Proposed Topic/Title of Research
Oral Language Testing and the Cross-cultural Competence
Introduction and Literature Review
1. Thecharacteristics of oral ability
Oralactivities are interactive, purposeful, para-linguistic, non-linguistic, and inseparableof listening from speaking. Of these five characteristics, the interactive isof the most importance. Then the question is how to define oral ability fromthe point view of language testing. Weir and Bygate (1992-3:31-32) haveproposed three skills consisting oral ability: routine skills improvisationskills and micro-linguistic skills. Routine skills refer to skills to expressgreetings, introductions, thanks, apologies, regret, opinions, desires, etc;skills to narrate or describe events, objects, people, etc; skills to elicitdirections, services, help, permission, etc. Improvisation skills refers to skills to clarify and check on specificmeanings, to alter wording, to correct mistaken interpretation; to ensureadequate participation in the interaction, etc,Micro-linguisticskills refers to the phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary. A successfulcommunication needs a good command of these three levels.
2. Thedevelopment of oral English testing theory
Thedevelopment of oral English testing theory bases on both theory and practice.In the middle of 1960s, Chomsky proposed the definition of Language Competenceand Language Performance. The competence he proposed is not only the abstractcompetence. In other words, one cannot communicate with others with onlyabstract competence. From then on, the concept of language had been expanded.In 1972, a new theory of language and language use began to exert a significantinfluence on language teaching and potentiality on language testing. This isHyme’s theory of communicative competence,which greatly expanded the understanding of language and the ability to uselanguage in context. Besides Hyme(1972), Canale&Swain(1980) and Bachman(1990) have also made a grea contribution to the developmentof the theory, which will be discussed in the next part.
Thedevelopment of oral English testing experiences these stages: Pre-science testing system, structuralism testing systemand communicative testing system. Direct, indirect and quasi-direct oralEnglish tests are concrete applications of oral English testing theory.
Actually,the history of the oral English testing is not very long. Since 1940s, the assessmentof oral ability has become a part of evaluation oflanguage studies. Since then, more andmore oral tests had been invented, for example, TSE (Test of Spoken English), TOEFL(iBT), IELTS (International English Language Testing System), CET-SET (CollegeEnglish Test-Spoken English Test,P.R.CHINA),and TEM-SET (Test for English Majors-Spoken English Test, PR.CHINA),etc.
3. The necessity of oraltesting
SinceD. H. Hymes (1972) first proposed communicative competence, many new ideas andthoughts appear. Bachman (1990) proposed communicative language ability whichinclude language ability, strategic competence, psychophysiological mechanisms andpushed communicative competence to the summit. Reviewing the development of theidea of communicative competence, we can find that the ability to use language includeslanguage competence and communicative competence. The former is the basis whilethe latter is the essential means of achieving communicative purposes. In viewof this, language testing should test the two competences. However, in thetests dominated by objective items, it is impossible to measure communicativecompetence. It is true that if multiple-choice items, for instance, aredesigned carefully, they can examine specific areas of language knowledge, butthis kind of examination is indirect since test takers’ responses to the taskdo not happen in real life and do not reflect their productive skills. The goalof learning language is to communicate through language, and communication,first of all, means oral communication. Therefore,language testing withoutspeaking tests is not complete.
4. Marking methods in oraltesting
AsWEN Qiufang (1999) suggested, currently the main methods ofassessing oralproficiency in the field oflanguage testing are holistic marking and analytic marking,which have been discussed above at length. For example,in Test of Spoken English (TSE)developed by EducationalTesting Service, the testees’ oral proficiency is marked in termsof analytic scale, while holistic scale is employed inspeaking test of IELTS. In ourcountry, the marking methodadopted currently in CET Spoken English Test (CET-SET)isanalytic marking.
Inthe process of holistic marking and analytic marking, it is still difficult to
guaranteethe consistency between or within raters (ZHANGWenzhong 2002). In order toensure ‘intra-raterreliability’ and ‘inter-reliability’ (Bachman 1990) in scoring, testdevelopers exert great concern on the selection andtraining of assessors. However,since the assessment ontestees’ performance may be influenced by factors other thanthe oral proficiency presented, the two consistencies isstill hard to achieve. Forexample, assessors may beinstructed to rate responses only on oral production abilitybut nonetheless be unconsciously influenced by featuressuch as the test takers’ accentas well as by the positionsthey take on the issue, which are known to influence scoresassigned. Besides, usually a single score is arrivedsimply by aggregating the scoresfrom different analyticrating scales, which violate a taboo that the whole is not equal tothe sum of different parts as LIXiaoju (1997) criticized the idea of confusing “compound”with “mixture”. Thus, as we see, there are still a lot of problems inmarkingoral proficiency by usinganalytic scale or holistic scale. Therefore, this dissertationattempts to propose a new marking method with an aim tosolve some of these problemsand provide an alternativeto the current methods of marking oral proficiency.
5. Communicativecompetence and communicative language testing
Hymes(1970)saw that knowing a language is more than knowing its rules of grammar. Thereare culturally specific rules of use which connect the language used withfeatures of the communicative context. His theory of communicative theoryrepresented a profound shift from a psychological perspective on language to asociological one.
Thepractical response of the development ofcommunicative language testing was matched by continuing theoreticaldevelopment of the idea of communicative competence and its implication for theperformance requirement of communicative language testing.
