An oral fluency evaluation for Tourism English (TE) is proposed by contrasting linguistic production with corpus data. Electronic written and oral text collections (corpora) are designed and exploited so that an evaluative approach may be devised and carried out. The aim is to identify any significant oral performance changes arising between learners who have managed such electronic resources and learners who have not.
In tertiary education, two main branches of ESP (English for Specific Purposes) seem to be converging. These are EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and EPP (English for Professional Purposes). As Dudley-Evans and St. John explain (1998, 174), one of the reasons for this convergence is the rapid change taking place in university studies, especially technical ones, where "carrier content dates rapidly'. Nelson (2003) particularly refers to the case of Business English, a type of specialized communication in itself that brings a "special jargon" to the class. According to Nelson, the use of a special type of discourse is also perceived as a significant feature of oral business communication. In the English for Tourism classroom, the situation of oral skills demanding specialized knowledge is also evident. As examined in previous work (Curado 2003a; Curado 2003b), such a content specialization may range from giving a businesslike report to speaking about different promotional topics (e.g., planning excursions, monument description, etc).
Focusing on these oral skills leads to having to adopt strict evaluative guidelines that assess student knowledge. In my teaching context, the use of specific corpora (homogeneous text collections) can work as significant reference for oral language evaluation. In particular, I have focused on two types of specialized corpora: Spoken business reports and product reviews found on the internet, and academic discussions about socio-economic topics taken from MICASE (2002). This method proposed takes word frequency as a key reference for language command assessment (Bley-Vroman 2002). My findings in this paper are discussed in the light of feasible language acquisition.
Corpora used in the evaluation
My TE (Tourism English) course is chiefly based on both business and promotional language. The textual material would thus be restricted in terms of text type choice and specialized language use: Texts on Business technology for the Tourism sector, and a student discussion group on Economics issues. Building such a restricted corpus is crucial, as Thompson (2002, 15) and Hunston (2002, 4) assert, in the ESP learning setting. For the evaluation of oral performance in TE, the two corpora mentioned should be built from already existing material, consisting of transcripts of recorded speeches. Some web resources (e.g., Global Edge 2002) are favored by learners in the area of technology, especially in its relationship with the workplace. This first oral corpus is made up of 25,265 words, taking, overall, two hours and 15 minutes to deliver. These texts do not, however, entirely constitute spontaneous speech, since some documents are read out loud like a conference paper. The second corpus does feature spontaneous speech in the form of study group discussions on socio-economic issues, and classroom discussion units about Economics. This corpus contains 22,526 words, and is two hours and five minutes long.
Two oral tasks are assigned to spur effective communication for the business setting in Tourism-related jobs; thus, the evaluation focuses on content and language production at the business place. The first task is an oral report (monologue), where I seek to assess knowledge of typical corpus language. Three main levels of word use are considered: 1., Lexical constructions that are highly frequent in business-related corpora, but not specific of a single domain or subject in business (semi-technical); 2. …