Academic journal article College Student Journal

Now What Do I Do?: Advice for Non-ESL Instructors Teaching Courses with Oral Presentations

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Now What Do I Do?: Advice for Non-ESL Instructors Teaching Courses with Oral Presentations

Article excerpt

This paper describes the findings of a case study involving two undergraduate male students with English as their second language. Both study participants, were enrolled in a regular ("mixed") section of a hybrid public speaking course as a graduation requirement; however, Siamack's native land was Iran and Tho's, Vietnam. The students were comprehensible and performed well in the course, however, they faced many more challenges than their U.S. counterparts. This paper provides a description of the steps I followed to assess their oral competency and the instructional strategies used to assist them in successfully meeting the course assignments. What the students did for themselves as well as what I, as their instructor, learned to do for them is discussed.

Students who speak English as a Second Language (ESL) represent one challenge which manifests itself as a form of diversity in today's classrooms. The challenge is magnified for faculty, like myself, who have no expertise in this area. One specific challenge involves teaching ESL students how to successfully complete coursework which requires oral performance. This was the case for one of my Communication colleagues who had a Japanese ESL student enroll in her public speaking course. She found the student incomprehensible in his oral speech but, upon working with a campus ESL specialist, learned that the problem was not his unfamiliarity with making certain sounds but, rather, that he mumbled as part of his normal speech pattern.

Most universities require public speaking as a general education requirement for graduation and oral performance is commonly required in courses offered in the humanities and business divisions on campuses. However, just like their U.S. counterparts, many ESL students enter the public speaking classroom with heightened levels of anxiety regarding the expectation of speaking before a class (Fertis, 1998; Yook, 1995; Yook & Seller, 1990; Zimmerman, 1995).

Our search for information on how to teach ESL students, in the public speaking classroom, led us to articles which typically addressed how to assist the oral and written competency of such students in separate, specialized speaking, writing, and/or preparatory courses for international students (Meloni & Thompson, 1980; Murphy, 1992, 1993). However, on campuses where ESL student enrollment is low, it may be difficult to justify separate sections.

As my colleague and I became aware of the potential for this scenario to repeat itself in other sections of our basic speech course, and the limited information specifically focusing on working on the oral speech of ESL students in mainstream classrooms, the two of us decided to create a set of recommended assessment steps which our department faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) could use. The steps could be followed in order to determine whether ESL students had been properly placed in mainstream public speaking sections. In addition, we (along with an ESL specialist) created a set of instructional strategies which could be used when working with these students once it had been determined they were properly assigned.

Skills assessment consists of informal diagnosis, follow-up diagnosis, using campus resources, and making collaborative decisions regarding the proper placement of ESL students within mainstream courses. The instructional strategies are divided among three groups of skills: (a) pronunciation, comprehensibility, and listening; (b) thinking rhetorically; and (c) delivery skills. [Refer to Quigley, Hendrix, & Friesem (1998) for a more detailed discussion of these assessment steps and instructional strategies.]

We developed our skills assessment and instructional strategies based on input from colleagues who have worked with ESL students in classrooms "mixed" with both native and non-native English speakers, specialists who work primarily with ESL students, texts written specifically for ESL students and their teachers (Dale & Wolf, 1988; Klippel, 1995; Porter & Grant, 1992), an annotated public speaking text (Osborn & Osborn, 1997), and a supplementary ESL Teaching Guide (Marques, 1997). …

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