【明報專訊】What is the purpose of learning a language? It must be to COMMUNICATE. If students can speak English and the listener can understand them, they will develop a sense of achievement. Being able to express what they want to say in another language brings success. That is why speaking is the key to learning English.
Compared with other language skills (writing, reading and listening), speaking can be more rewarding to students as they receive instant feedback from the listeners. Without doubt, school teachers have tried their very best to grasp every opportunity to encourage students to speak more English through daily conversation, individual presentations and group discussions. But there is yet another way to promote speaking — Choral Speaking. With its many benefits, it is worth promoting in Hong Kong schools, especially for students who are of average English standard.
The first step to turn a literary piece into a lively, powerful and rousing rendition (詮釋) on stage is to have students understand it thoroughly. This requires a higher level of comprehension skills — students have to make out (理解) the literal meaning of the piece and integrate their analysis with added experiential elements like emotion expressions and other knowledge like the cultural background of the literary work and the writer. In order to do so, collaborative learning steps in. Together with the effort by teachers and their fellow classmates, students will be able to appreciate the literary work in a lively and natural manner. Besides polishing students' reading skills, language art, an aesthetic form usually shunned by students due to language barriers, is also promoted.
Second, unlike drama, a quality presentation of a literary piece in choral speaking requires minimal skills in acting and performing. Indeed, choral speaking depends a lot on the use of voice, including diction, pitch, rhythm and intonation. These language elements are of the utmost importance in daily conversation as well. In order that the audience can hear the words clearly, students have to pronounce every single word, including the sound clusters and ending sounds, clearly and accurately. Through the training in choral speaking, students become more aware of how to use their voice effectively, which in turn benefits their daily conversation and enhances their effectiveness in communication.
Last but not least, when taking part in a choral speaking competition, students are also able to appreciate the performances of the same literary piece by other school teams. Through this kind of appreciation, students will be able to reflect on their own interpretation and rendition of the piece and learn to appreciate the creativity and variety in interpreting English literature. From the feedback of the adjudicators, students can also work on the areas and aspects that need improvement.
Choral speaking is a kind of "risk‑free learning", as it focuses on teamwork instead of individual work. Even the less confident, less expressive and more timid students can enjoy the fun of practising as a team and the momentum of group performance. As a follow‑up to that, if individual students are more prepared and better trained, they can be encouraged to take part in Solo Verse Speaking, so that they can transfer and internalise the skills they learn in choral speaking.
■By Amanda Chan, Principal & Alice Wong, English Department Head
Carmel Holy Word Secondary School