Understanding Oral Proficiency: It's a Shot of Adrenaline!

Presentation by Linda L. Egnatz

If it breaks your heart to not see students progress in their language learning, you need a reviving shot of adrenaline. For me, an injection of Oral Proficiency training brought excitement, energy and a measurable increase of students using the target language. Designed to inform and inspire, gain insight into how language is acquired and learn strategies that will increase the quantity and quality of language produced by your students.
If you really want to see language acquisition in action, get around toddlers! Forget about the grammar! Nevermind the less-than-perfect pronunciation. You're so excited that they said, "Ga-ma". When they want to go out to play, it starts outs like this . . .
  • pointing with unintelligible noises (At this point, while they may not be able to tell you what they want, they DO understand you. If you ask if they would like to go out, they run for their shoes and the door! - This is called the "silent period." Your students need it too.)
  • a simple "Out" gets the message across. This simple message develops to "Me out" to "Me go out" to "I go out now!" -- you get the idea. At some point, they'll even add a "please."
As parents and grandparents, proud aunts and uncles, we're thrilled when they say things like "uv u" and even monosyllabic words like "poop" get excited responses. We're thrilled with their progress and both our faces and our voices show it! In fact, we're so excited that we can't wait to share, "Guess what (child's name) said today?"

What do you do when your students have their "breakthroughs"? Are you celebrating with them? Are you motivating them to keep using the language? What about your non-verbals? Are you anxiously waiting for them to finish the sentence, so you can go back and "politely repeat" the phrase correctly? The most important thing I learned from Oral Proficiency Training was to "AFFIRM THE MESSAGE." When students feel successful at getting the message across, they're more willing to keep on trying and next time, the message might improve -- maybe not the grammar, but you might hear more detail. The longer they stick with it, the better it gets. Text type moves from words to phrases to sentences. I get excited when I hear a whole sentence . . . last week I even clapped for "I went poop." Proficiency is only motivated to grow by the desire or need to communicate.

As a foreign language teacher, my job is to give my students enough external motivation and measurable evidence of progress long eough for them to acquire a sense of their own language proficiency skills. When they realize what they CAN DO, their own internal motivation takes over. Statistics tell us, learning to speak (not read, not write) the language is what students most want. Let's give them what they want!