Among the different English language skills, the speaking skill has the most prominent and
significant position. Achieving oral proficiency is clearly one of the main interests and
dreams of many English language learners. They believe having the ability to speak a
language is synonymous with knowing that language and regard their speaking proficiency
improvement as their success in language acquirement (Richards, 2008; Ur, 1996).
However, speaking in English as a foreign language is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon and providing a concise definition for it is very hard (Bygate,
2009; Thornbury & Slade, 2006). The difficulties and problems in managing speaking skill
are due to different factors. There is never the chance of revising and editing the output since
it always takes place in real time; in addition, it has unpredictable and transient features
(Bailey, 2006; Bygate, 2009). Shumin (2002) refers to the lack of sufficient exposure to the
target language and contact with native speakers as the major source of difficulty in speaking
It is clear that this lack of interaction and exposure to authentic oral communication in
the foreign language contexts has overwhelmingly increased the importance of
communicative and appropriate activities in the classrooms (Shumin, 2002). There are many
researchers (Nunan, 1989; Thornbury, 2005; Ur, 1996) who highlight the significant role of
effective oral communication activities in the classrooms. According to Dornyei and Thurrell
(1994), many of the problems and difficulties in the conversation classrooms are the result of
the lack of appropriate syllabus and activities in the classroom.
In the process of curricular and activities planning and designing, different learners’
factors and their individual differences especially their language proficiency and their
perception have important roles, and the activity designers, teachers, and the learners can
benefit from being aware of them. In fact, the more the learners’ perspectives are paid
attention to, the more opportunities for language improvement and achievement will be
provided (Barkhuizen, 1998; Gentry, Gable, & Rizza, 2002). However, unfortunately,
evaluation of classroom activities from the students’ views is not much dealt with (Bada &
Okan, 2000; Gentry et al., 2002).
Among all the different activities which can be effective in spoken language, discussion
and oral presentation can specifically target aspects of speaking skill (Thornbury, 2005). Oral
presentation and discussion are two different types of seminar that participating in them is
one of the most problematic and difficult issues for EFL learners (Jordan, 1997). Looking at
these two different activities more meticulously, it can be concluded that they have some
features such as different types of learners’ interaction, competition to take the floor, turns,
and spontaneous talks (Padilha & Carletta, 2002; Ur, 1981, 1996) that sometimes may bring
the possibility of considering them as two activities which are at the opposite ends of a
Based on these features, oral presentation and free discussion may have different
effects on the learners’ speaking proficiency, especially regarding the perception of the
learners. This study investigated the effects of these two activities on the speaking
proficiency of the learners; moreover, it explored the EFL learners’ perceptions of each of
these two activities qualitatively.
2. Literature Review
2.1. Speaking Proficiency
Two important features of speaking proficiency are accuracy and fluency. Whether the
priority should be given to fluency or accuracy has always attracted second language
teachers’ and learners’ attention (Tavakoli & Foster, 2008). Fluency refers to the easy
connection of different speech elements. In fluent speech, the words are linked smoothly,
rapidly, and without hesitations, and the pronunciation and the paralinguistic elements such
as stress and intonation patterns are used appropriately and correctly (Hughes, 2002;
Thornbury, 2000). However, accuracy refers to the correct and acceptable use of vocabulary,
grammar, and pronunciation (Harmer, 2001).
As a result, appropriate and effective activities for oral communication improvement
are integral and crucial components of speaking classes. Communicative and suitable
activities which are organized and designed properly can provide a supportive and effective
environment for language learning through providing a proper relationship among the
learners as well as between the learners and the teacher; furthermore, they reduce the
learners’ anxiety and stress, and consequently, improve their achievement and success widely
(Oradee, 2012). According to Thornbury (2005), among different activities, discussion and
oral presentation specifically focus on dimensions of speaking skill.
2.2. Oral Presentation
Oral presentation is a learner-centered activity which is mainly implemented in the classroom
for the purpose of improving the learners’ speaking proficiency (King, 2002; Miles, 2009).
