Improving Oral Communication Pedagogy Through The Use of Tape Recorders

Eric Hagley

Otaru Junior College


世界中の様々な教育機関で「オーラルコミュニケーション」「英会話」といった科目が教えられています。それがどのような科目であってもその科目に関して詳 細に考察し分析するためには、学生達の学習の成果や教室で使われる教材からの抜粋といった区タイ的な実例が必要となる。一方、どのような科目であってもそ れを受講する学生が、自分達の努力の成果を示す具体的な手段を持ちたいと考えるのは、当然のことである。そのような手段には、たとえば学生たちが書き上げ た論文や、計算過程が書き込まれた数学の問題や、描き上げられた絵などがあげられるだろう。特に音声言語を用いる科目に関しては、録音装置を使用しない限 り、学生たちが自分の成果を示すことは非常に困難なこととなってしまうのではないか。

この論文では、音声言語を用いる科目を受講する学生とその科目を担当する教師が、具体的な成果を得、その成果を考察、分析し、更には学生達のその科目に対 する自信を深めることを可能にする幾つかの方法を示す。具体的には、授業においてまた授業以外の時間において、学生たちが英語を実際に話す機会を増やすた めに、持ち運びのできる小さなテープレコーダーがいかに有効に利用できるか、その可能性を探ってみたい。

"Oral Communication", "English Conversation", "Speaking", are subject titles taught in schools, colleges and institutions around the world.  In order for any subject to be examined and analyzed in detail, concrete examples of students’ work and excerpts of material from the class are required. Students of any subject would rightly expect to have something tangible to show for their efforts. An example may be an essay that a student has produced, math problems showing the work that has been carried out, or an actual painting. With subjects involving oral production, without a recording device, the ability to do this is greatly limited. This paper offers a number of ways of ensuring that students and instructors of subjects involving oral production have access to tangible results, which can be examined, analyzed, and used to assist students in developing their confidence in the subject. It does so by exploring the ways a small portable tape recorder can be used by students in and outside the classroom to promote the use of spoken English.




Second language acquisition is a complex process that involves an enormous array of micro and macro skills. Butt et al. (2000) look to define language in terms of its functions. They take Halliday's (1994) view that language has developed "to talk about what is happening, what will happen, and what has happened (the ideational metafunction); to interact and/or express a point of view (the interpersonal metafunction) and to turn the output of ... (these) into a coherent whole" (the textual metafunction) (Butt et al. 2000, pp 5.). This implies that the ultimate goal of language is to interact, express oneself and be coherent, in other words to communicate. The ultimate goal for someone trying to learn a second or further language is to be able to use it to satisfy some need within these metafunctions.  The student will be adjudged by native speakers of the language on how well they satisfy that need. This communication is often of an oral nature. Oral communication is obviously not the only facet of attaining a second language. However oral communication ability has become the skill that defines whether the student is truly 'competent' in a second language.

We then can posit that if communication is the ultimate goal of language learning, any approaches to language pedagogy should involve methods that involve communication. It follows then that these teaching methods should involve interaction, expression of oneself and the encouragement to attain semblances of coherence at the very least. This is the essence of communicative language teaching. These facets of language teaching differ in many ways to other prominent approaches that focus on the grammatical and structural forms of language, particularly here in Japan. 

Realizing a communicative approach/method


Realizing a communicative approach/method is possible in a classroom where the teacher can direct, but outside the classroom, in a monocultural society, students trying to practice a communicative approach/method have great difficulty. What is needed is a tool that will ensure that the realization of communicative approaches can be attained and sustained in and outside the classroom. Dedicated professionals in the field want to give their students every opportunity to communicate orally and ensure that their students know that what is said will be given all the attention that a piece of written work would be given. When assessing their students they want to be as professional in their assessment of the spoken word as they are with the written form. They want to offer their students the opportunity to monitor and record their progress in the form of a portfolio of work, as portfolios offer so much to students in the way of motivation and understanding of where they have come from and where they are going. In short they want to be able to show the students that they can provide all the services that a teacher in any other field would provide. Teachers in other fields are able to do this thoroughly and they can produce the products of the students’ work, those being the sheets of paper that the student had put pen to. I have been searching for an alternative to paper that can be used by speakers - one that is reasonably priced, reliable, portable and not too intrusive. I feel that the tape recorder is such a device.

