Four Strands in Language Course: Balancing the Imbalance

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Four Strands in Language Course: Balancing the Imbalance

Category : Bahasa Inggris

Agus Purnomo

Staf PPPPTK Bahasa

 

 

There are four strands in a language course: the meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency (Nation, 2007:1).  The first involves receptive skills; the second involves productive ones; the third is related to language form; and the latest is attributed with language use. These strands should be ideally instructed in classrooms in a well-balanced, and integrated manner in a given period of a language course. However, this is a far-cry from day-to-day reality in Indonesia‘s formal education, even in this era of current 2013 curriculum in which student-centeredness becomes its pivotal point. It can be observed in many classrooms that class time devoted to the four strands in an entire course still weights heavily on language-focused ones, leaving the other three strands unequally treated.  In general, the language-focused learning takes roughly 40 %, with input and output focused meaning 25% each and fluency 10%. If anything with the curriculum changes of emphasis on meaning-focused input and output, the percentage of time allocation for the four strands in an entire course is still poorly balanced and out of proportion, since in an ideal world it should be devoted approximately 25% each (Nation, 2007:1).

With that problem of not-so-balanced strands of language course taken into account, some measures on the part of teachers need to be taken. First, in-depth understanding of the four language strands and their features should be gained. To do that, let us discuss the four strands in brief. To start, the meaning-focused input uses receptive skills of listening and reading, and its activities should focus on understanding and gaining language from what students listen to or read.  Its typical activities are such as story time (for pre-school and primary classrooms), extensive reading, and listening to a conversation. It should also involve meaningful engagement, consider students language development, and bring the message foreground with the language in the background instead (Alvin, 2006:5).

In the second strand, meaning-focused output, uses productive skills of speaking and writing and utilizes activities like performing dialogues, giving a speech, writing an email, giving instruction, and the likes. It is basically a mixture of meaning-focused input and meaning-focused output, depending on which role the interlocutors assume, be it speaker or listener. (Alvin, 2006:5).

On the other hand, the third strand, language-focused learning, focuses on form. It is a deliberate, conscious type of learning. It studies language features, and by nature is rule-governed.  In this case, grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and/or functional language expressions are learned on their own right. Yet, it should not take more than 25% of a course period.

Fluency, the fourth strand, is meaning-focused and learners aim to receive and convey messages. It is to make better use of what learners already know. Its typical activities are reading simplified texts for pleasure, (it is simplified because around 95% of the running words should be known for adequate comprehension (Hirsh & Nation, 1996:690)), 4/3/2 activity (in which, for example, learners are to repeat the same story three times in 15 minutes time, 10 minutes and then 5 minutes), 10-minute writing, and listening to easy stories. Likewise, 25% of course time devoted for fluency is the rule of thumb.

After understanding the four strands of language course better, the second measure is for teachers to keep several  pedagogical, strand-related principles in mind when designing lesson plans (Nation  & Newton, 2009:12-13) as the following:

  1. provide comprehensible input as much as possible in both listening and speaking, for instance, by teaching key vocabulary, having conscious raising activities, or activating schemata through games, all before giving communicative tasks.
  2. support and encourage learners to generate output in various genres.
  3. provide activities for cooperative interaction.
  4. provide opportunities for learners to deliberately learn language features and items.
  5. include teaching effective language learning strategies.
  6. provide fluency-boosting activities.
  7. balance the proportion of the four strands throughout a language course.
  8. have the most useful language items repeated for practice in various ways.
  9. keep track of learners’ language and communication needs through analysis, monitoring and assessment.

Having born these principles in mind is one thing; putting these principles into practice in classroom is another thing.  It takes dedication, persistence, and the love of teaching on the part of the teachers in order for them to work effectively. In spite of this, efforts toward well-balanced strands of a language course are worthwhile in the framework of effective language instruction. Hence, they must be initiated by all the stakeholders in education. And to say the least, teachers should be at the forefront toward balancing these four strands of the meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency. After all, it is not the gun, but the man behind the gun that fires a shot. [ ]

 

Reference

Alvin, Pang. 2016. Module: Teaching Speaking, Professional Enhancement Program, Batch 2, SEAMEO RELC. Singapore.

Nation, Paul. 2007. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching Volume 1, Issue 1, Routledge Francis & Taylor Group.

Nation, Paul. 2003. The role of the first language in foreign language learning. Asian EFL Journal. Retrieved from http://www.videa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-role-of-the-first-language-in-foreign-language-learning.pdf.

Hirsh, David. & Nation, Paul. 1996. What vocabulary Size is Needed to Read Unsimplified Text for Pleasure?  Journal: Reading  in A foreign Language 8(2), 1992. Victoria University of Wellington.


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