Use of Technology to Improve Listening and Speaking Skills


I think nobody can deny that computers are in the center of our everyday life. Is your answer no? Then, just think again: Computers can divide/multiply or add numbers for us, we can draw money from computer-

managed ATMs anytime we like, they work in our digital watches, in ABS & ESP systems in our cars, in almost all of the control mechanisms of an aeroplane, in digital cameras, in cellular phones, in cd players, in remote controllers, in photocopiers, in satellite systems, so on and on…. Do they sound familiar? If you use any of them, it means that you unconsciously “managed” by a computer system in your everyday life, because all the things I mentioned here have the same basic controlling system: computer. However, we also use computers – I mean Personal Computers- consciously and directly in banks, offices, schools, homes, and everywhere they are needed… We use computers in any cases, anyway, so this is the awful truth: We are totally surrounded by computers. Believe it or not, this is the reality.

As regards education, -in our case it is foreign language education-, do you still believe that foreign language teaching & learning process keeps unaffected by this 'silent computer revolution' and is trying to accomplish its aim through so-called “traditional” methods? I am giving the answer for you: Definitely not! Now, foreign language teaching methods are rapidly shifting from the traditional methods to the methods using computer applications and multimedia environments. These applications and environments are used extensively and successfully in reading, writing, listening and speaking practices by ESL teachers and students throughout the world. What's more, the tools I mentioned here are truly helpful in practising the four skills of a language (reading, writing, listening and speaking) since these tools give language practisers almost exacly what they need; however, the main focus of interest in this article is developing listening & speaking skills via internet & multimedia tools. “The internet is suitable place to practise languages as it offers the possibility, with the right software, of using images and audio resources at the same time, combining sounds and images as in communicative situations in the real world. It also provides users with a highly appealing and innovative format” (Labayen et. al., 2005, p.9). From now on, I will try to show you what computers, internet and multimedia environments offer and how using these tools can help ESL students practising listening & speaking throughout this text.

Originally, media environmets' high, fast and easy accessibility is what makes them an almost perfectly tailored solution to L2 effective and easy-to-reach learning & practising resources. Using media environments is convenient in itself, indeed, because it gives us the possibility to choose what is appropriate for us at a certain period of time. Hoven (1999) asserts that computers allow L2 learners to determine the way and the pace that suits them and their needs. For example, when an ESL practiser is in class, s/he can have access to the internet, TV/video to watch movies or educative programmes in the target language, or study on a listening/speaking application using a computer on his/her own. Ehsani et. al. (1998) emphasize that by combining sound, vision, text, video and animation, this self-paced interactive learning environments create much more educative and creative classroom environments. What's more, besides individual work, two or more people can work together in a group activity which makes the process more interactive. Hoven (1999) believes that computers allow learners to add up what they know altogether more effectively and support peer correction. What's more, Ellis et. al. (2005) suggest that technology has shaped the collaborative relationships between students and the way they interact with each other which eventually shape the learning opportunities in a classroom.

Frith (2005) indicates that even though some L2 students are often required to speak in English in their social settings, they mostly enjoy listening especially when they are watching television or films. This observation emphasizes the use of multimedia environments in L2 classrooms. What's more, Frith (2005) believes that video lessons can be very stimulating. This is what is needed to actualize real development. Besides, this is also an enjoyable part of listening development, because for many students, learning is associated with dull and boring clasroom activities. Unfortunately, in this case this generalization does not work, because L2 learners “do it” on their own in a convenient and different way. Verdugo et. al. (2007) assert that children actively take part in understanding the story because of the interactivity of internet based stories and this makes learning easy. This make the development of listening ability more effective and entertaining, but less effort-required. Consequently, this is what leads to real development and learning.

The use of the internet in classroom environment is relatively a new phenomenon. However, seeing that it offers almost unlimited resources and choices, it has become widespread all around the world. At this point, the important thing is how to use it effectively in classrooms. Labayen et. al. (2005) emphasize that only when the sources are properly selected can the internet be useful in a learning environment. Then, another problem arises: How to select appropriate web sites to make use of them in a classroom to improve listening and speaking skills of students? Labayen et. al. (2005) show that the best way to find good web sites is to listen to a collegue's suggestions who actually searched the site on his/her own or find a “serious” web site which may actually help.

When it comes to speaking practice via the internet, there are cheap, useful and wise solutions available. For example, Skype, MSN Messenger, GoogleTalk and similar VoIP applications can be used to connect a native speaker on the internet and realize a real-time conversation for free. Volle (2005) notes in her research that using MSN Messenger to conduct her online lessons, she observed the development in oral proficiency of her students. Even though VoIP conversations cannot make up for some features of a real & face-to-face conversation, it is a precious opportunity for an L2 learner to use VoIP applications considering the hardships of finding a native speaker in the place where the learner lives. Labayen et. al. (2005) indicate that face to face communication has many advantages, so video-audio devices in CALL and on the internet are essential to teach oral skills.

The use of computer and the internet in classrooms is essential to actualize development in listening comprehension and oral skills, because computer environment allows fast developmental assessment and fast update. Kruse (2004) indicates that the web content can be updated easily and the information can be in use immediately. So, this allows the lesson contents to be much more updated which may eventually cause high levels of awareness and success. Another point Kruse (2004) makes clear is that the cost of using computer systems and internet can be relatively low. Since many video/audio resources and VoIP applications are available on the internet and the maintenance costs are relatively low, this makes it a wise and effective solution to development of listening and speaking skills of L2 learners.

