This article is an effort to point out the factors that result in lack of communicative competence in our students at college level. The article is based on general observations of the writer’s pedagogic career, therefore, the reader has every intellectual right to disagree. Early age is the most suitable age for learning a language and students spend this age at school where they miss the opportunity to learn the language. When they step into colleges they have already lost the opportunity of picking up the language. Those who had exposure to language at school have better communication skills and they are exception.
Students who have schooling from English medium schools learn English language better because they are directly exposed to target language and they do not seek admission in government colleges. They do A level and enter university with better communicative skills. Our Students, despite studying English as a compulsory subject in colleges for 2-4 years, lack communicative competence unless they have extra training and exposure to it outside the college Due to time and space constraints, I will touch upon only a few a significant ones out of very many factors which hinder communicative competence in our students.
First of all, let’s look at the way English is taught at college level. A fixed syllabus is given to colleges in advance, which has to be followed and completed by the end of the scholastic year and it stresses upon the theoretical aspects rather than practical aspects of language learning. The foremost resource of teaching is the prescribed text books; which cover only two basic skills: reading and writing. However, at the end of each year students are assessed based on a written test of reading and writing skills only. As a result, students and even teachers are examination-oriented.
They spend time inculcating reading and writing skills while ignoring listening and speaking. Thus our curricula produce students who know about the language and not the language itself. The learners may have a good command over the knowledge about the language but cannot use it for purposeful communication. Thus the learners learn and know the names of the components of a sentence but cannot create a sentence on their own. Our language teaching programme neglects oral work and engages students in translating texts from Urdu into English and vice versa.
As a result, during lectures, teachers and students speak Urdu or the vernacular instead of English. Moreover, English classes are often teacher-dominated, i. e. teachers speak whilst students listen and take notes – a format that greatly lacks interaction. Teacher-centered classes instead of learner- centered classes prevent students from practicing oral skills effectively. Class size ranges from fifty to eighty students, and in some cases it exceeds the glaring figure of one hundred which makes it difficult for teachers, [ even if they endeavour] to arrange activities enabling students to practice speaking.
Over-sized English classes provide little opportunities to the learners to use language for learning oral communication. Another element that should be mentioned is mixed-ability-student classes. Students in these classes have different backgrounds of English; some, who have schooling from urban areas, have studied English for several years, but some, who come from rural areas, know nothing about English. Different levels of ability amongst students mean more challenges to their teachers. They have to deal with some students who know little about English, and some others who know quite a lot.
Finding a balance in communication with these groups of students during lectures is not an easy job for teachers. Lack of necessary paraphernalia is another factor which hinders teaching oracy skills. To my knowledge, all the colleges lack language labs. Computer labs in some colleges do exist but they are not for the use of teaching language. Age of “ chalk and talk” is over now. Our classrooms are devoid of cutting edge technology and teachers have no option but to stick to a black/white board along with a chalk or a writing marker.
These are the teaching aids that a teacher finds in any language classroom. The exam system is cockeyed; it tests limited skills unreliably which gears learners to rote learning. Knowledge accumulated thus, does not enable the learners to be proficient language users in everyday life. It neither tests spoken English nor does it stress upon the teachers to be innovative in their teaching techniques. Due to exam constraints teachers cannot teach innovatively, rather they have to stick to hackneyed teaching techniques.
It is high time to realize the significance of oracy skills in lives of our students. English language has almost become a lingua franca and a major medium of instruction for higher studies. Proficiency in English language is a sure passport to success in the field of higher education and getting jobs. Taking cognizance of present and future needs of our students, the onus solely lies on us, as pedagogues, policy makers and language planners to bring about essential changes in our teaching which facilitate promotion of oracy skills.