The Silent Way Approach implementation in teaching English speaking skills to primary school learners

The present paper is devoted to the question of the Silent Way approach implementation in English language teaching and is aimed to explore whether using the current approach in English lessons leads to primary students’ speaking skills development.

Аннотация статьи
speaking skills development
primary school students
the Silent Way approach
Ключевые слова

1. Introduction

No doubt that nowadays the role of the English language in the world is significant. More and more young learners as well as teenagers and adults attend English lessons in order to master their English-speaking skills and become fluent and confident in daily communications. There is a number of different teaching methods and approaches presented and applied in various institutions across the world which aim to speed up the process of acquiring the language and facilitate students’ speaking skills. Some international schools experiment with different methods and techniques to derive an efficient way to teach the language to satisfy students’ requirements.

The current study investigates the implementation of the Silent Way (SW) approach in teaching primary school children and proves their considerable impact on facilitating their speaking skills. Therefore, the hypothesis of the current research is that the implementation and the adaptation of the SW approach in teaching English will improve primary students’ speaking skills.

The SW approach was founded and introduced by the Egyptian mathematician and educator Calleb Gattegno in 1963 in his book “Teaching foreign languages at schools: the Silent Way” [3]. The current approach was developed as a reaction to the Audio-Lingual Approach which was dominant and widely used in teaching foreign languages in the 1950-s. C. Gattegno put forward the following principles of the SW approach [1, 2]:

  1. Teaching is a way of subordinating the learning process, not dominating it;
  2. Developing speaking skills through meaningful and sufficient practice rather than repetitions;
  3. Three steps of the learning process are: presence (students’ full attention) – practice – awareness (achieving the “know-how” stage is considered the key element of “freeing” the students in expressing themselves);
  4. Relying on students’ “functionings” (what they know how to do) rather on their memory skills;
  5. Teacher’s silence which has been widely practised by the founder of the current approach and his followers [1, 2, 5, 7] is a way to:
  • help students stay focused on the task,
  • allocate time for discovering the TL;
  • provide space for experimenting with the TL and empowering them to make sense of the language structures;
  • give students enough opportunities for practice,
  • allow students some space to discover their own mistakes and correct them themselves.

In accordance with the above-mentioned principles, SW lessons are to be supplemented with a variety of teaching materials, such as rods, pronunciation charts, pictures and real objects in class. Students are encouraged to show initiative and cooperate to discover the TL, find their own mistakes and complete the speaking tasks [1, 2, 5, 7].

2. Method

2.1. Settings, Participants and Materials

The current research was carried out in autumn and winter of 2022 in a private language school called “Linguistic” which is located in Moscow near Nekrasovka metro station. The experiment lasted for three months, including 22 lessons (29.3 academic hours) with the experimental group and 22 lessons (29.3 academic hours) with the control group. The participants of both groups were 1st and 2nd year primary school children with little or no experience in learning English. Both groups had lessons offline, sixty minutes long, twice a week. The participants of both groups studied in the same language school, used the same books and materials and were taught by the same teacher. However, the lessons with the experimental group were supplemented with some extra resources related to the SW techniques (rods and some pronunciation charts).

2.2. Procedure and Results

At the beginning and at the end of the experiment pre- and post-tests as well as regular observations were conducted.

Even though the tests for the control and experimental groups were identical, the post-test slightly differed from the pre-test and included a wider variety of questions. This is due to the fact, that during the three months of the experiment the students worked on some more vocabulary and grammatical structures which they could produce and demonstrate during the post-testing procedure.

Both pre- and post- tests had two parts:

Part 1 was aimed to test students’ ability to comprehend the questions, provide decent answers to them and ask similar questions. For example:

Teacher: What’s your name?

Student: I’m Varvara. What’s your name?