Al-Issa and Al-Qubtan (2010) assert that “an important feature of the EFL classroom in
different parts of the world today is oral presentations” (p. 227). Oral presentation is a
learner-centered activity which is mainly implemented in the classroom for the purpose of
improving the learners’ speaking proficiency (King, 2002; Miles, 2009). They can be referred
to as beneficial tools to make the learners prepared for their future careers and real life
speaking (Al-Issa & Al-Qubtan, 2010; Nakamura, 2002; Thornbury, 2005); however, even
from the most confident learners’ point of view, presenting a talk to the public may be a
source of anxiety and stress. It can be a bothering and fearful activity and reduces the
learners’ self-esteem (Al-Issa & Al-Qubtan, 2010; Dryden, 2003; King, 2002; Webster,
2002). Giving oral presentation is a complex activity, especially for the foreign language
learners. It requires a wide range of sociolinguistic, cognitive, field, and linguistic knowledge
(Adams, 2004; Morita, 2000; Yu & Cadman, 2009).
In spite of the fact that oral presentation may be difficult and demanding for both the
learners and teachers, it can be very beneficial for intermediate, upper intermediate, and
higher level learners (Lee & Park, 2008; Meloni & Thompson, 1980). It integrates all the
different language skills, activates the meaningful oral language, and facilitates the complex
process of speaking mastery. Oral presentation improves the learners’ cooperation,
responsibility, autonomy, and decision making which are so limited in teacher-centered
classrooms and improves an independent and dynamic atmosphere in the classrooms (Al-Issa
& Al-Qubtan, 2010; King, 2002).
To show the role of oral presentation in language learning, Choi, Joh, and Lee (2008)
conducted a study which indicated that the development of discourse competence, learners’
confidence, linguistic knowledge, discourse knowledge, and the whole proficiency in the
language resulted from the preparation for weekly presentations.
In another study, Otoshi and Heffernen (2008) investigated Japanese learners’ opinions
about the most important and effective aspects of oral presentation. The elements which were
shown to affect the view of learners about the effective oral presentations were: language
accuracy, speech clarity, quality of voice, and right connection and interaction with the
audience. Otoshi and Heffernen (2008) concluded that the teachers should inform the learners
about the importance and effects of these elements on the oral presentations and remind them
of the importance of their practicing.
The results of Lee and Park’s (2008) study revealed that most of the participants saw
oral presentations as interesting activities that led to learn new vocabulary and expressions in
English. They preferred classes with oral presentations to the completely teacher lecturer
Furthermore, Miles (2009) investigated the purpose of the learners for attending oral
presentation classes. The results indicated that their main purpose was to improve their oral
proficiency, to obtain confidence in speech, and to challenge themselves to talk more.
Interestingly, the teachers had the same language purposes as the learners.
According to Soureshjani and Ghanbri (2012), oral presentations provide a move from
teacher-centeredness toward learner-centeredness. In fact, it is the learners who play the main
role in the classrooms during the oral presentations.
Discussion is one of the most efficient and beneficial ways of practicing oral communications
freely with the major purpose of cooperation and relationship improvement among the
learners. Whenever learners talk in the classroom and use the language individually,
purposefully, and creatively, they are participating in a discussion (Ur, 1981).
Dunbar (1996, cited in Fay, Garrod, & Carletta, 2000) highlights the importance of
discussion and claims that it is through discussion that the most important decisions are
made. According to Richards, Platt, and Weber (1985), there are four different kinds of
discussions, mainly based on the teachers’ amount of control. The first type is recitation
which is totally structured, arranged, and completely controlled by the teachers. Guided
discussion is less structured in comparison to recitation, and reflective discussion, in which
the participants have reflective and critical thinking, is the least structured one. Finally, it is
in small group discussion that the learners have the most autonomy and responsibility.
According to Ur (1981), the most advantageous and successful types of discussions are those
that lead to the most possible amount of learners’ participation. They are widely motivating
and appealing with interesting topics and have both a challenging and success-oriented
Fay et al. (2000) refer to group discussions as unstructured conversation made of
different numbers of participants. Depending on the purpose of discussions, different group
sizes are appropriate. Small groups are more advantageous when all the learners’ opinions are
important and have an influential role; however, if the aim of discussions is to inform all the
learners about a particular opinion, the large groups are more preferable.
In addition to group size, topic is an important and effective issue in the progress of the
discussions. Certainly, if the participants have some knowledge about the topic, they can
handle the language better (Zuengler, 1993). It is recommended that the topics and materials
be tangible, i.e. close to the life of the learners. In this case, they will help the learners to use
and activate their background information and experiences appropriately (Ur, 1996).
