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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
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SYRIA 


Four Strategies for Increasing Oral Production in the EFL Classroom
by Sada A. Daoud


Two factors present themselves in a discussion of oral production in Syrian university EFL classrooms. The first is that students are incompetent in the oral skill. The second is a positive factor: Students have a real desire to speak English more effectively, not only in the language classroom but also in out-of-class situations.


Many Syrian university students suffer from mother-tongue interference. This interference seems deeply rooted, making them translate in their minds what they want to say. The result is a speech variety that does not sound English and leads to frustration even on the part of the speakers. Some students choose to give up and remain silent.


Silence, however, does not always mean lack of interest. I have seen students listen, read, and write when asked. They show their comprehension of whatever oral production they hear by their facial expressions. They smile or frown, nod their heads in agreement, or shake them in disagreement. And they laugh heartily when they hear a joke. Yet they are reluctant to make a single spontaneous utterance in English.


To deal with this situation, I have used the following strategies:


1. The Message


After greeting the students, I announce that I am going to whisper a message into the ear of the student sitting nearest to me. Students should pass on the message orally from mouth to ear till it gets to the last student, who then writes what he has heard on the board. Sometimes the message gets wholly or partially distorted. When I write the original version next to the received one, students burst out in laughter. Once the original message was: "Marry in haste and repent at leisure." The message that emerged at the end was: "Marry in haste and repeatwith pleasure ." When I put the two messages side by side, my students were hysterical. The activity made them ready to plunge into hard work. In addition, they had some practice in vocabulary and spelling.


2. Reflections


Writing a word on the board, I ask students to reflect on it and say whatever comes to their minds, with one condition: Everyone must say something different in a complete sentence. There is a prize for the student who says the best sentence (as determined by vote). Once I gave a group of medical students the word "patient" to respond to. One response was: "A doctor should be patient when dealing with a difficult patient." Another was: "Patients are often victims of their own environment." A third was: "One patient's doctor might become another doctor's patient." To come up with quick, original responses, students have to listen carefully. They do not have the time to translate and are forced to think in English.


3. The Dilemma


I present a dilemma to the class to respond to. It may be a real-life situation, or imaginary. For instance, a successful surgeon asks his wife, also a well-known pediatrician, to close her clinic and stay at home to bring up her young children. What should she do? In responding to such dilemmas, students get so involved that they forget they are using a foreign language.


4. The Mystery Package


I place an attractive, present-like parcel on the table, declare that something "valuable" is inside, and tell students to ask questions to discover what it is. Their questions should have only "yes" or "no" answers, with no repetition of questions allowed. The student who guesses correctly gets the parcel. To get students to ask many questions, it is better to choose an object that is hard to guess. Once I put a baby's pacifier in the parcel. The allotted time was over before any student had the right answer. When I opened the parcel, the class roared with laughter.


The overall aim of these strategies is to encourage students to talk and use the language spontaneously. I have found them very useful in creating a relaxed non-threatening atmosphere conducive to learning. They provide the sort of involvement necessary for genuine interaction in an EFL classroom situation.




Sada A. Daoud has been teaching at the E.S.P. Centre, University of Damascus, since 1988. She previously taught in secondary schools in Tartous and at Tishreen University, Latakia.
 

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