion.

  1. ENTERTAIMENT

The occasional introduction of pleasurable components like songs and stories into English lessons can improve student motivation and general morale.

B) LISTENING AND MAKING SHORT RESPONSES.

  1. OBEYING INSTRUCTIONS
    • Physical movement (T.P.R)

At elementary level, commands may be as simple as: stand up, sit down.

· Constructing models

Build a model according to the specifications given by the teacher. They may use clay, sand, plasticine…

· Picture dictation

TICKING OFF ITEMS

This category includes games like “bingo”, in which the students have to check if the item named is present among the ones they have.

TRUE/FALSE STATEMENTS

The students are presented with a spoken statement and asked to say whether it is true or false.

DETECTING MISTAKES

Students listen to a long passage which contains wrong or impossible facts and respond whenever they hear the erroneous details.

PICTURES

Identifying and ordering: Photographs representing different people can be presented together with recording of the same people talking. For example jobs.

C) LISTENING AND MAKING LONGER RESPONSES.

REPETITION AND DICTATION

If we ask students to repeat what they have heard, we may not be testing comprehension at all, but merely accurate perception and retention.

PARAPHRASE

It is the reproduction of spoken material in a different form that is, using different words. It must keep in mind that even good students find this type of exercises relatively difficult.

TRANSLATION

It is a kind of paraphrase. It can be used as a comprehension aid and check.

ANSWERING QUESTION

Receiving an appropriate reply to a question is another very obvious signal that the question has been understood.

PREDICTIONS

When we hear the first part of an utterance, we may able to guess the exact meaning, if not the exact words, of its continuation.

FILLING GAPS

In these exercises students are asked to fill in missing phrases or sentences using hints given both before and after the gap. They must not only predict, but reconstruct in retrospect.

SUMMARIZING

In real life we simply get a general idea of the gist of entire utterances. At the same time we are able to “skin” other spoken information which we can understand but we do not need to for the complete understanding of this sentence. Students can get good practice in these skills by summarizing the main points of a given text, either orally or in writing.

7.5 TEACHING SPOKEN LANGUAGE: PRODUCTIVE SKILLS

The main goal in the teaching the productive skill of speaking will be oral fluency. This can be defined as the ability to express oneself intelligibly, reasonably accurately and without too much hesitation. Students will therefore need to be given two complementary levels of training:

· -Practice in the manipulation of the fixed elements of the language (Phonological and grammatical pattern, together with vocabulary)

· -Opportunities for the expression of personal meaning.

7.6 TEACHING DIALOGUES.

Although there is a considerable variety in the materials, most lessons should follow the basic underlying pattern:

A) Presentation of new language with dialogues

The teacher mains task is to serve as a kind of informant. , selecting the language and the new material to be learned.

There are some ways to motivate students to listen to the dialogues we are using in class:

  • -Through discussion of the situation (together with related visual material) and by relating the situation to the learners themselves.
  • -Through a pre-listening task which will involve them in the situation/topic on a personal level.

b) Stages involved in presenting a dialogue

-Stage 1

Before presenting a dialogue or text for the first, it should be placed in some kind of context of place, time and characters involved.

-Stage 2

In most cases putting the meaning across is a minor part of the teaching a dialogue, purpose of the class is to learn English and encourage the use of English in the classroom as much as possible.

-Stage 3

Setting a listening task.

-Stage 4

Listen the dialogue several times

-Stage 5

Listen and read at the same time

-Stage 6

Listen and repeat. The first step is to let the students hear a sentence from the dialogue and to ask them to repeat it as soon as they can. It is necessary to let the students hear the sentence several times and make the class repeat after you.

-Stage 7

Explain any difficulties

-Stage 8

Asking the students to practise bay saying the dialogue

-Stage 9

Ask the student to dramatise or improvise the dialogue.

7.8. FROM PRACTICE TO PRODUCTION: TRANSITION ACTIVITIES (AUTONOMOUS REPRODUCTION)

Language learning often stops at the practice stage. Many teachers feel that they have done their job if they have presented the new material well and have given their students adequate, though usually controlled practice in it.

There are some transition activities that help the students to go from repetition or practice to real production of spoken language.

  • -Transfer

Whenever possible the student is encouraged to use the new-acquired language in some way meaningful to him/her. The degree of real communication that takes place is of course limited by the nature of the classroom environment.

  • -Information gap

These are activities in which students are given bits of information, by sharing this separate information they can complete a task.

  • -Oral compositions

The idea is that the teacher and students work together to build up a text orally before writing it down.

  • -Personalisation and localisation

They refer to those stages of practice where students use language they have recently learnt to say things about themselves or about things they know.

Once the activity begins, make sure that the children are speaking as much English as possible without interfering to correct the mistakes that they will probably make. Try to treat errors casually by praising the utterance and simply repeating it correctly without necessarily highlighting the errors. And finally, always offer praise for effort regardless of the accuracy of the English produced.

To summarise, in this topic we have dealt with the oral skills (listening and speaking), which, in the Foreign Language Area curriculum, are stressed over the written skills (reading and writing). We’ve given some guidelines in order to make a proper planning and we’ve suggested some of the activities we can do when teaching both skills.



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