written by Marcis Cipruss, Vicente Dominguez, Mihai Livadaru, Edurne Orce and Rocio Paredes (University of Huelva)
Why is it important for your students to reach the B1 level before ending secondary school?
Nowadays, having knowledge of a second language is essential when applying for a job, as well as to successfully solve daily situations. In a country, such as Spain, a considerable percentage of the population encounters difficulties when communicating with foreigners and speakers of other languages. School students are supposed to be in contact with foreign languages and they acquire grammar and phonetics better than adults. Consequently, European institutions favour plurilingual education since Primary school. The importance of reaching a B1 level by the end of Secondary school lies in the fact that students who reach this level are considered independent users of the language.
The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) distinguishes between four kinds of language disciplines: reception, production, interaction and mediation. To reach the B1 level, called by the CEFR the Threshold or Intermediate level, one should have a basic notion of a language regarding those four language activities. However, it is unlikely that all users will have a B1 level in all CEFR descriptor scales.
In the present-day globalized world, communication seems to be an essential key to success, regarding education, work or even the individual experiences. Its extreme importance can be appreciated if we consider that it is the first skill we develop in childhood. Thus, it should be an essential part in the process of teaching and learning.
The action is in the interaction
From the interaction point of view, with a Threshold level one should be able to express oneself using a basic repertoire of strategies to maintain a conversation. With this level people can participate in a conversation without prior preparation and are able to express themselves about diverse matters. As an interlocutor, they should follow what is said to them in everyday conversations in contexts such as school, work, leisure, etc. However, if needed, they can sometimes ask for repetition of some words or phrases.
Interaction is two-way communication that may happen in a spoken or a written context. In an oral situation, users act alternately as speakers and as listeners, constructing jointly a conversational discourse. In a written context, communication happens through the medium of written language. Students should to be able to interact with other people, both second language learners and native speakers, when reaching the B1 level. Thus, interaction is a key feature not only when learning a language, but also when using it.
From theory to practice
Spoken conversation activities
How can teachers put interaction into practice in the classroom? We propose two key concepts: real-life situations and primacy of fluency. Although the range of interactive activities is very large, we will provide tips for two. Here, students would be encouraged to employ different strategies, such as: asking for clarification, cooperating and taking the floor (regarding B1, familiar topics and those of interest).
1º. Transaction activities
Those emerging when arranging the accommodations for a trip, or, for example, in case of getting the luggage stolen. Here, students would make complaints and deal with any problems that could occur during the process.
2º. Interview activities
Role plays of patient-doctor, or employee-employer. Since we are dealing with the B1 level, the student will have to ask for clarification or repetition, and probably, will be highly dependent on the interviewer. Nevertheless, a structured interview with a prepared questionnaire and some free questions would be very recommendable.
Online conversation activities
In the present-day interconnected world there is the option of online conversation, the role of which is crucial in the public, educational and personal domains. B1 students should be able to engage in real-time online exchanges, and also to post online accounts of social events as well as those related to personal experience. Furthermore, they should be able to answer the comments they receive..
So some useful activities to develop this skill could be:
1º. Personal posts competition
Students will be required to make personal online postings on diverse topics. They will have to accompany them with images and be prepared to answer to the comments of the rest of their classmates. Therefore, the activity is structured in two parts: personal post and personal comment.
2º. Organization of virtual meetings with foreign schools through skype
Students will have to exchange their experiences in the different places of instruction
Thus, interaction is no longer restricted to face-to-face communication.
Teachers are the mediators of knowledge and information, and, therefore, have to act as an example of good communication and interaction. And also, students should be invited to ‘play’ a leader role and guide interaction in the class.
1º Debates on trending topics.
Students alternately will act as mediators in the debate by posing questions and inviting participants to speak.
2º Collaborating on a shared task.
Two groups have to take opposite sides on a topic. They should discuss and reach an agreement.
Through such activities, students will be able to learn how to give instructions, successfully lead and facilitate communication between and within groups, change and adapt the conversation when necessary, and ask contextual questions to encourage logical reasoning.
Although we cannot claim that what the CEFR proposes is happening everywhere, there is no point in being pessimistic. Teachers play an important role in the classroom: not only do they have to help students to acquire new knowledge of the language, but also to manage interaction and use communication as a tool of learning. For students to reach a B1 level by the end of Secondary School, teachers need to facilitate reaching an understanding between students that come from various linguistic, cultural and social contexts while identifying and dealing with their similarities and differences. By focusing on real interaction – both conversation and mediation – students will be capable of being independent users of the language they study, which is our desired goal.