According to Jamshidnejad (2010), lack of a safe topic for discussion can be an obstacle in
L2 speaking. He mentions that unfamiliarity with the topic is harmful for both speakers and
listeners. He recommends free topic discussions which will be beneficial for the learners.
However, Hatch (1978) believes that although at the beginning the learners are only
comfortable with known topics, they can gradually go beyond this boundary through some
practice. In fact, all the learners need to become familiar with different topics in order to be
Considering discussion as an activity, Oradee (2012) conducted a study on the effects
of three different communicative activities, i.e. discussion, problem-solving, and role-playing
on the learners’ oral proficiency and their perception of these three activities. Forty-nine
students at a secondary school in Thailand took part in this study. They were categorized in
small groups which according to the researcher increased their self-confidence, enjoyment,
self-monitoring, support, help, and consequently, the participation among the learners and, on
the other hand, decreased their fear of making mistakes while speaking. The results of his
study indicated that these activities were effective in oral proficiency improvement, and the
learners’ had positive attitudes toward them.
The results of another study conducted by Katchen (1995) about group discussions
revealed that since one student or one group was not the focus of the teacher’s attention for a
long time in a discussion activity, the pressure to speak was not high; however, this kind of
activity required spontaneous speaking so that those who were brave enough spoke, while
others spoke little or remained silent.
Clearly, the significant role of both discussion and oral presentation activities
(Thornbury, 2005) requires the teachers’ attention to the learners’ perception of the two
activities (Gentry et al., 2002). Moreover, these two focused activities, i.e. oral presentation
and free discussion, which are two problematic and difficult activities and seem to have a lot
of opposite features (Furneaux et al., 1991, cited in Jordan, 1997; Thornbury, 2005), are not
analyzed comparatively which is the purpose of this study.
2.4. The Language Learners’ Perception of Different Activities
The language learners’ perception has a very prominent and significant role in language
learning and teaching process and learners’ achievement (Williams & Burden, 1997). The
groundwork for inquiry and investigation of learners’ perceptions was mostly laid in the
1970s and 1980s (Wesely, 2012). There are two significantly different types of learners’
perception: their perception of themselves and their perception of the learning situation. The
former type of perception encompasses how the learners make sense of themselves and their
own learning, whereas the latter type can be defined as how the students experience different
aspects of the classroom such as different activities (Brown, 2009; Liskin-Gasparro, 1998;
Williams & Burden, 1997). It is worth mentioning that most researchers believe that these
two types of perceptions are totally interwoven.
According to Schulz (1996), “while opinions alone do not necessarily reflect the actual
cognitive processes that go on in language acquisition, perceptions do influence reality” (p.
349). Obviously, the more we are aware of the learners’ perception, the better our chances are
to improve the conditions of language learning and use. The learners’ view toward different
activities and curriculum will provide valuable and beneficial information for the researchers
and educational planners. They can use this information in order to improve the learners’
motivation and achievements and the educational system in general (Gentry et al., 2002;
Nunan (1988a, 1988b) and Kumaravadivelu (1991) refer to the discrepancies between
teachers’ and learners’ perception. According to Eslami-rasekh and Valizadeh (2004), the
teachers should always consider the learners’ perception and preferences in order to promote
a more inclusive climate that would enhance learning.
This study aimed to focus on the learners’ perception toward two different specific
activities, i.e. oral presentation vs. free discussion, in the qualitative phase of the study; in
addition to the quantitative phase which deals with the effects of the activities on the learners’
3. Research Questions
This study aimed at addressing the following research questions:
1. Is there any significant difference in the speaking proficiency of the Iranian EFL
intermediate learners who practice discussion and those who practice oral presentation?
2. How do Iranian EFL learners perceive discussion versus oral presentation as two different
kinds of class activities?
Forty-four intermediate female Iranian foreign language learners from four different intact
classes in one of the branches of Kish Language Institute in Tehran participated in this study.
In order to have an equal number of participants in each of the experimental and the
comparison group, two of these classes, consisting of 22 learners (one with 12 and the other
with 10 learners) were considered as the comparison group (dealing with free discussion) and
the other two classes, including 11 and 11 learners, were considered as the experimental
group of the study (dealing with oral presentation).
