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In a study abroad context, students have the advantage of immersing themselves in the environment of the target language and being exposed to it. However, in and a stay-home context, where English is not the mother tongue, students’ exposure to the second language is often times restricted to the classroom. Although language teachers are keen to develop inside class room activities and practices that increase the suitability of students to acquire a second language, many would agree that class time is too limited to enhance students’ oral fluency skills. Consequently, creating opportunities outside the classroom for students to speak English is an effective strategy in compensating for students’ limited use of the L2. Research studies have shown that external classroom activities have equal significance in enabling students learn English as a second language. In addition, it has been asserted that such activities provide a non-educational environment from which a student may feel free and comfortable to acquire new language skills.
This study investigates the significance of outside classroom activities in promoting students’ oral proficiency. In addition, it reports on students’ perceptions of such activities. 15 participants from the American University of Kuwait took part in this study. Open-ended interviews were done to find out what the participants thought of these activities, and what they gained from them. Interview results show that students found outside classroom activities very effective in improving not only their oral fluency skills, but their confidence and critical thinking skills as well. The implications of this research study are for language practitioners and
language programs in the EFL context to be aware of the benefits of incorporating outside classroom activities in language teaching.
According to Sergeant (2012), the approximations are that in the beginning of the 21st century, around 400-500 million English speakers existed. Obviously, by now the number has dramatically increased. The reason for that is many countries have picked up English as the primary foreign language as the world continues to connect more and more. In these countries, it is estimated that there is 20-30% of the population that speaks English. Thus, the author notes that around 1.5 to 2 billion English speakers exist worldwide. The numbers are inclusive of native language speakers who use English as their first language, and non-native English speakers who use English as their secondary language. While studying English in a study-abroad context in which English is the first language, foreign students encounter numerous opportunities outside the classroom that enhance their oral fluency skills. These opportunities are not setup by the instructor. The setting in these countries provides the chances. However, the scenario is different in countries that do not speak English as the first language. For example, in Kuwait learners lack the opportunity to speak English when they are in environments outside the class. Thus, it is only when undertaking English courses that they are able to communicate in English. Speaking is a vital language skill that is needed; however, many Kuwaiti students face challenges when it comes to communicating in the L2. This research purposes to examine the importance of creating outside classroom activities in an EFL context to enhance the oral proficiency of students by reporting on how the students perceive these activities.
There are four essential skills in language: speaking, writing, reading, and listening. It is noted that oral speaking is the most important of the four language and communication skills. In spite of that, oral fluency in the second language is a skill that continues to be neglected in the Kuwaiti school system. It is possibly due to the misapprehension that students’ oral abilities progress with time. Another possible reason is the misunderstanding that while writing learners gain important intellectual skills that can be easily passed on to the oral communication skill.
The utilization of English as a foreign language in order to communicate orally is an intricate aspect that many learners find hard to institute. However, with the help of activities outside the classroom setting, it is possible to make this intricate aspect easier to execute. Research indicates that the current times dictate that speaking in English is almost a necessity especially for those who wish to achieve various human aspirations. Thus, what happens in a country like Kuwait where English is a foreign language? The aim of teaching how to speak English is to ensure that students are able to not only read the course materials like books, but to also orally communicate among themselves. Doing so maximizes the ability of a respective student to speak and think critically in English.
In a language classroom, learners do not have enough time to practice and enhance their speaking abilities as classroom time is limited. Thus, if students are to be able to speak and gain oral proficiency, then articulated attention coupled with day-to-day practice is needed. Hence, it has been concluded that for students who are taught English as a foreign language, fluency when speaking in English grows with more experience to the language. How is this experience gained? Outside classroom activities come in handy when availing the experience to students. Thus, external activities have been shown to avail the required input to significantly enable students to pick up the oral facet of the foreign language, in this case, English.
