Imagine in a classroom a teacher is hoping that students can get active in a few speaking tasks to practice their English speaking skills, while in reality, students reluctantly and nervously stand up and stumble over their speech. If that sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. We have received feedback from school teachers who always wonder what they should do to encourage students to speak and help them speak fluently. Educators and applied linguists have made great endeavor to address these issues with the help of technology.

Speaking of technology, we might think of some buzzwords like AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), speech recognition, etc. There is no doubt that such fancy technology could do a great job, and we will explore that in detail another time. Here we will look at how the most common tool that most people have access to can achieve the same goal.

Research has proved that even using easily accessible tools such as the camera or audio recorder in one’s smart phone can enhance students’ fluency. In a recent study (Pardo Soto & Cisterna Zenteno, 2019) conducted in Chile, students from Grade 7 were asked to make a first video presentation about a TV programme they liked and later act out the one they designed in groups and present their video recording in classroom. Their English speaking fluency was found increased, particularly in terms of speed. Pedagogically, repetition as a part of the task design plays a big role. In the later task, students were in fact required to review and reinforce what they had done in the first task. Such improvement accord with what an early study (Arevart & Nation, 1991) has proved long ago about using repetition technique to increase speaking speed.

One possibility that using smart phone to practice speaking improves fluency is that it might reduce students’ anxiety, which has been commonly known as the fluency killer, especially for foreign language learners. Studies show that a smart phone provides a flexible and care-free self-access learning environment, where the anxiety level might remarkably declines (e.g., Kessler, 2010). A study (Sun et al., 2017) which looks into Chinese students in Grade 7 from Beijing shows that fluency level (i.e., the number of sentences produced within the time limit) was significantly increased in the experiment group who used an mobile app called Papa to record and receive feedback for their speaking homework. The researchers in this study also indicate that the improvement students have made is attributed to their reduced anxiety.

We don’t want to bombard you with a variety of apps and tools (maybe in the next post). Our quick advice would be to start with something simple and take pedagogy and accessibility into consideration whenever technology is integrated into your teaching.

References:
Arevart, S., & Nation, P. (1991). Fluency improvement in a second language. RELC Journal, 22(1), 84-94.
Kessler, G. (2010). Fluency and anxiety in self-access speaking tasks: the influence of environment, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23(4), 361-375. https://doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2010.512551
Pardo Soto, C., & Cisterna Zenteno, C. (2019). Smartphones screen recording apps: an effective tool to enhance English language fluency. Colombia Applied Linguistic Journal, 21(2).
Sun, Z., Lin, C. H., You, J., Shen, H. J., Qi, S., & Luo, L. (2017). Improving the English-speaking skills of young learners through mobile social networking. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(3), 304-324. https://doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2017.1308384

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