As regards the interaction support of multimedia environments, people of the world are just one click away from each other as is conventionally said and this convenience makes the exploitation of such systems in language education vital as well. LeLoup & Ponterio (2007) argue that preventing an L2 learner from being isolated, technology is the ultimate solution to those who lack the speech generated by a native speaker. To illustrate, videoconferencing technology is an example of technologic solutions to this isolation. It has many useful and effective uses in learning environments. In the figure below (see Fig. 1) you can see the use of the application in a classroom environment.

Figure 1. The use of videoconference application in a
classroom environment.
(JFK Middle School, Massachusetts, USA)

Cabaroglu & Roberts (2006) argue that the use of VoIP applications in the classroom environment boosts the students' communication skills and intercultural awareness besides enhancing motivation and classroom performance. For example, Skype application is increasingly used as a part of listening and speaking development process throughout the world today. Skype is an internet-based application that enables Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls (Jenks, n.d.). It has a useful user-interface that enables the users easy and effective use (see Fig.2). What's more, there are similar online applications such as MSN Messenger and GoogleTalk and the likes. MSN Messenger also has millions of users worldwide and is used to improve speaking and listening skills by L2 students. Hampel et. al. (n.d.) assert that Skype and MSN Messenger increasingly create newer possibilities for the users. These softwares can also transmit video at the same time when the users speak to each other. So, this feature raises the level of interaction between practisers. Such level of interaction is also effective because of the highly useful features and user-interfaces of the applications. For the user-interface of MSN Messenger see Fig. 3.

Figure 2. A demonstration of Skype software user-interface

Figure 3. A demonstration of MSN Messenger application
user interface.

As an alternative, internet TVs and radios can be used to develop listening comprehension skills of an L2 student in an entertaining atmosphere; however, there is a relatively new emerging phenomenon: YouTube.com! This is a video upload-watch-download site and is increasing its popularity day by day. To have an idea how the site looks like see Fig. 4. According to statistics, the site has more than six million videos and the total time necessary to watch all these videos is 9.305 years! This huge video pool offers priceless opportunities to practice listening in an entertaining and convenient environment. LeLoup & Ponterio (2006) allege that television/radio shows, news, documentaries, music videos and any videos beyond the imagination of people are just one click away. All you need is an internet connection. The rest is almost totally free; however, LeLoup & Ponterio (2006) also suggest that videos should be carefully selected and prepared by the instructor to maximize comprehension and minimize frustration of learners and they hope that improvement in search tools for videos will allow the teachers to find the right video clip for supporting language class.

Figure 4. YouTube.com is broadcasting many listening
comprehension improving videos.

As BBC has always been seen as a genuine source of “right” form of English, it cannot be disregarded for English Language Teaching. Being aware of its educative role, BBC has been publishing books, audio/video materials and so on. With the rise of the internet, BBC has prepared an English Learning Page which is one of the best of its kind. LeLoup & Ponterio (2006) assert that the site gives ideas to the learner about material development and how to work efficiently with the aural input. Maintaining the publication at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ , BBC provides the visitors with quizzes, videos, podcasts and games as well as radio archives and voice recordings. As regards listening activities, there are many activities based on listening comprehension one of which is shown at Figure 5.

Figure 5. A demonstration of BBC Learning English web site
listening practice section

Throughout the article, the entertaining aspect of using multimedia environments is constantly emphasized. So why is it so necessary? Because it makes learning easier and the most important of all it makes learning permanent. For example, cartoons may be a good means of teaching children foreign language and improve their comprehension and the things beyond it. “Although we usually associate cartoons with entertainment, in fact they can have many more serious applications. Children love cartoons - as we all know from the fondness they have for the cartoon networks - so why not make this attractive medium work for teaching and learning?” (Hobson, 2005, p.1) When it comes to adults, the use of movies have a great positive influence on their motivation and performance. Frith (2005) suggests that although some L2 students are often required to speak in English in their social environments, they predominantly enjoy listening especially when they are watching television or films. Apart from that, songs can be highly useful for developmental process of listening skills of an L2 student. Lynch (2007) suggests that because music is everywhere in human life to change or boost the emotions and feelings, we can include music and songs in language learning as well. Besides, karaoke is also beneficial in that it requires a recitation which eventually leads to improvement in speaking skill. Lastly, computer aided games can also have striking effects on an L2 student's listening comprehension and sentence utterance. Keislar et. al. (1970) suggest that games , especially for children, are proved to be useful during their language education process. When games' attractiveness unites with convenience and flexibility of computers systems, it may cause positive results as well.

The aim of this article is to discuss some prominent benefits of using computer and multimedia environments to develop L2 students' listening & speaking skills and how the L2 students are affected from it. Jenks (n.d.) suggests that the internet and internet-based applications have great influence on us; however, since enough research hasn't been made over the issue, we are not certain 100 % about the outcomes of its use. Of course, we know that there are some limitations in its use as well; however, keeping it in our minds, ELT community should eliminate the limitations as much as they can and try to exploit its usefulness in every aspect of language teaching. To do this, much more research and experiments are required in the area. Hampel et. al. (n.d.) assert that finding an effective way to practise speaking is one of the biggest problems in both distant education and also online education. By determining the weak points of the method and fixing them, work force can be used more efficiently, more energy and material can be saved and more reliable and permanent development can be achieved. To achieve the better, we all should work very hard and do the best we can for it. As we are going to be totaly in cyber age in the near future, at least we are obliged to do it.

REFERENCES

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