A genre-based approach to speaking in EFL

  • Simon Wilkins

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Speaking skills have been neglected in many language curricula and assessments at tertiary level, producing students who are viewed as structurally competent but communicatively deficient. An increasing emphasis on the communicative approach has given prominence to the importance of spoken language, but misinterpretations of communicative pedagogy and cultural resistance to these practices has meant that this approach has not always been successful. These issues are complicated further by the presentation of new approaches to
language teaching as discrete packages that reject what has happened previously. A genre based approach, derived from the principles of systemic functional linguistics, is offered as a comprehensive framework for incorporating a universal understanding of language teaching.This thesis asks in what ways a genre-based approach assists the development of Japanese students’ speaking abilities. The theoretical underpinnings of the genre-based approach were used to design a syllabus focused on students’ speaking skills. This syllabus intervention was applied to numerous English as a foreign language classes at the tertiary level in Japan. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analysed during an action research process via an emic perspective, with qualitative data analysed inductively. Conclusions were based upon thorough triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data collected from a range of sources and at different times.

Findings of this study suggest that the genre-based approach provides a framework for addressing students’ speaking skills in a principled and logical manner, allowing students to improve their skills in casual conversation, lengthening their spoken utterances, and reducing feelings of anxiety and frustration in speaking. This framework allows teachers to incorporate elements of both fluency and accuracy in their classrooms, whilst maintaining a primary focus on spoken communication. However, findings indicated that the efficacy of a genre-based approach relies heavily on a number of corresponding pedagogical factors.Firstly, a genre-based syllabus provides opportunities for integrating Assessment for Learning strategies, and it is vital to incorporate these strategies into syllabus design. The authenticity of texts is another key component of achieving desired results under such an approach. When selecting authentic texts, however, careful consideration is also needed to ensure that the notion of the “native speaker” is replaced with a concept of mutual intelligibility. Such cogitation is essential in order to bridge the gap between teacher expectations and student achievement. The necessity for student and teacher training in these various approaches, as well as their implementation in the classroom, demand considerable time and effort. Such an investment of resources must be considered before embarking on similar interventions, but findings suggest that this engagement is justified.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorUrszula I Clark (Supervisor)


  • systemic functional linguistics
  • action research
  • assessment for learning
  • authentic texts
  • mutual intelligibility

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