In1980, Canale and Swain have decided communicative competence into four maingroups: Linguistic Competence, Sociolinguistic Competence, DiscourseCompetence, and Strategic Competence. In 1990, Bachman proposed his frameworkof Communicative Language Ability (CLA), which includes LanguageCompetence, Strategic Competence, and Phsychophysilogical Mechanisms.
Bachmanalso deem that the content of communicative language test should be motivating, substantive, integrated and interactive. Inmy own view, communicative oral language testing should be authentic,functional, interactive, situational and comprehensive.
Incommunicative oral tests, there exist two major models: the two-waycommunicative model and the multi-way communicative model. The methods oftenused in communicative oral tests are role-play, interview, discussion, and soon.
6. Cross-cultural Competenceand Cultural Competence
Hymeshas included the cultural aspect in his definition of communication competence.After that, Bachman has also referred to the ability to interpret culturalreferences and figure of speeches in his own Communicative Language Ability(CLA).
Chinesescholar WEN Qiufang (1999) proposed the framework of cross-culturalcommunicative competence. In her opinion, the cross-cultural communicativecompetence is consisted of communicative competence and cross-culturalcompetence. She also divided the oral communicative ability into three parts:language form, language content, and communicative principle. In her definitionof communicative principle, he has mentioned the non-cultural principle andcultural principle. I want to call it “discourse with politeness”.
Ifwe want to evaluate a learner’s language ability, particularly his or her oral ability,it is not enough to only take the perspective of accuracy and fluency. We alsoneed to examine his or her knowledge of target language culture, and his or hersensitivity to the difference between native culture and target culture.
Aftera generally literature review mentioned above, I deem that the followingproblems will appear, which will also be my research focus,
1) Howto input the cultural components into the oral language testing?
2) Lotsof oversea students with a high score in the language tests have difficultiesin effecting a successful communication with local citizens. How can we do tosolve this problem from the perspective of oral language testing?
The problemabovementioned has not been studied well in China, but it is necessary for usto know more about that.
Inorder to know in what aspects of communicative language ability native speakersare most likely to differ particularly in cultural aspects. The present study will interview native speakers, which canbe done through a condensed questionnaire. The sample should be chosen widelyand unpredictably. Besides the interviewees will not only be native Englishspeakers, but also native Chinese speakers. The data analysis will then begin.My intended questions in the questionnaire will cover the native speaker’s age,nationality, favorite, self-evaluation in the aspect of culture knowledge,degree of acceptance of foreigners, and the most intolerable culture mistakesmade by foreigners in his idea. The last item is of the most importance. Thissurvey might prove th significance ofcultural components in cross-cultural communication. It can also do help to seta scientific cultural criterion for oral language testing, after which thetesting itself can be more reliable and valid.
Thendesigning an oral language testing model including the assessment ofcross-cultural competence is necessary. This task will first need a survey (orwe can call it a comparison) on the present oral language testing. My researchscope will cover TSE, TOEFL (iBT), IELTS, CET-SET, and TEM-SET. The latter twoare national English tests in P.R.China. Meanwhile since Chinese has becomemore and more popular in the world, and perspective students to China will alsoneed to take HSK (Hanyu Shuipin Kaoshi),therefore research of spoken test of HSK cannot be omitted. I deem that theobjective of my survey is not just comparing, but to help design with thepositive aspects of these tests.
Whendesigning, the experiment of inputting the cultural competence of the targetlanguage is of great necessity. The assessment of culturalcompetence can be experimented through three main groups:
1) DiscreteQuestion Group;
2) Inputand Output Group;
Thescoring scale of cultural ability can be defined in the testing as sensitivityto the general difference between native culture and target culture and asuccessful application of it to the real communication. Different levels ofmodel tests will be designed, and the pre-testing candidates will also comefrom different levels. The data will be collected for future study andaccomplish the dissertation.
Besides, the dataconcerning with students’ scores in their language testings should be collectedfor computer-analysis, which will be a scientific material for research.
Atlast, it is necessary to do a survey of those high score holders, of whom thosewith difficulties in communicating with local citizens is the focus. The surveywill also be done though questionnaire. The question items for an intervieweecan include: total score and discrete scores in his or her language test, age,self-evaluation, what aspects of difficulties, idea of local people, and themost obvious difficulties when expressing himself or herself.
Expected Results and Significance
Theoutcomes of my research may prove the significance ofcultural competence. Besides, a reliable oral language testing is an essentialpart in language teaching, for there is a close relationship between languagetesting and language teaching. Arthus Hughes defined this relationship aspartnership. Heaton (1988:89) also holds that assessment of oral ability willdo a very good washback on the teaching.
Theoral language testing including the assessment of cross-cultural community willrealize the function of test. It will force teachers to instruct culturalawareness more consciously, stimulate students’ motivation, and to improvestudents’ integrated skills. After taking this kind of oral language testing,students will adjust themselves better to the local community, and tocommunicate with local students and citizens.
Atthe same time, for my research will include different surveys and the comparisonof several tests, it will give advice for the authorities of these tests. Theauthority maybe will make the test more scientific and more valid. The studentwill also find a suitable test for himself.
Besides,the survey of HSK in my intended research will help the local scholar know moreabout Chinese testing system, which will also promote the cross-culturalcommunication.
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