In order to conduct the present study, the speaking section of a sample Preliminary English
Test (PET) (2012) and a semi-structured perception interview were implemented for the
quantitative and qualitative phases of the study, respectively.
To measure the foreign language learners’ oral proficiency before and after
experiencing the two different focused class activities, a speaking sample of the Preliminary
English Test (PET) (University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, 2012) was utilized as
both pre- and post-test in the quantitative phase of the study. The pre-test was administered
with the purpose of both ensuring the homogeneity of the learners and measuring their
speaking proficiency before the treatment, and the post-test was administered in order to
measure the effects of the two activities. In this study, the reliability of the speaking part of
the sample test was estimated through test-retest. The reliability correlation coefficient of the
test-retest was estimated using Cronbach’s Alpha and turned out to be 0.820, which was
acceptable from a statistical point of view (Larson-Hall, 2010).
To investigate the second research question, i.e. a qualitative analysis of the Iranian
EFL learners’ perception of oral presentation vs. discussion, a semi-structured interview was
conducted, which according to Dornyei (2007), offers a compromise between the structured
and unstructured interviews. Despite the fact that there are some prepared guiding questions
in this popular kind of interview, the whole format of the interviews is flexible, open-ended,
and not rigid.
To carry out this part of the study, a purposeful sampling was used. Creswell (2012)
states “in purposeful sampling, researchers intentionally select individuals and sites to learn
or understand the central phenomenon” (p. 206), and the major criterion for their selection is
the participants’ potentiality of providing rich information.
The approach of conducting these interviews was one-on-one in which the participants
were interviewed individually. This approach of interviews is popular but time-consuming
(Creswell, 2012). It is worth mentioning that for the purpose of achieving proper data, all the
interviews were conducted in Persian (Mackey & Gass, 2005), and they were recorded and
transcribed meticulously by the researcher for the further analysis.
As the first phase of conducting the quantitative part of the study, four intact classes with 44
learners at the intermediate level based on the criteria of the institute were selected. Two of
the classes including 11 and 11 students were selected as the experimental group to deal with
oral presentation, and the other two classes with 12 and 10 students were assigned as the
comparison group of the study to deal with free discussion.
In order to ensure the homogeneity of the two groups and their intermediate proficiency
level, the speaking part of a sample Preliminary English Test (2012) was conducted. The
results of an independent samples t-test indicated that all the participants were homogenous.
It is worth mentioning that the scores of the speaking part of PET (2012) were also acting as
the pre-test scores which indicated the learners’ oral proficiency at the beginning and before
The pre-test was scored twice. Firstly, it was scored by the one of the researchers and
her colleague who was also present during the test session. The former acted as the
interlocutor and managed the interaction by asking questions and setting up the tasks and
scored based on the global assessment scale, while the latter acted as an assessor and did not
get involved in the conversation and scored based on the analytical assessment scale. The
analytical scale covers grammar and vocabulary, discourse management, pronunciation, and
interactive communication, and each part has five points, whereas the holistic scale covers
the global achievement with five points, which makes the total grade of 25 for speaking part.
Secondly, it was scored by two other experienced teachers who had been given the recorded
and transcribed conversations. They followed the Cambridge assessment rubrics) (University
of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, 2012) and the same process as the researcher and her
colleague. One of them scored holistically (from five points) and the other scored analytically
(from 20 points). Ultimately, after checking the inter-rater reliability of the scores, the
average of the two sets of scores was considered as the learners’ pre-test score.
Throughout the term, the learners of both the experimental and the comparison groups
studied the Total English Intermediate (Clare & Wilson, 2013) which was assigned by the
institute for the intermediate level. The book includes 10 units which should be taught
through five semesters, i.e. intermediate 1- intermediate 5. Each semester lasts for about one
month and a half (21 sessions), and each session takes about 90 minutes. The 44 participants
of the study were at intermediate level 1, and the first two units of the book were taught to
them. Throughout these two units which were about friends and media, different sections
dealing with reading, writing, and listening skills were covered by their teacher based on the
syllabus. It is worth remarking that for the purpose of this study, the teacher gave the
responsibility of dealing with speaking skill mostly to the researcher.