In a second language classroom a single teacher can not be attentive to all the students at once. It is a physical impossibility. Students can rightfully feel that if what they are saying is not being attended to, they may as well not say it, particularly if they could say what they want to say in their first language and their interlocutor will understand. Thus, the motivation for speaking is reduced. It is further reduced if students feel that what they are saying can not, at some stage, be assessed on proficiency grounds. However, if students are explicitly told of the importance of creating meaning through interaction with other non-native speakers, and explicitly told that the repair process that occurs when said speakers don't quite understand each other is commonplace in everyday conversation, then the students may not be averse to speaking to each other. However they will lose the enthusiasm they have if they do not feel that their efforts are taken seriously by a native speaker at some stage.

To be taken seriously means that the process on which the spoken word is assessed for proficiency has a firm framework on which assessment is built, a framework that has been developed over time taking into consideration all the competencies that are required to engage in a communicative event. The framework developed by Bachman (1990) and advanced further in association with Palmer (1996) is such that students will be left in no doubt as to the extent with which their work will be assessed. Again, this framework, which is an extensive outline of the competencies required to be able to properly function in a language, must be made explicit for students to appreciate it. Professionals with a proper understanding of these competencies can go on to create for themselves criteria on which to gauge their students, or they can use criterion that are already in use. Ideally the criterion will be such that they will also be diagnostic in nature so as to help those students being assessed realize what it is they are doing right and wrong, and how they can go about improving.

We have the framework on which assessment is to take place, but what communicative event is it that we will assess?  Methods of assessment of communicative language are limited if it is a traditional one-teacher-many-student classroom. The oral interview is a one-off instance that causes the student a great deal of stress. The drawbacks for having the teacher involved, as outlined by Hughes (1985, pp104) are heightened in the monocultural classroom that I have. The performance of candidates speaking to the NES teacher is disadvantaged to a greater degree than by interacting with a peer because the Japanese stratified social system prevents students from speaking openly with their teacher, even if the teacher is a foreigner. The status of the student in an interview will always be lower to that of the teacher, even if a variety of methods are employed in the interview. Because of this a true understanding of the student's proficiency is difficult to attain. The chances of students giving "a sample that properly represents [their] ability" (Hughes, (1995, p. (105) are increased by having them consistently interact with their peers. To attain a true measure of the proficiency of the student, assessment must be methodically done over a period of time.  This is also the case to show the student their achievement over that time. Portfolios are ideal in this situation. The spoken word is impossible to commit totally to memory. For portfolios to be created a recording device becomes necessary. For assessment to be carried out in a reliable and valid way, a recording of the assessment procedure and tasks is required. For students to maintain motivation for partaking in meaningful conversations throughout the class and for the teacher to monitor such conversations, they need to be recorded. To encourage students to maximize the number of chances to use the second language communicatively, even when in a mono cultural society, a recording device is required.
Kluge & Taylor (2000), Schneider (1993, 1997), and Washburn & Christianson (1995) have all proposed methods using tape recorders.  Schneider, Washburn and Christianson use the language lab for their methods. Though there is no empirical evidence to back their claims (something that they freely admit), they note that improvements occur. Kluge and Taylor have students use portable recorders so that they are not tied to a classroom.  They also claim that improvement in student fluency and proficiency is pronounced. However, again there is no empirical evidence presented to back these claims (again freely admitted). All their methods are limited to the out of classroom application, though Kluge and Taylor do organize their material so that a pre and post result can be observed. Their methods, though methodical, are not sustained across the spectrum of tasks and they lack a systematic nature that would ensure empirical results.



The initial procedure will be very similar to Kluge and Taylor's (2000) :

        Students are told that they must tape free conversations outside class and turn the    tapes in as homework every week.


         The teacher emphasizes that outside taping is a requirement not an option.

                 The teacher emphasizes the benefits of outside taping in developing fluency, and reports on the favorable experience of previous years' students. 

                 Students are asked to choose taping partners (groups of three are also allowed)

                 Students are told to bring to the next class two new blank cassette tapes of precisely
the length the teacher specifies. 

