Chapter One Introduction
1.1 Background of the Study
Fluent oral expression is easy for normal native speakers, but for most second language learners, fluent oral production is quite a demanding task. For Chinese learners, the current situation of oral expression is even more worrying due to the exam-centered English teaching system which has long paid more attention to language input like reading and listening but neglected the importance of language output which are writing and speaking, leading to a deficiency of English communication skills (especially speaking skills) and the phenomenon of mute English to become a true portrayal of English learning in China. During the learning process, students receive a large proportion of mechanical input which is relatively useless to activate their knowledge effectively. The oral ability fails to meet the need for communication, which triggers amounts of phenomena of repetition, long and unnatural filled and unfilled pauses, self-repair, etc., therefore dysfluency appears.
Under such a background, the analysis of students’ oral English level is very important. Since oral fluency performance is fairly intuitive to reflect a student’s oral level, it is regarded as one of the most important indicators for judging a student’s second language proficiency. Oral fluency is also highly required in the English Curriculum Standards for Compulsory Education (2022-year Edition) and the Teaching Syllables for English Majors (2000). For compulsory education, English proficiency is divided into nine levels corresponding to each learning stage and different levels are under varieties of oral requirements, for example like Grade 9 in middle school is level 5 which requires the oral ability to achieve natural pronunciation, intonation and tone in oral activities such as expressing own viewpoints and opinions on simple topics, conducting appropriate self-correction in oral expression, and performing dramas in English. For English major students, the requirement for seniors needs the ability to conduct conversations with foreigners on significant issues and convey opinions fluently, appropriately and coherently. As discussed above, it is evident to see the noteworthiness of oral fluency and the urgency of further studies to strengthen oral teaching.
1.2 Research Objectives
As mentioned above, the related studies of oral fluency development mainly put focus on one single learning stage but neglect the developmental features among different stages. It remains vague what oral fluency conditions are among several grades by the middle, senior high school and English major students and how developmental features change in line with different grades. In this situation, the present study chiefly intends to investigate the following 3 primary objectives:
Firstly, the current condition of oral fluency of learners from three stages will be examined and also the handicaps learners face in their oral production will be demonstrated.
Secondly, the developmental features of oral fluency among three stages will be tracked. To fulfill this purpose, the notion of developmental features should be defined in the first place. Wen (2009) considers this notion as an integrating construct comprising three sub-dimensions that should be observed independently. The first dimension is the developmental trend apprehending the course of oral fluency growth or decrease over time and clarifying the linear or non-linear route. The second one is the developmental rate which is correlated with the difference in each index among grades, i.e. the rate is at a rapid pace when there exists a significant difference, otherwise, the development is quite slow. The last dimension is the developmental result handling the question of whether learners’ oral production is advancing towards or stepping away from the near-native level, or in other words, progressive or regressive.
Chapter Two Literature Review
2.1 Definitions of Oral Fluency
Oral fluency is apparently one of the most significant features which can reflect the oral proficiency of L2 learners. Due to the different emphasis owned by other features like accuracy and complexity, scholars in the field of SLA research usually study separately, or comparatively for the potential correlation, otherwise assembly as CAF (complexity, accuracy and fluency). The present study mainly focuses on the issues of oral fluency.
It is one of the most concerning issues for foreign language education researchers and practitioners to define, measure, evaluate and develop second language oral fluency, which will be analyzed and summarized in detail.
2.1.1 L1 Oral Fluency
Literally, the English word “fluency” means the quality of flow, which refers to smoothness, evenness, and continuity without pauses when talking in a language. As a complicated concept, scholars from different research fields share different definitions of fluency due to various perspectives and research methods which makes the working definitions fail to reach an agreement. In fact, it is nearly impossible to have a simple definition from a certain angle (Zhang 1999:41). The discrepancy between the first and second language leads to different definitions of oral fluency. According to the previous studies, definitions of the first language came first (Leeson 1975; Fillmore 1979), while later the extended studies on the second language fluency were brought out (Brumfit 1984; Faerch et al. 1984; Sajavaara 1987; Lennon 1990; Schmidt 1992; Skehan 1996; Zhang 1999).