For the purpose of this study, the participants in the experimental group experienced the
oral presentation activity, while the participants in the comparison group experienced the free
discussion activity in the last 30 minutes of each first eight sessions. The two activities were
conducted by the researcher without their teacher presence. The teacher mostly tried to keep
the procedure of both classes as it was supposed to. In other words, in the oral presentation
group, based on the number of the participants and the number of the sessions to be held, one
and sometimes two participants were assigned to present a lecture, based on a topic selected
(Appendix A) for the next session. After presenting the lecture, she was asked some
questions either by the teacher or the audience. In the free discussion group, the same topic
but its parallel form suitable for discussion rather than for presentation was discussed
(Appendix B) It is worth mentioning that the topics of the both activities, i.e. oral
presentations and free discussions, were similar, and they were pre-selected and fixed for the
next session by the researcher (they were not impromptu). In the process of topic selection,
the researcher consulted with some teachers having the experience of teaching at the
intermediate level for more than five years and chose topics which were more suitable for this
level of language proficiency. In addition, she took the nature of oral presentation and free
discussion activities into consideration and chose the topics which were suitable for both of
the activities (Appendix A & B).
In the next phase, in order to become aware of the effect of the treatment (use of free
discussion vs. oral presentation) after eight sessions, the speaking part of the same sample
Preliminary English Test (2012) was utilized as the post-test. It is worth mentioning that all
the stages of pre-test scoring were exactly followed in the process of post-test scoring; it was
scored both holistically and analytically twice and after checking the inter-rater reliability of
the scores, the average of the two sets of scores was considered as their post-test score.
To investigate the second research question, i.e. how the learners perceive oral
presentation vs. free discussion activities, the two activities were exchanged between the
groups after the end of the quantitative part of the study for eight more sessions. Finally, after
the treatment of the qualitative part and all the participants’ experiencing of the both
activities, from among those who were more eager and preferred each activity, based on their
oral comments and degree of participation in each activity during the 16 sessions, 10 in each
were selected purposefully to be interviewed based on the criterion of providing rich
A semi-structured interview was conducted with the 20 learners. Following the
analytical stages recommended by Braun and Clarke (2006), the analytic process of the
present study was conducted through thematic analysis and the following phases: at first to
understand the data completely, the whole audio recorded interviews with the learners were
transcribed meticulously. Then the transcription was read and reviewed several times, and all
the parts that were relevant and revealed important patterns about the learners’ perception of
the two activities (oral presentation vs. free discussion) were underlined and highlighted. In
the next step, the interesting and important features of data were coded systematically, and
the initial codes were generated. Afterwards, the codes were collocated to potential themes.
Later, all the themes were reviewed and checked whether they worked in relation to the
whole data set. Ultimately, all the themes were defined and named, and the production of the
report, including relating back the final analysis to the literature and research question, was
5. Results and Discussion
5.1. Results and Discussion of Research Question 1
To investigate the probability of any significant difference in the speaking proficiency of the
participants who practiced free discussion, and those who practiced oral presentation an
independent samples t-test was applied to post-test scores of the experimental and the
comparison groups. To ensure the homogeneity of the learners, one-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was conducted. The results revealed normal distribution for both the
experimental (Z= .596, p=.870) and the comparison group (Z=.786, p=.568). The descriptive
statistics of these speaking pre-test scores are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Speaking Pre-test Scores
As indicated in Table 2, the mean of the post-test scores of the experimental group is
higher than the mean score of the comparison group. To check whether this difference is
significant or not, an independent samples t-test was conducted. Levene’s test shows equal
variances (F = 1.415, p = 0.241) and the results of the t-test [t (42) = -4.550; p < 0.05] reveals
that the experimental group (dealing with oral presentation) outperformed the comparison
group (dealing with the free discussion) significantly.
It is worth mentioning that though the oral presentation group outperformed the free
discussion group significantly, the descriptive statistics (Table 3) shows improvement in both
groups comparing before and after treatment.
To see if this difference was significant or not, two paired samples t-tests were
conducted. The results showed a significant difference between pretest and posttest in
discussion group [t (21) = -6.750; p < 0.05] as well as the oral presentation group [t (21) = -9.912; p < 0.05].
