Improving Second Language Speaking Proficiency via Interactional Feedback

Improving Second Language Speaking Proficiency via Interactional Feedback

Peter B. Swanson (Georgia State University, USA) and Carmen Schlig (Georgia State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/javet.2010100102
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Researchers have suggested that interactional feedback is associated with foreign/second language learning because it prompts learners to notice foreign/second language forms. Using Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and Long’s interaction hypothesis as conceptual frameworks, this study explores the use of systematic explicit feedback to undergraduates (N = 1180) at three assessment points throughout one semester using digital voice recording technology for oral assessments. Results indicate that statistically significant differences were found in pronunciation, linguistic structure, and content from the first to last observation. Findings suggest serious implications for improving speaking proficiency, which promote the use of combining digital technology for oral language formative and summative assessment with quality, systematic, and in-depth feedback to students.
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Literature Review

For several decades there has been reference to communicative language teaching from around the world (Burnaby & Sun, 1989; Nunan, 1987; Sato & Kleinsasser, 1999). When S/FL instructors who claim to use a communicative approach are asked to define it, typically there are a variety of vague responses and many misconceptions such as they believe that as long as you do not teach grammar in the classroom, your approach is communicative. Furthermore, Gatbonton and Segalowitz (2005) find that genuinely communicative classrooms are in the minority. While communicative language teaching includes some focus on language structures through corrective feedback (Lightbown & Spada, 1999; Lyster & Ranta, 1997), it is important to note that the notion of communicative language teaching implies more than the mere transfer of information, and when applied to S/FL teaching, it entails the development of competence, not just skill. Savignon (1985) states that “interest in communicative competence has not only not waned, it continues to grow and has lead to the elaboration of descriptive models that have in turn provided frameworks for further research into the nature and acquisition of second language proficiency” (p. 129). In their definitions of communicative competence, some authors’ mention interaction as a sine qua non quality (Rivers, 1973; Savignon, 1978). Others stress the need for this interaction to be meaningful (VanPatten, 2003). Nevertheless, others remain closer to the original concept. That is, what a speaker needs to know to communicate effectively in culturally significant settings (Gumperz, 1972).

The preoccupation with the development of speaking skills in S/FL classrooms from the inception is valid, but at what point should we start considering the development of language proficiency? Studies that measure oral proficiency tend to look at students in the intermediate-level or higher (Barnwell, 1991; Lee, 2000) while first-year learners are conspicuously absent from these discussions. Why is the first-year S/FL experience not considered in the research? Three identified reasons for this lack of data are that (1) most first-year S/FL students are not true beginners therefore, achievement of certain linguistic level is hard to measure, (2) most studies regard oral proficiency attached to functions that are (presented but) not learned during the first year of instruction, and (3) the uncertainty of what place has accuracy in proficiency.

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