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NEW ZEALAND | Monday, 16 May 2011 | Views [1027]

Here's another of my "Journal" entries, its a bit heavy if you're not into academic styles of journal writing, but it's what I spend these days working on (ok so this one I did in the last 3 hours hehe) and you might find it interesting as I reflect on the ways I taught English in China 2009-2010

Communicative Competence and Feedback



In teaching learners of English in China, I generally focus on teaching communication and comprehension, and the strategies for error correction I use are based on feedback. By creating units of lessons where the primary focus is on the stages of communicative competence (Brown, 2007, p.220), the corrective features I use in class are specifically adapted for each stage, and with progression, students gain automatic and self-corrective responses to subtle teacher and peer signals.


In the University in China where I taught, my student’s grammatical competence was varied. Years of instruction in grammatical theory and practice drills meant learners lacked in accurate phonetic and semantic knowledge and production. I created the first unit of lessons based on areas of weakness, such as pronunciation and meaning; these were augmented by frequent corrective feedback. As the distance of languages affects pronunciation (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 105), having a native speaker as a teacher gave the students a more authentic example of phonetic language features. Corrective feedback I used was often elicitation and clarification, (Brown, 2007, p. 277), and generally more focused, direct feedback (Ferris, 2002, p. 19), such as repetition.  One example is when students repeatedly said they were ‘sinking’, I would respond with ‘you are what?’ in an exaggeratedly alarmed voice. Students laugh, and correct their pronunciation to ‘I am thinking…’ In other times they replaced ‘th’ with ‘s’, I would prompt them, as a reminder they must be aware of this sound.


The discourse competence of my students was nearly non-existent. To build their confidence I implemented meaningful interaction and communicative teaching methods to enhance their conversation skills. We also focused on pragmatic knowledge and understanding, and incorporated new vocabulary into speech. Teaching students about stress and rhythm (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 106) in speaking developed their coherence, and we practiced ‘turn-taking’ (Gass & Selinker, 2001, p. 271), which encouraged flow and a natural progression in conversation. Feedback I used was largely clarification; seeking confirmation so students were forced to make corrections (Gass & Selinker, 2001, p. 284), and inquiry; where I would casually ask for more information, showing genuine interest and giving the student a chance to improve their technique. My students learned to interpret non-verbal signals of mine, like a frown for error, and smile or nod for correct, a more indirect feedback (Ferris, 2002, p. 19). They learned to respond by repairing (Brown, 2007, p. 278) and self-correcting, and confidence was reinforced.


Sociolinguistic and strategic competences were advanced stages for my students. In class we developed lessons using authentic material, focusing on cultural and ‘real-life’ situations, formal and informal awareness, and examining the appropriate use of language. From body language to resourcefulness and improvisation, students progressively expressed themselves, using individual and original output. My feedback also changed to occasional recasting (Brown, 2007, p. 277); incorporating the correct utterance in an encouraging response, and reinforcement; acknowledging positively correct and accurate language production, while administering private feedback to students still struggling.

The ability to communicate effectively; understand and be understood (Gass & Selinker, 2001, p. 264), was a primary objective for these students. As Brown says, over-analysis of errors can be potentially damaging, and the use of positive reinforcement to advocate communicative fluency is more important for language learners (2007, p. 259).



Brown, D. H. (2007). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (5th ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.

Ferris, D. (2002). Treatment of error in second language student writing (pp. 10-37). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Gass, S. & Selinker, L. (2001). Second language acquisition: An introductory course (2nd ed.) (pp.259-309). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lightbown, P. M. & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.) (pp. 77-108). Oxford: Oxford University Press.









Tags: language teaching



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