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Dr. Neha Singh

Communication is said to be the most challenging skill to master. We consider language programs successful when a learner can communicate effectively in the target language. Communicating in the second language (a language not known to you) let’s call them L2) that poses difficult challenges. It becomes even more difficult if you don’t get the appropriate input for the target language. This is where learners get frustrated and don’t participate effectively. Communication is one of the skills that cannot be transferred automatically.

Several factors such as anxiety, stress, fear of being wrong, lack of motivation, low confidence, educational context, etc., influence the speaking ability of learners. These factors put them into a situation where they find difficulty in constructing tangible utterances to transfer their intentional message in L2 oral interactions. This results in giving up the learning of a second language. Sometimes learners speak with hesitation and often switch to L1 for transferring their intentional message. These are some barriers that need to be taken into account while thinking on the lines of how we can design coping strategies to overcome these communication problems effectively.

Various academicians, research scholars are working towards addressing these issues. We are going to talk about a book on Speaking English as a Second Language: Learner’s Problems and Coping Strategies (2020), edited by Alireza Jamshidnejad. It deals with the nature and construction process of problems in L2 oral communication, majorly in the EFL context (the author explains EFL context as a situation where English is not spoken in a community). This piece of work gives an overview of the problems learners encounter in oral communication, how they are constructed, and what can be the ways of dealing with these problems in the EFL context?

The first part of the book deals with defining the meaning and nature of communication. The author discusses that to participate in the process of communication, a communicator needs input. What is this input? It is a kind of stimuli that gives information about the world to the communicator. Also, the communicator’s socio-cultural and personal background influences the process of communication. Communicator constructs an image of self and also develops a notion of how s/he is going to be perceived by others. This stereotyping is a kind of input that influences their communicative experiences. Therefore, it is important to understand the learners’ communicative skills that are often influenced by their perception of self and others.The other factor that influences the communication process is the language skills in both forms- verbal and non-verbal. The process of creating a symbolic meaning and responding in the cycle of communication is important where communicators use words, sound, and action to express their meanings. This is called a language skill, where the meaning of symbols is largely dependent on how it is being used during an interaction. Understanding symbols, words, and sound are important because, in the L2 setting, the chances will be that the communicator would use symbols with a different perception and they may be (mis)interpreted by others. It is not an uncommon phenomenon where we are misunderstood by our audiences. Therefore, the problem becomes more serious. The socio-cultural context, psychological state, and understanding of language skills influences our communicative practices. Thus, a systematic approach to oral communication plays a significant role in analyzing learner’s performance in L2 oral practices.

This book endeavours to understand the role of context in problem construction in the L2 communication setting. The author has tried to get to the bottom of some of the problems learners encounter in L2 communication. These problems include – lack of opportunities given to the learners for L2 oral communication, no space for interactional tasks, lack of linguistic competencies, problem in transferring meaning, mental burden associated with the willingness to be a perfect L2 speaker, fear of being evaluated by others, others’ reaction on making mistakes, perception of self (insisting on native like proficiency), etc.

The last part of the book explores the coping strategies that will help learners in addressing the challenges they face in L2 communication. Communication strategies have been used to overcome problems faced by the learners. Here are some strategies that the author proposes. These can serve as a repository of critical insights for a language teacher:

  • A teacher should not create a threatening environment where learners feel afraid of speaking. Encourage them to engage in conversations and distance themselves from the fear of being evaluated by others.
  • Maintaining continuity in language communication for a long time is one of the strategies employed in L2 communication. The positive aspect of this strategy is to encourage speakers to speak more and participate actively in discussions. This strategy is defined as Collaborative Performance, co-constructed by the participants where they intervene to complete each other’s utterances to maintain continuity in L2 communication. This helps in creating a friendly L2 communication environment.
  • Sometimes learners feel difficulty in expressing the meaning due to their lack of lexical knowledge. The strategy they can employ is that they can request help from teachers or peers to express their meaning. The reason behind asking for help is to allow learners to collaborate to achieve mutual meaning making.
  • Giving learners videos and listening materials that talk about the usage of communication strategies and encourage learners to be active in their verbal participation. Asking them to record their performances, analyse the strategies they use, and ask them to compare their performance with those involved with them in a communication. This will make learners aware and will help them to identify their positioning as L2 speakers in their ‘rights’ rather than as failed speakers.
  • Cultivating positive attitudes for oral language learning and encouraging learners to participate in activities will help in laying a foundation for developing communicative competence.
  • Provide the tools to communicate and expose learners to real-world interactional situations. A lack of a favourable communication environment can force them to give up on language learning. .
  • Construct a collaborative and friendly environment for communication. .
  • Look upon code-switching (switching to L1 in an L2 communication setting) as a positive strategy during communication breakdown and not as a negative notion. Think on the lines where a facilitator can introduce learning tasks using both L1 and L2. .
  • Integrate samples of successful communication strategies into your pedagogy and curriculum which is used by skilled L2 users. It will help learners to experience successful communication. .
  • Teach communication to students for other than academic purposes.

The book has extensively explored the context and strategies to overcome the challenges faced by learners in EFL. Different communication strategies are employed in different problematic situations. It has discussed how a variety of factors influence a learner’s awareness, attitudes, goals, and motivation to learn. To take a deep dive into understanding the relationship between these factors and coping strategies, please read this book in detail.