Background of the Study
The English language is the native language of the British. Its use in Nigeria is one of the aftermaths of the colonization of Nigeria by Britain. According to Otagburuagu (2002), the English Language is one of the important legacies Nigeria inherited from the British. So, the teaching and learning of the English language dates back to the early days of British colonization efforts and the introduction of Western Education by the early Christian Missionaries. The adoption of the English language as an official language in Nigeria dates back to 1842. Azikiwe (1998) states that the English Language was introduced in Nigeria in 1842 by the first batch of missionaries who arrived in Badagry for education and evangelization.
In Nigeria, the English language is the medium of communication. According to Otagburuagu (2002), the national language dilemma makes it necessary that English is used for inter- ethnic communication. The English language is a binding force in the Nigerian society. It is the language of administration, government, judiciary, science and technology, among others.
The English language occupies a central position in the school system. It is a core subject, which is required for admission into higher institutions and for occupations and employment. The Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN); (2007) recognizes the importance of the
English language and made its study compulsory in primary and secondary schools through out the federation. According to this policy, from primary four to tertiary institution, English shall be progressively used as a medium of instruction at these levels of education. In line with this, the examination boards such as WAEC, NECO and JAMB made the English Language a core subject in their examinations. Ufomata (2005) re-emphasized that in education, English is introduced as a core subject from the first year in primary schools and used as a medium of instruction from primary four through secondary and tertiary education. As a result, the teaching and learning of the English language has been on the increase.
The teaching and learning of the English language involve four skills. These are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Elugbe (2000) states that of the four language skills, listening and speaking receive less attention in many Nigerian schools from the primary to tertiary institutions. Some education planners, implementers or the classroom teachers seem not to realize that each of these language skills is a component of the language itself. According to Ogugua (2006), a deficiency in one of them contributes negatively to one’s proficiency in another component and, in the long run, the entire language.
Oral English, as the spoken component is commonly called in Nigerian schools, is an important aspect of the English Language. According to Idowu, Segbesan, Adofo, Burgess and Burgess (2003), Oral English is an important paper in the West African School Certificate English Language Examination. It should, therefore, be taken as seriously as the other two papers. However, Oral English is not given adequate attention in the classroom. Elugbe (2000) states that in many schools, it is introduced to students belatedly. Even after it has been introduced, its teaching lacks the use of different techniques. According to Ogugua (2006), the students are rarely exposed to short dialogues, conversations, narratives etc., which will help them to practice and internalize what they are being taught.
The skills needed for good performance in Oral English is not the exclusive monopoly of the phoneticians. These skills (recognition of phonetic symbols, proper articulation of sounds, application of stress and intonation etc.) are also accessible to everyone who needs to communicate a message to someone else through speech. Unfortunately, many students have been unable to acquire the skills needed to enable them perform well in Oral English. The result is their poor performance in Oral English. According to Chief Examiner’s report (2005), candidates had difficulty in answering questions on sound systems and this led to their poor performance in Oral English, which eventually affects their performance in the English language in general. According to Achebe (1994), the quality of the English language spoken in Nigeria has been falling rapidly and will fall more dramatically in the next few years. This is practically because Oral English is not given adequate attention in classroom teaching. Stressing further on students’ poor performance in Oral English, Eyisi (2002) asserts that:
Oral English seems to be at the center of our education woes. Certainly, the concern is not only about the apparent students’ poor performance in the English language as a subject of study per se but generally their poor communication skills and the resultant fallen/falling standard of education in all areas of enquiry (p.7).
Again, the poor performance of students in Oral English is caused by the students’ inadequate exposure to Oral English in their secondary schools. This is because teachers still place more emphasis on written English thereby denying students the instruction and practice in Oral English. From the foregoing, it is clear that the teaching and learning of Oral English has suffered greatly in the senior secondary schools. This leads to students’ poor performance in Oral English, which in turn affects their performance in the English language in general.
There are several techniques at the disposal of Oral English teachers for teaching Oral English. Drill is a good technique for teaching Oral English. According to Byrne (2000), drills are a form of linguistic technique, requiring the learners to perform correctly the language materials presented to them. In this way, students get extensive practice in the language. Use of drills by the Oral English teacher increases the students’ participation in the class. The use of drill derives largely from an approach to language learning, which has been mostly superseded — one that placed emphasis on the formation of correct habits and avoidance of mistakes. This makes them gain some confidence and fluency at all level of pronunciation and also in those areas of language system, which require a good deal of practice. Such drills that can be used by Oral English teacher include repetition drills, substitution drills, transformation drills, guessing drills and question and answer drills. For the purpose of this research, the researcher laid emphasis on the repetition drills. Repetition drill is the control or convention technique.
Repetition drills require the students to repeat the language items that have been presented to them. According to Tice (2006), repetition drills place emphasis on repeating structural patterns through oral practice. In this type of drill, the teacher says a word or a sentence at a time, students repeat in chorus, in small groups or pairs or singly. Since it is necessary for all the students to be given adequate practice, choral or group work should be the rule rather than the exception.
Game is another technique at the disposal of an Oral English teacher for teaching Oral English. According to Okeke (2001), a game is a form of play governed by certain rules or conventions. It is usually meant to be enjoyed. However, language games are not just a diversion, they must also contribute to language proficiency in some way by getting the learners use the language during the game. A language game is, therefore, students’ practice technique. Learning through games can be interesting, exciting and at the same time academically rewarding. Games not only improve the learners’ command of the language but also provide the learners with opportunities to use the language. Language games include; pronunciation game, computer assisted learning game, a game with minimal pairs, twenty questions, desert island, guessing game, and memory game among, others. For the purpose of this research, emphasis would be on pronunciation game.
Pronunciation game is a contest whereby the class is split into smaller groups or even pairs and each group or pair tries to beat the other in the production of the sounds of the target language. Pronunciation game is primarily concerned with developing control of specific aspects of the sound system of a language. According to Byrne (2000), pronunciation game is essential for promoting competence at the receptive and productive levels of language learning. In pronunciation game, the skills being developed are production, identification and discrimination. The use of pronunciation game therefore creates situations in which the learners are induced to respond appropriately in the target language.
Gender is a factor that is believed to influence Oral English teaching and learning. The issue of gender has generated a lot of controversies in all works of life, particularly in the field of education. This has given rise to many definitions of gender. Maduabum (2000) sees gender as musculanity and feminity dichotomy. Lortie (2001) defines gender as social definitions of male and female. It represents a socially constructed concept and not a fact of nature with specific biological imperatives. Gender as a factor in academic performance has for some time now generated a lot of concern for education at different levels. This concern arose because of differential gender achievement in all subjects offered in schools. Tucker (2003) believes that females tend to perform better than their male counterparts in art subjects while the reverse is the case in subjects that require calculations. On the other hand, Opara (2003) focused on the vocabulary aspect of the English language and came up with the result that males performed better than the females. Also, Offorma (1987) attempted to identify students’ interests in learning French and the constraints encountered by the teachers of French in the application of students’ interest in teaching the language. One of her findings was that no significant differences existed in the interests as indicated by male and female students.