Transforming Passive Listeners into Active Speakers: A Study with Portuguese Undergraduates in ‘English for the Social Sciences’

  •  Rita M. Amorim    


In the present context of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) or English as International Language (EIL), it has become extremely relevant to maximize speaking opportunities in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom which aim at developing fluency and real-life communication skills. University students in Portugal need to practice expressing their views and sharing opinions in English for their professional careers and for general international communication. With these aims in mind, ‘whole-class discussions’ were implemented in the subject ‘English for the Social Sciences’, but monitoring by the teacher revealed low voluntary participation. This classroom-based study began with two questionnaires distributed to a group of twenty intermediate to upper-intermediate undergraduates. They exposed speaking anxiety due to worries about producing accurate English, fear of poor performance and negative evaluation, and embarrassment to speak in front of colleagues. A two-step strategy was implemented to get as many students as possible speaking, by overcoming some of their linguistic and personality barriers. First, students attended two awareness-raising lessons on the aims of whole-class activities, the value of fluency, and today’s real-life communicative skills. Then, small ‘buzz-group’ discussions were implemented, prior to and in preparation of the ‘whole-class discussions’ to create a more supportive environment. Student interviews and teacher observation notes were used to collect participants’ perspectives. Findings revealed that passive listeners, when better informed and working in a less anxiety-inducing environment, can become active speakers.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.