                 The students must label both tapes and cassette jackets precisely as the teacher specifies.

                 Each pair/group has two practice tapes. They turn in one of these tapes every week, and tape the following week's conversation on the remaining tape.

                 At the next class, teachers exchange the tapes they have graded. There should always be a tape for the teacher to audit and another for the partners to record on. 

                 When taping, students must: (1) fill up one side (23 minutes) of a 46 minute tape every week; 2) give names, student numbers and the date at the beginning of the conversation; 3) speak in their own unrehearsed words, without using written material; 4) not use any language other than English; 5) not leave long pauses in their conversations; 6) rewind the cassette to the beginning when they are finished taping. (Kluge and Taylor, 2000)


According to informal student feedback surveys conducted with my students, I have found minor changes to Kluge and Taylor’s approach may show positive results. I would suggest that they don’t state their names before speaking – it is a real turnoff to spontaneity, and as the names are on the tape jacket, the teacher doesn’t require them. I would also suggest that the students complete a two to five minute conversation every day, rather than just a single recording. For this to be possible the students require a portable recorder. I have been using one that is the size of a walkman. (Sony TCM-400) I supplied one recorder to each pair of students. The cost per recorder was approximately 3500 yen. The students take possession of it at the beginning of the year and are told they must return it at the end of the year or pay the amount. To date, I have seen students walking in the corridors speaking to each other in English with the recorder in front of them. I have had students bring recordings that they did whilst at karaoke, and at a variety of other settings. The portability is important.


The second procedure occurs during class time. The students are told that they must bring the tape recorder and their portfolio tape to every class. At the end of each fifty minute class, students have five to ten minutes to practice the material that has been taught.  This may take the form of a roleplay or some other speaking exercise.  Students are asked to tape the last five minutes of the last class of each week. They hand in the tape as part of their portfolio. They are free to use their partner’s tape to rerecord the conversation outside of class and to hand in that copy if they would prefer it to be in their portfolio. At the end of the year a copy of the portfolio tape is made to ensure both students can take a portfolio home. Whilst the teacher listens to the portfolio, a copy of it can be made so that if any are "lost" the student can get it back. With a portfolio in hand, the student has a clear indication of what they have done to date, how they are improving, and where they need further improvement. The instructor has a copy of the actual product of the students’ efforts and can use it to do detailed diagnostic reports, give precise feedback on specific issues, and has something to show for the students’ efforts too.

The third procedure occurs during test time. Students are told at the beginning of the term that the final assessment is a conversation test. The test comprises two twenty minute communicative events, one with a partner of their choice, the other with a partner chosen at random. The tasks to be done are a composite of information given to them to prepare one week in advance of the test such as roles to be roleplayed, and material that is given to them to do on the day of the test.  For many communicative events speakers have prior knowledge of what will take place. If you go to a party, you go there knowing that the likelihood of meeting new people is high. Subconsciously you would prepare. This is the reason that I give students the information for the communicative event to be assessed in advance. Students know that they can not memorize anything as the partner will not have memorized any of the cues. They simply have to go with the flow. As always, all students have these conversations at the same time and in the same place. The conversations are recorded and the tapes submitted. The students have ample opportunity to express themselves in a non-threatening environment (“the test was fun” was a comment received from many students). By having it recorded it increases the reliability and validity of the test as it ensures that careful and considered marking can take place by multiple independent scorers.




The teacher of any oral component of language cannot own their student’s work unless it has been recorded. When a conversation teacher is asked to produce some of student A’s work, or a student asks why they received the grade they did, it is impossible to reply with any evidence (and hence conviction) unless the material has been recorded. Using a tape recorder gives the teacher of any oral components an ownership of the material they wouldn’t have otherwise. This in turn makes them more accountable, making the testing and other aspects of their work more valid and reliable. Students are also left in no doubt that their instructor is listening, does care about what they are saying and is taking a real interest in guiding their improvement. Students can be shown this if the material they produce is recorded. The material they produce is not limited to the classroom when this is the case too. The result of having a tape recorder become a part of the learning process is that students are more focused on production, are more knowledgeable in regard their own progress, and hence develop true ownership of their own learning process.




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Last modified: Tuesday, 6 September 2016, 10:57 PM