Comparing the results of this study with the relevant ones conducted before, one can
say that it partially supports the prior research conducted by Jing (2009) who investigated the
effect of oral presentation on EFL learners’ speaking skill, in which the results indicated that
oral presentation improved the learners’ speaking proficiency. Furthermore, it supports the
results of other studies by Lee and Park (2008) and Meloni and Thompson (1980) who
indicated the positive effects of oral presentation and report on the English language learners’
English and academic skills. However, the result of this study is contradictory with what
King (2002) believes about the oral presentations. He believes that sometimes the language
skill will not improve with the help of oral presentation activity because of the learners’
problems with this activity.
There are many different researchers (King, 2002; Webster, 2000) who refer to the
advantages of oral presentation activity. King (2002) and Meloni and Thompson (1980)
believe that structured and organized oral presentations will be so advantageous for EFL
learners in their career and their different school courses. The results of this study also
confirms their idea with the only difference that both activities, i.e., oral presentation and free
discussion can be beneficial for speaking skill though the former is stronger and more
influential than the latter. Hence, in the context of Iran as an EFL context where there is not
much opportunity for the language learners out of class to practice speaking, either of these
activities can be used as a chance for practicing oral communication. Of course, depending
on the specificity of any context, either of them can be given priority.
5.2. Results and Discussion of Research Question 2
The second research question of the study dealt with the learners’ perception of the two
focused activities, i.e. oral presentation vs. free discussion. The merits of oral presentation
and demerits of free discussion from the viewpoint of the 10 learners who liked and preferred
oral presentation rather than free discussion activity and the merits of free discussion and
demerits of oral presentation from the viewpoint of the 10 learners who liked and preferred
free discussion activity are presented in the following table:
The advantages and merits of oral presentation from the viewpoint of the 10 learners
who preferred this activity generated five themes. Most of the interviewees in this group
referred to the effective role of this activity in the improvement of the language, specially
speaking proficiency. Some of them stated since they were the teacher’s and their classmates’
center of attention for a specific time in the oral presentations, they tried to be well-prepared
for the presentation and do researches on various issues through surfing the net, and reading
books, which they believed were so helpful in the improvement of their language proficiency.
In relation to this, Al-Issa and Al-Qubtan (2010) point out presentations encourage and
promote learning through research and discovery. Many researchers (King, 2002; Miles,
2009; Webster, 2002) confirm the effective role of oral presentation activity in the language
proficiency of the learners. This confirms the results of the study conducted by Gu and
Reynolds (2013) who indicated that extensive speaking activities such as monologues
enhanced the quality of learners’ output, positive attitude, and perception of speaking.
In addition to the beneficial role of oral presentation in the improvement of the
language ability, especially the speaking proficiency, some of the interviewees believed oral
presentation was effective in the improvement of the presentation skills since they practiced
standard delivery skills to convince the teacher and the audiences. They believed being
skillful in presentation was a required skill in different arrays of education and career.
Noticeably, oral presentation can be referred to as an advantageous medium to make the
learners prepared for their future careers and real life speaking (Al-Issa & Al-Qubtan, 2010;
Nakamura, 2002; Thornbury, 2005). However, the learners valued and focused on the
effectiveness of oral presentation on the improvement of their language proficiency rather
than presentation skills, which confirms the results of the study conducted by Miles (2009)
who indicated students considerably perceived presentation classes as an opportunity to
improve their English proficiency rather than learn how to give presentations.
According to many interviewees, one of the most advantageous characteristics of oral
presentation was providing an equal chance of participation for all the learners. They stated in
free discussion activity, the talkative and high self-confident learners were the learners’ and the
teacher’s center of attention, and they always won the turns and did not pass the floor to others.
Many of the learners, especially the shy ones (they referred to their shyness), had no or very
little speaking opportunity which decreased their self-confidence; however, in oral presentation
classes, all the learners had an equal chance and approximately equal time for speaking. These
results lead support to the prior study conducted by Kayaoglu and Saglamel (2013) about the
EFL leaners’ perception of anxiety, in which the researchers concluded that the participation of
the learners should be considered and controlled more carefully “so as not to make a few shine
and let others take care of themselves. Addressing to a particular group might kill the
willingness of others. The teacher should feel the pulse of the classroom when delivering turns”
(p. 156). According to Ur (1996), the class activities that lead to the same opportunity and
chance of speaking and participation for all the learners are the most appropriate activities.