2.2 Measurements of Oral Fluency
The major stream of related studies on oral fluency applies quantitative measurement methods as the evaluation criteria (Leeson 1975; Lennon 1990; Arevart & Nation, 1991; Towell et al. 1996; Skehan 2003, 2009; Yuan & Ellis 2003; Freed et al. 2004; Kormos 2006; Iwashita et al. 2008; Bosker et al. 2013; Huensch & Tracy-Ventura 2017; Zhang & Wu, 2001), while few studies employ qualitative measurement methods or combined both (Hieke 1981; Towell et al. 1996; Zhang 2005; Zhai 2011; Pan 2013).
Due to the prominent status in describing oral expression ability, many researchers have been trying to find some indicators that can effectively measure the various dimensions of fluency. After years of exploration, time variables and expression variables are the most reliable and adopted measures. Among them, time variables are the earliest used, first identified by Goldman-Eisler in the 1950s, and continued to develop in the 1960s.
Lesson (1975) firstly provided some indices to measure, but some of them were too ambiguous without a clear standard to be adopted practically. As a groundbreaking researcher, Lennon (1990) has made seminal contributions to the quantitative study of L2 oral fluency. To examine valid measures of fluency, Lennon selected four advanced English language learners as research subjects and analyzed their L2 oral fluency developmental changes after six months of study in the UK through picture narration tasks. He adopted 12 quantitative indicators for analysis, founding 3 of them were significant for measurement, which are pruned words per minute, repetitions per T-Unit and percent of T-Units followed by pauses. He proposed that the speed rate (pruned words per minute) was the most vital indicator. In addition, the results also show that filled pauses mostly occur at syntactic boundaries such as between sentences or clauses for fluent speakers whereas within syntactic units for non-fluent speakers. However, due to the small number of subjects, the results still have certain limitations.
Chapter Three Research Methodology ......................... 26
3.1 Research Questions .............................. 26
3.2 Corpus Description .................................. 26
3.3 Semi-structured Interview ..................... 28
Chapter Four Results and Discussion ................................... 33
4.1 Developmental Features of Speed Fluency ................................ 33
4.1.1 Significant Improvement of Speed Fluency ........................ 33
4.1.2 Discussion on Speed Fluency ............................. 39
Chapter Five Conclusion and Implication ........................... 64
5.1 Major Findings ................................... 64
5.2 Implications .................................... 66
5.3 Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research ................................... 67
Chapter Four Results and Discussion
4.1 Developmental Features of Speed Fluency
The first research question is to explore the developmental features of Speed Fluency among three learning stages, which will be demonstrated through descriptive analysis and One-Way ANOVA. Subsequently, a discussion of the developmental features will be presented.
4.1.1 Significant Improvement of Speed Fluency
As mentioned before, speed fluency includes Speech Rate (SR), Mean Length of Runs (MLR), and Mean Length of Pauses (MLP), of which the first two indices are apparently positive ones while the last index is a negative one to complete the issue that cannot cover by the foregoing.
188.8.131.52 Results of Speech Rate: Increase
Speech Rate equals the total number of valid syllables per minute. It is a positive index of oral fluency, which means the higher the speech rate is, the more valid syllables the speaker can produce in a certain time, and the more fluent the utterance is.
According to the descriptive analysis data, it can be recognized that with the learning grades increase, the Speech Rate of the subject is improved significantly, encapsulating as the mean value of Group1 (middle school subjects) is 87.423, the one of Group 2 (senior high school subjects) is 98.708, and the one of Group 3 (English major freshmen) is 117.059.
Chapter Five Conclusion and Implication
5.1 Major Findings
To probe the developmental features of Chinese learners’ oral fluency, this research collects and deals with a total number of 152 learners’ production from three different learning stages: middle school learning stage, high school learning stage, and English-major-freshmen learning stage. The developmental features of three measurements containing totally seven indices of oral fluency are detected among these stages and finally present an overall improvement of oral fluency.
First of all, as for the first measurement Speed Fluency, all three indices including SR (Speech Run, P= .000< .05), MLR (Mean Length of Runs, P= .000< .05) and MLP (Mean Length of Pauses, P= .000< .05) show significant improvement with the advancement of learning stages. Among them, the increase rate of two periods of SR seems identical which presents a near-linear increase trend, while MLR shows different growth rates leading to a non-linear increase trend. Since MLP is a negative index, the downward trend presents a decrease in using pauses in oral production which means a great improvement in oral fluency.
Secondly, with regard to the second measurement Breakdown Fluency, it has only one index PR (pause rate), which also shows a significant improvement (P= .000 <.05) among three learning stages. Same to MLP, PR is also a negative index, so a downward trend is indicative of an overall improvement.