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Achieving communicative competence in English

GAMES PLAY a fundamental role in the lives of children. They tend to see life in terms of games and anything else is seen as something they "have to" rather than "want to" do. If playing and learning could be integrated, English will become an important part of the child's daily reality. This is what language games set out to achieve. The aim of all language games ultimately is for students to "Know English". Knowing English means knowing how to communicate in English. This involves the productive skills (speaking and writing) and the receptive skills (listening and reading).

"Knowing English" involves not only producing language correctly, but also using language for particular purpose. When learners are able to perform the communicative functions that they need, they achieve "communicative competence" in the language. Language games help to achieve this. English has a rich vocabulary and its vocabulary is a complicated mixture of Germanic and Romance words, and is really complicated. In order to be fluent in English, we need to have a command of the language.

Language games are indispensable to achieve communicative competence. Vocabulary learning is a life-long experience. One of the problems of learning a foreign language is to master the structures or patterns of the language. When we talk about the structure of language, we are talking about the kinds of materials that go to make up a language and the way the materials are put together, arranged and used to build up sentences. Therefore, we can say that one of the major aims of teaching English is to enable the students to express themselves correctly in writing on everyday matters of life, and this requires proficiency in structural skills.

What are the aspects of the language that need to be learnt? This question appears to be fairly straightforward. Clearly students need to develop skills, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing. There are many kinds of games like picture games, card and board games, sound games, true/false games, back chaining drill games and so many other games. There are games to cater to different age groups. The educational value of games is high, as it involves active participation. The student discovers new things from commonly known concepts of games. Games enable learners to learn with ease and fun.

Oral and writing skills refers to the productive skills. In speech, it involves learning the sound system, stress and intonation patterns. And in writing, this will involve learning features of the writing system such as spelling structure, grammar and vocabulary, and punctuation. Since we do not speak or write in isolated sentences, the students will also need to learn ways of joining sentences together in connected speech or writing. Games are thus a natural self-expression for both the young and old. It has the advantage of attention focussing, providing a self-motivating environment for the students with their active participation.

Language games can be defined as a significant kind of language activity or exercise. They introduce an element of competition into the lesson. This provides a valuable impetus to a purposeful use of language. In language games, the learners see the consequences of action at the same moment of winning or losing a point. The students also accept that games have to be played according to certain rules. Thus a link is established between the classroom and the learner's own environment.

A lot of research has been done on language games and the effectiveness in teaching language items. Modern tendency is to concentrate on games that are played with the help of the computer. Geoffrey Barnard (1959) in his exciting book, Better Spoken English, provides a lot of language games. Flexibility and agility are greatly stressed and the material he has provided help towards achieving this end. Barnard concentrates on rhythm drill consisting of tongue twisters and nonsensical sentences. Donn Byrne (1976) is one of the noted writers who has emphasised the importance of language games. In his practical hand book on the teaching of the skills needed for oral communication entitled, Teaching Oral English brought out by Longman in the series called, Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers, Byrne devotes a special chapter for games. He argues that games provide not only "a welcome break in the lesson routine." But also "form an integral part at both the practice and production stages of learning".

Jane Ellis (1984) in her book, Teaching English through English — A course in classroom language and teachings, feels that "games should provide some light hearted fun and entertainment." Adrian Doff (1988) in his trainer's handbook entitled Teach English — A training course for teachers, emphasises the importance of games in English Language Teaching. Doff gives special emphasis to role-play, improvised dialogues and interviews as an art of teaching oral English. In our country, crosswords and puzzles has been the staple diet of many a language lover. Many an avid reader has increased his word power by religiously solving the crossword games published in the newspapers. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), New Delhi, has brought out English textbooks titled Inter-act for classes VI onwards. These textbooks with their emphasis on communicative English devote quite a number of pages for language games. The British Council helps English teachers by providing books and materials on language games to those interested. They also conduct workshops on language games frequently for teachers at different levels. The NCERT offers valuable training to teachers in the different methodologies of teaching English.

Language games have been researched more abroad than in India. The selection criteria for language games should be as follows: Games must motivate and interest the students and should focus on relevant content from across the curriculum. Games must also be grade and age-appropriate, must appeal to different learning styles and be related to current events or concerns. Such games must foster authentic language use that integrates listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Games must draw upon students' prior knowledge and lead to more and newer information. The size of the class must also be taken into consideration. The games have to be prepared carefully in advance. The purpose and rules of the game have to be explained to the students carefully and the mother tongue can be used to do this if necessary. The students should be given one or more "trial runs" before the game is played. As many student as possible should be involved in the games, by dividing the class into two teams. If games are played on a team basis, points can be awarded for each correct answer and the scores written on the blackboard.

For grammatical errors, marks might be deducted. Finally, writing skill, especially, the mechanical and grammatical aspects should be stressed upon, apart from certain elements of grammar, vocabulary, and a few structures. Thus language games can help in improving the communication competence of the students to a great extent. Both oral and writing skills can be successfully imparted. Language games also have great attention focussing quality.

UMA PRASAD

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