Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Enhancing ESL Learners Speaking Skills through Asynchronous Online Discussion Forum

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Enhancing ESL Learners Speaking Skills through Asynchronous Online Discussion Forum

Article excerpt

Abstract

Communicating orally in a second or foreign language such as English can be a difficult task especially for the low proficiency learners as they may lack the confidence and feel shy and apprehensive when interacting verbally in the target language. This may hold them back from expressing themselves vocally though they are fully aware that in order to be fluent in the target language, they need to practise speaking not only in the classroom but also outside the classroom. This paper discusses the use of an asynchronous online discussion forum (AODF) as a communication tool to assist the low proficiency ESL learners to build their confidence and practise using the target language orally. As an online discussion forum, the Multimedia Enhance Discussion Forum (MEDiF) was specifically designed to be used by a selected group of low proficiency ESL learners at tertiary level for one academic semester. This online forum allows the learners to audio and video-record their discussions, listen to the recorded discussions and respond to their friends' ideas and opinions. Interviews and observations of the discussions on the MEDiF were conducted to gather data. The findings generally indicate positive responses from the ESL learners although there were also some obstacles faced by them while utilizing the MEDiF.

Keywords: asynchronous online discussion, speaking, language learning, low proficiency, ESL

1. Introduction

Speaking is one of the four important micro skills to be developed as a means of communication especially for English as second language learner. Speaking skill is as important as other skills that need to be developed for the enhancement of communication among learners of the target language. Speaking in the language classroom is a process in which learners use dialogue that encourages them to negotiate meaning and to apply their knowledge of the language learnt. Through repeated practice, it is hoped that the learners would be able to harness their oral communication skills which they would need once they have left the university. It was found that one of the most important criteria to seek for new employment is having communication skills (Zaremba 2006). Thus, having the ability to communicate orally especially in English which is considered as a global language is crucial if these learners were to achieve success such as when attending job interviews, job training, or fulfilling other job-related tasks which requires the use of the said language (Osbon et al., 2008).

It is common knowledge that ESL learners particularly in non-native speaking countries usually have limited opportunities to utilise English outside the classroom (Boonkita, 2010). Hence, various steps have been taken by the language educators to provide these learners with suitable environment where they can practice using the target language beyond the classroom. One such step taken by the educators is to implement a virtual learning environment such as the asynchronous online discussion (AOD) to enhance speaking skills among the ESL learners. The AOD creates an authentic learning environment similar to a face-to-face classroom environment where knowledge and information can be effectively constructed, validated, communicated and shared (Yap & Chia, 2010). The AOD not only creates opportunities for learners to communicate in the target language, but also provides an environment for the learners to discuss, explain, elaborate and defend their opinion using their higher learning order thinking skills (Rourke & Anderson, 2002).

2. Literature Review

2.1 Asynchronous Online Discussion Forum

The asynchronous online discussion forum (AODF) is an interactive communication tool that helps learners to communicate and interact with their teachers and peers outside the classroom. It is believed that the asynchronous online forum encourages independent learning among the learners since they are able to take charge of their own learning (Gibbs, Simpson & Bernas, 2008). …

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