Issue 6: Enhancing students oral competence through communicative language teaching

By Tina Wu (LED Year 2, 2008-2009)

It is no exaggeration that although over 98% of Hong Kong people speak in Cantonese, English is always regarded as the “prestigious” language and its proficiency guarantees tertiary education opportunity and future career development (Wong and VanPatten, 2002). However, sad to say, the declining English standard of Hong Kong students is not only an issue of today when one looks back to the history of Hong Kong. This article discusses the drawbacks of placing excessive focus on structural language teaching to students’ learning, and provides suggestions for alleviating the problems.

Placing excessive focus on structural language teaching, to a larger extent, limits students’ ability away in oral communication as well as their willingness to learn. Yet, both problems can be alleviated through group works and role plays under the communicative language teaching approach (CLT).

Role-plays is one means to motivate students, while group works is another. In general, it is better to provoke students’ engagement by forming small groups instead of large groups. This is because groups of small size better enable real interpersonal interaction (Harmer, 2007). In addition, according to Flowerdew (1998), group work also embodies some of the Confusion values such as co-operation and self-effacement, which are especially suitable for learners with Chinese cultural background. Furthermore, a study of cooperative learning suggested that students who had experienced group work in language learning generally welcomed the chance to practice their spoken English in cooperative structures (Mason, 2006). Hence, there is no denying that collaborative learning through group work embodies active communicative practice, which is crucial to the development of students’ oral proficiency.

The ability to master English well, to many Hong Kong people, is of superior status. Unfortunately, most students are still not able to communicate in simple English even though English has been the medium of instructions for decades. Indeed, grammar teaching is a must for learning English as a second language; however, overweighed emphasis being put on teaching grammar will hinder students’ competence in oral communication. To lessen the problem, it is suggested that teachers could make use of CLT to activate English language learning and ameliorate students’ oral skill. For role-play and group work, in spite of their merits, the adoption of group work would better suit the case in Hong Kong. This is because it would be more effective for teachers to organize group work than role-play in large class teaching. In short, it is hoped that after the implementation of CLT and the activities suggested above, students’ oral competence can be gradually improved.

Question for readers:

Both role-play and Group work are actually common teaching methods in primary schools as well as secondary schools. What aspects (e.g. students’ previous knowledge, learning style, information of the roles etc) should we pay attention to before or during the implementation of either of them?


Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Education Limited.

Flowerdew, L. (1998, October). A Cultural perspective on group work. ELT Journal, 52(4), 323-9.

Mason, K. (2006). Cooperative learning and second language acquisition in first-year composition: Opportunities for authentic communication among English language learners. ProQuest Education Journals, 34(1), 52-58.

Wong, W. & VanPatten, B. (2003, Fall). The Evidence is in; Drills are out. Foreign Language Annals, 36(3), 403-23.

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