Building learners’ confidence through spoken English skills

Hannah Anthony

Amidst financial hardships, Louis Lucas was worried about relocating to remote Olambe village in Ogun State, Nigeria to live with her in-laws when her husband suggested it. But the love she has for her family made her accept the idea and move as her husband suggested.

Having grown, lived, and worked as an educationist and certified TOEFL instructor in the luxurious parts of Lagos for over three decades, she feared if she could cope with the way of life in a village.

However, the question of which private preschool to enroll her 3-year-old son bothered her considering the state of education in rural areas.” It was a tough search. I went to about 10 schools but gave up when I saw the condition of the classrooms, teaching methodologies, and quality of teachers amidst the poor infrastructures of the area at the time.”

Eventually, she stopped searching and came up with the idea of supporting private schools in the village to address the gap in Spoken English by teaching their learners from ages 4 to 16, while recognizing that the key to the success of the idea lay not only in empowering them, but also in equipping teachers with the necessary skills to teach spoken English effectively.

In these inner cities, it is apparent that teachers who teach in English, as well as their learners frequently make grammatical errors. “Oftentimes, I have heard teachers and students use a sentence like – I’ll tell for you – instead of  – I’ll report you to the teacher-,” Mrs. Modupe Olusanya, the proprietress of Glory Light Schools at Olambe village said.

According to several research studies on teaching and learning English in inner cities, mother tongue has a significant interference in mastering grammar, writing, and spoken English among students and also in their academic performances, likewise lack of qualified teachers and teachers’ poor English backgrounds are said to be contributory factors.

“Learners who acquire their local language before learning English tend to speak English using the interpretation of their local language,” Lucas said. “I have witnessed several young learners say, ‘They’re calling you’ when a teacher calls for someone’s attention,” she added.

There has been intense research into the persistent and consistent setback to students’  success in their final year of examination and of the mass failure in English language subjects for a long time in Nigeria delving into the intricate causes of the repeated failure.

Regrettably, these factors have contributed to inadequate early childhood English language development among preschoolers and subpar education in elementary, high schools, and colleges, resulting in unfavorable educational achievements and limited job opportunities for these children in well-established industries in the future.

Quality education is crucial for societal socioeconomic development in today’s world, with schools playing a key role in ensuring successful development while students must be proactive and forward-thinking, despite the geographical factors, mother tongues, resources and technology availability,  quality, and well-equipped teachers; prioritizing effective Spoken English instruction that would impact students academic performances is very important.

To mitigate these challenges in Olambe village and its proximity,  Lucas founded the ‘Speak Right, Read Right’ initiative to help in the improvement of the spoken English skills of learners and quip their teachers year in and year out with important communication skill strategies to enable them to not only teach well but also develop themselves.

The Director of Teaching and Curriculum Development for the ‘Speak Right, Read Right’ project said  the initiative in partnership with private schools has been running for over a decade and has helped groom several students in the village and its proximity.

“99% of these students at the primary level pass their English language national examinations and at the secondary school level, in one sitting, and have further enrolled in various universities across Nigeria.

“When I began meeting with school owners about the Spoken English initiative far back in 2012, many schools also caught the idea and included Spoken English as part of their academic subjects,” she said.

“The idea marked the beginning of the ‘Speak Right, Read Right’ Initiative for ages 4 to 17 at the elementary and secondary levels in rural Olambe.

“So, I developed comprehensive lesson plans that fit different age grades, considering the state of the learning capability of learners in the area,” she said. “Focusing on phonetics, patterns of intonation, English stress, and grammatical structure.”

Every new academic term, a series of workshops are held in partner schools across Lambe town. Teachers from these schools gather to participate in interactive sessions, led by Mrs Lucas, covering a wide range of topics, including vowels, consonants,  intonation, and word and sentence stress in English.

One of the teachers, Mrs. Peace Okoro of Glory Light Schools, who takes part in the workshops shared her experience. “Before the speak right, read right workshop last year, I used to struggle with letter sounds but now I am very good at articulating and blending them for my playgroup pupils. I feel more confident in my ability to teach my pupils.”

Another Nursery teacher, Mr Ruth Obanubi affirmed the impact of the communication skills. “My pupils have learned to pronounce words correctly, especially those objects around them. Before they pronounced ‘pencil’ as ‘pensu’ but since the training, I have learned vowels and consonant sounds and have been helping my pupils to pronounce words correctly,” she said.

The Secretary of the National Association of Private School Owners in Ogun State, Mrs Comfort Owolabi emphasized her deep concern about accessing qualified teachers with good spoken English in remote areas. “It has not been easy but the few I can get go through thorough spoken English training and the inclusion of the skill as a separate subject “speak right read right” initiative foster good communication among my teachers and importantly the students.”

Joy Akintunde, one of the secondary students who benefitted from the initiative at Peculiar Heritage Treasure School stated that since the introduction of spoken English as a subject and the speak right initiative in her school she could identify phonetic symbols, transcribe English words phonetically and pronounce words confidently.

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