The data from this study were collected from students in the high intermediate level in the Intensive English Program at the American University of Kuwait. All participants, 7 males and 8 females, were in my Oral Communications class. Throughout the semester students were asked to complete several assignments that required speaking in English outside the class. Such assignments included interviews with faculty and staff in the university, volunteer work in places where English is mainly spoken, and recording videos outside the classroom where they speak in English to their friends or family.
The interview answers revealed that students deemed outside classroom activities very effective. When asked if they felt that their oral proficiency was improving throughout the semester, answers were unanimous: yes. Khalid, one of the low achievers in the class reported “ I feel I can speak better than before, I listen and tried to speak to everyone more and more. Now I speak English more than I did before.” Nora asserted “I think the assignments that you asked us to do outside the classroom really helped me improve my English. I’ve always wanted to speak English fluently, and I think speaking to people outside helped me. It was fun.”
I also asked students what other skills they obtained from such activities. I received different answers, however, the most prominent ones were confidence and critical thinking skills, although not necessarily in these exact words. Sarah expressed her thoughts by saying “I became more confident in my speaking skills, before I was afraid to speak to people who speak English very good, now I think I don’t worry about it very much.” Ahmed agreed by saying “I’m shy, I don’t speak much because I’m afraid I make mistakes, but when I volunteered everyone was very nice and I think I trust myself more than before.” Salem talked about his critical thinking skills by saying “When I decided to interview the head of the International Relations Department, I looked at his biography on our university website then I created questions based on that. I also asked him some political questions because I am interested in politics.” Lulwa talked about how she improved her problem solving skills at her volunteering job.
The results of the interviews show that the participants’ perceptions of external activities are positive. They though the activities were effective in enhancing their oral proficiency, critical thinking, and boosting their confidence levels when speaking the target language. Much research indicated that it is vital that students are given the opportunities to speak the foreign language, in this case English, in a way that they are able to without being coerced. In addition, learners need to experiment with the language as much as possible in a setting that does not threaten their experimentation. Do external classroom activities provide these? Yes, they do as the students are able to undertake oral learning activities on their own without the interference of an instructor or a person who knows and understand the language too well.
Teaching and learning of English as a second language requires creativity and innovation. The creativity and innovation is limited within the classroom environment. Hence, an out of the class environment broadens creativity and innovation to boost oral proficiency. Studies show that it is not through mindful determination that students learn to speak a foreign or second language, but it is through unaware and impulsive mechanisms. Such mechanisms are triggered when the students take part in outside classroom activities that enable them to interact using the target language. What does unaware imply? The unaware aspect of these learning and speaking activities is the usage of the language subconsciously, hence enhancing their oral proficiency during these activities.
Results also showed that outside classroom encounters enabled the students to gain various traits that are fundamental while using the second language. Amongst these traits was confidence. Confidence is paramount when speaking English as a second language. It made them use the language increasingly during the activities. The student also gained certain pronunciation skills vital for verbal communication. As a result, enhancement of the pronunciation translated to into more confident speakers.
Outside classroom activities provide the opportunity for learners in the EFL context to interact with the language while promoting verbal traits in them. In addition, it has been opined that these encounters involve and enhance learners’ critical thinking skills . According to Chiang and Fung 2004, students’ critical thinking abilities such as problem solving skills improve in interactive environments where students are motivated to deal with real life situations.
It is evident that outside class activities contribute positively to the development of speaking fluency in the target language in an EFL context . Without them, learning becomes monotonous in the classroom, and the teaching options are limited. Hence, creating these activities promotes the students’ oral proficiency and helps them enhance their confidence and critical thinking skills. Students find these external activities to be fun and interactive. The interaction enables them to experience the use of English in their everyday life. The experience is easily reciprocated in the classroom setting. The inference of the results from this research is that language instructors and ESL programs should be cognizant of the merits of integrating activities outside the classroom in their day to day teaching of the language. In addition, L2 learners in EFL settings must be encouraged to use English outside of the classroom willingly.
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