Teacher: I’m Alina. What’s this? (a window)

Student: It’s a window. What’s this? (a rubber)

Teacher: It’s a rubber. Is it a doll? (a ball)

Student: No, it isn’t. Is it a bike? (scooter)

Teacher: No, it isn’t. What colour is it? (yellow)

Student: It’s yellow. What colour is it? (green)

Teacher: It’s green. What’s your favourite colour?

Student: My favourite colour is white. What’s your favourite colour?

The criteria for the assessment of the first part of pre- and post-tests is presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1

The criteria for the assessment of the first part of the speaking tests

Points

Criteria

5 points

students understand the question, demonstrate their abilities to answer it and ask a similar question confidently without any help of the teacher; students answer the question by giving a full answer with no or a minor mistake.

4 points

students understand the question and demonstrate their abilities to answer it and ask a similar question with minimal help of the teacher; students ask and answer the question by giving a full answer with a little hesitation and a potential mistake.

3 points

students understand the question and are able to give a short answer or a full answer with more than 1 mistake or / and with some hesitation; students manage to ask a question with some help of the teacher;

2 points

students understand the questions but give a short answer with a lot of hesitation; they may attempt to give a full answer with a few mistakes; students ask and answer the question with a great help of the teacher.

1 point

students may understand the questions but give a wrong answer (for example, if the teacher shows a ruler and asks what it is, the student answers that it is a rubber) or they may not fully understand the question but still make an attempt to answer it; students ask and answer the questions with a great help of the teacher;

0 point

students may understand or may not understand the question but do not make any attempts to answer it.

As every question in both tests was assessed, the maximum possible score a student could receive for the test was 50 points. The mean score of both experimental and control groups is presented below in Table 2.

Table 2

Mean score of the first part of the speaking test

Mean score

Experimental group

Control group

Pre-test

Post-test

Pre-test

Post-test

24,5

47

28

45,3

Part 2 of the experiment had been designed in a way that it gave students an opportunity to speak without teacher’s intervention and demonstrate their accuracy (“the state of being exact and correct; the ability to do something with skill and without making mistakes” [4]) and fluency (“continuity of the speech, its speed, pauses, breakdown and repair” [6: 33]) more distinctively. The procedure of this task was the following: the students were shown some flashcards and real objects which they had to use to make phrases with. For example:

Teacher: This is a yellow pencil.

Student: These are three books, these are two pencils, this is a rubber, this is a black scooter, these are eyes, these are shoulders, she’s a housewife, he’s a pilot.

To avoid repetitions, the teacher changed cards for every student.

To measure students’ fluency and accuracy, a recorder as well as a speech rate meter were used during pre- and post-tests. The teacher then listened to students’ responses and analysed their results (words per minute (WPM), mistakes and errors). The mean score of both groups is demonstrated in Figure 1 (fluency) and Figure 2 (accuracy).

Fig. 1. Mean score of speaking fluency

Fig. 2. Mean score of speaking accuracy

For measuring students’ accuracy, the teacher counted the number of phrases produced by the students with a mistake. For example, the phrases This is blue book / This is pencil red / These are train / He’s pupil were considered a mistake. Since the total number of phrases the students could possibly produce was 8, the maximum amount of mistakes was also 8. Taking into account that there were 8 students in each group, the maximum number of mistakes in a group could be 64.

2.3. Interpretation of the findings

  1. According to the results of the first part of pre- and post-tests, both groups excelled in their speaking skills. However, even though the participants of the intervention group performed only slightly better in the post-test than the learners of the control groups, the former made more significant progress since their pre-test results were considerably lower than the results of the control group. Table 2 illustrates that the statistical difference between the pre- and the post-test results in the control group was 17.3 points whereas in the experimental group it was 22.5 points, which almost doubled the mean score of the pre-test. This fact made the researcher assume that the implementation of the SW approach which was used in the experimental group is effective in lessons with primary students and lead to developing their speaking skills.
  2. The quantitative data of the second part of both tests has indicated that even though the participants of the intervention group demonstrated weaker results in the pre-test in fluency and accuracy comparing to the results of the control group, they managed to perform better in the post-test. Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate that the difference in fluency between the pre- and the post-test results in the control group was 28 points whereas in the experimental group it was 37. The data related to accuracy show even more apparent findings: in the post-test the participants of the experimental group reduced the number of mistakes from 51 to 24, whereas the students of the control group cut them down from 42 to 28. Considering the results of the second part of pre- and post- tests it becomes evident that the participants of the experimental group progressed faster and significantly improved both accuracy and fluency in their speech production.

