Communication Matters: Upgrading the Communicative Approach to ESP Through Smartphones

Communication Matters: Upgrading the Communicative Approach to ESP Through Smartphones

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9228-0.ch009
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The chapter deals with the potential of smartphones for the ESP class, which is currently taught within a communicative framework at the University of Bucharest. The study begins from a survey conducted among non-philological students, with a view to assessing their opinion on the acceptance of MALL. As the findings confirmed, the instructors' general observation that students would welcome a mobile-integrated course. The first part of this chapter exemplifies how the smartphone can enhance both productive and receptive skills. It provides within concrete scenarios various recommendations of specific applications, methods, or videos to be incorporated in the class, as well as the advantages such enterprises may bring. The last part establishes some general directions for using the smartphone to improve individual types of skills. The chapter concludes that, while receptive skills mainly benefit from mobile technology in terms of efficiency and ease of use, productive skills allow deeper changes in the pedagogical paradigm, thus offering fertile ground for MALL.
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It is Monday afternoon. Students enrolled in Art History at the University of Bucharest are having their English class. They each had to prepare a presentation in English of a painting of their choice. They are in a modern classroom, equipped with computing infrastructure and a smartboard. A student goes to the smartboard and switches it on. As she connects her USB device to the computer and then transfers everything onto the smartboard, she introduces the audience to Caravaggio, the chiaroscuro technique and the birth of the Baroque. Finally, a painting appears on the screen. The student begins her presentation, pointing to details, while everybody is listening carefully. A sudden malfunction of the smartboard interrupts her speech. She could go on, but, without displaying the painting, the presentation would make little sense, if any. Then, she has an idea - she asks her colleagues to use their smartphones and search for the painting on the Internet. In a few seconds, the situation is back to normal and she can carry on with her presentation.

This is a true story—the student’s presentation was saved by her colleagues’ mobile devices. Ever more often, mobile devices are integrated in the English class, for various purposes, from searching for information related to students’ field of study, to sharing handouts or for practising certain skills.

This article looks into the potential of mobile technologies for the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) class. The discussion will be centred on the ESP courses taught at the University of Bucharest (UB) within a communicative framework, and on the benefits a more systematic use of mobile-assisted language teaching (MALL) may bring. In 2015, the British Council published a guide to mobile pedagogy for English language teaching, which argued that “Mobile-assisted language learning is not simply the transfer of current teaching and learning materials and practices to a mobile device, but a complete reconceptualisation of these” (Kukulska-Hulme, Norris & Donohue, 2015, p. 3). In the early years of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) it was equally wrongly assumed that a mere transfer of pen-and-paper based activities to the computer would do (Stockwell & Hubbard, 2013). The authors of this article too, believe that there is a need of a more detailed and critical analysis of how mobile devices can be integrated in the ESP courses, alongside with the limitations they present.

The present paper is only concerned with the integration of smartphones in ESP, motivated by their increasing affordability (according to the survey we conducted among our students, the ownership rate amounts to an overwhelming 98.8%), their portability and extended capabilities similar to those of computers (Internet access, digital cameras, possibility to create and receive text messages, video-recording, ability to run a whole range of software components, etc.). We all live now, in fact, in a “phone-based culture” (Kenning, 2007, p.171), yet today’s phone no longer resembles Graham Bell’s contrivance. It has become an all-purpose device, an extension of our body, a means by which we reach out to the outer world, and, according to this paper, a useful tool for language education.

The study presents the findings of a survey conducted among non-philological students enrolled in three major fields of study (pure sciences, social sciences and economic sciences), which show their proclivity for mobile technology and the perceived usefulness of a mobile-integrated ESP class. From here we continue by presenting how both receptive and productive skills can be improved by resorting to smartphone-based activities. While mobile technology helps mostly with efficiency and ease of use for receptive skills, productive skills allow deeper changes in the pedagogical paradigm, thus offering fertile ground for further research into MALL. We conclude that, no matter how much technology can do for language education, what motivates students is still the teacher’s craftsmanship in choosing the best and most interesting activities and materials, especially since there is such a relatively low number of readily available sources for the domain of ESP.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Receptive Skills: Language skills used to receive information (reading and listening).

MALL: Mobile-assisted language learning. Language learning and teaching that is assisted by the use of a handheld mobile device.

ESP: English for specific purposes. A branch of language for specific purposes that aims at catering for the linguistic needs of people working or studying in a particular domain.

CALL: Computer-assisted language learning. Language learning and teaching that is assisted by the applications offered by the computer.

Productive Skills: Oral and written communication skills (the production of language).

Digital Native: A term coined by Marc Presnsky in 2001 in the article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” to describe a person who is born and grows up in the digital epoch.

Communicative Approach: An approach to language teaching that is based on interaction and the study of authentic texts, with the goal of developing the student’s ability to communicate in the target language.

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