While observing the students during the free practice activities the researcher noticed some very important points. By the end of the experiment:

  1. the collaboration inside the experimental group had significantly improved; the students had become more inclined to help each other when someone needed it;
  2. the learners of the intervention group had become more autonomous and self-reliant (they learned how to rely on their own skills rather than on teacher’s help), evident in their eagerness to show initiative in different types of activities and to identify and correct their own and their peers’ mistakes more quickly and easily.

3. Discussion

  1. The experiment which was described earlier had been carried out to verify the hypothesis of the current research: using the SW approach in English lessons will improve primary students’ speaking skills. Based on the findings of the current study, it can be concluded that the hypothesis was confirmed. The SW principles and techniques which were described in Introduction and which were used in the experiment were found to be effective in developing students’ speaking skills.
  2. Even though some of the SW principles and techniques are not widely used in modern teaching practice (meaningful practice rather than repetitions, inductive teaching methods instead deductive ones in presenting new TL, teacher’s silence which is seen as a way to help students discover and mentally organize new TL, recognise and correct their mistakes and of their peers’, provide students with enough opportunities for speaking practice), they are proved to have a positive impact on primary students’ speaking skills.
  3. However, since the experiment was conducted in a private centre with a relatively small number of students who had positive attitude towards learning English, it is recommended that further research is carried out to find out if the SW principles and techniques can lead to improvement in speaking skills in a state school with a bigger number of students. More experiments may also be undertaken to examine the effectiveness of the SW approach in lessons with preschoolers, secondary school children, students with learning disorders and students with a high level of language proficiency.

Furthermore, certain SW techniques (e.g. the use of charts or rods) may also be adopted and further elaborated not only for facilitating students’ speaking skills, but also for developing students’ pronunciation, literacy and reading skills. However, more detailed investigation is needed to see how these skills change if the SW approach is implemented in the learning process.

4. Conclusion

The current paper demonstrates that the implementation of the SW approach in class with primary school children facilitates their speaking skills and may be used as an effective tool to improve both components of speech production: fluency and accuracy. Some of the SW principles and techniques described in Introduction, help teachers hold students’ attention for a longer time, encourage learners to show initiative and become more autonomous and self-dependent in the learning process.

Текст статьи
  1. Gatteno, C. The common sense of teaching foreign languages / C. Gattegno. – New York: Educational Solutions Inc., 1976. – 242 p.
  2. Gattegno, C. What we owe children. The subordination of teaching to learning / C. Gattegno. – New York: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1970. – 136 p.
  3. Larsen-Freeman, D. Techniques and principles in language teaching / D. Larsen-Freeman, M. Anderson. — New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. — 272 p.
  4. Oxford online dictionary [electronic resource]. Entry “Accuracy.” https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/accuracy?q=accuracy (date of access: 01 October 2022)
  5. Pint, J. Discovering the Silent Way / J. Pint, S. Pint. – Mexico: Associates for Creative Education, 2019. – 132 p.
  6. Tavacoli, P. Automaticity, fluency and second language task performance / In Wen, Z.E. and Ahmadian M.J. (eds.) Researching L2 task performance and pedagogy: In honor of Peter Skehan. – Amsterdam: John Benjamins. – 2019, P. 39-52.
  7. Young R. Teaching English the Silent Way [electronic resource] / R. Young, P. Messum. – 2021. URL: https://www.duoflumina.com/home/teaching-english-the-silent-way (date of access: 29 November 2023)
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