There were some interviewees who stated their language, general self-concept, and
self-confidence were developed after having the same chance of participating and
experiencing the speech in oral presentations. This is similar to what Liu and Littlewood
(1997) found out in their study. They discovered that the more the learners practiced and had
opportunity to speak in foreign language, the more they felt confident about their oral
proficiency and had positive attitudes and self-perception of competence. However, it is
against what King (2002) believes. According to him, public speaking sometimes undermines
Moreover, some interviewees referred to having the same and adequate time and floor
to speak and not being interrupted by others before the termination of their speech as a
considerable, important, positive feature of oral presentation activities.
There were many interviewees who referred to the obligatory nature of oral presentation
activity and the catalyst and pushing role of the teacher in this activity. These interviewees
believed that this obligatory nature was beneficial for the shy learners. It is worth mentioning
that many interviewees referred to their shyness and low self-confidence. They emphasized the
importance and benefits of having the activities which had a kind of obligatory nature in which
the turns were delivered and fixed by the teacher, and it was the teacher who called the learners
and asked them to initiate. They mentioned considering their shyness, they needed a push in
order to make them participate in the activities; otherwise, they could not. These results of the
study support the research by Kayaoglu and Saglamel (2013), in which most of the learners
believed that the teachers should sometimes push the learners.
In spite of the fact that some interviewees referred to the main and controlling role of
the teacher in oral presentation activity, Al-Issa and Al-Qubtan (2010) refer to oral
presentation as a learner-centered activity. Furthermore, some interviewees who referred to
their shyness in their interview mentioned that they had lost their motivation before
experiencing the oral presentation activities in the class. They said oral presentation activity
with its obligatory nature encouraged them to make more attempts and study which obviously
had positive effects on their language and speaking improvement. Ushioda (2001) asserts that
one of the most important and successful motivational routes for the language learners is the
learners’ positive experience. It seems that the oral presentation activity helped them have the
Some interviewees mentioned in spite of the fact that making the learners may be
anxiety-provoking, especially as they had to perform in front of the class, this anxiety was
normal, beneficial, and facilitating which would assist them to be able to cope with the
tension of public speech that they may experience in different situations and improve their
self-confidence. As Dornyei (2005) asserts “anxiety does not necessarily inhibit performance
but in some cases can actually promote it” (p. 198).
On the other hand, these interviewees referred to the disadvantages of free discussion.
Some of them stated the voluntary nature of free discussion let the learners remain silent
which hindered their making attempts to be prepared to speak in class; consequently, their
language and speaking proficiency would not improve. According to Liu and Littlewood
(1997), “students’ lack of experience in speaking English is especially serious because
frequency of practice opportunities alone seems vital to their confidence and proficiency” (p.
376). They declare that free discussion, specifically small group discussions, let the learners
hide themselves in the group and completely remain silent. However, we should take into
consideration that many of the learners are used to the teacher-centered classes and activities
that they have experienced a lot in the past.
In addition, most of the interviewees believed that free discussion lacked an even
chance of participation for the learners which led to the shining of a limited number of the
learners who were mostly talkative and high self-confident. Katchen (1995) declares
discussion activity requires spontaneous speaking; therefore, those who are brave enough
speak, while others speak little or remain silent. According to Liu and Littlewood (1997), the
educational systems that do not provide the learners with adequate opportunities to practice
and speak English and have at the same time socialized them into adopting passive roles, will
have negative effects on the leaners’ spoken proficiency.
Some of the shy interviewees (they had referred to their shyness) referred to the turn-taking as the most difficult part of the free discussion activity. They said they were not
adequately self-confident to take turns and start talking without being pushed by the teacher,
especially in the case that most of the high self-confident and talkative learners were their
tough competitors. Clearly, giving any kinds of feedback was difficult for the shy learners.
The shy learners referred to their unwillingness to speak, their passiveness, and lack of
participation or very limited and little participation during the free discussion activity in spite
of their beliefs in their acceptable speaking and language proficiency. Dornyei (2005)
believes that “there is a further layer of mediating factors between having the competence to
communicate and putting this competence into practice” (p. 207), that is why there are many
people who avoid participation or even entering communicative situations in spite of their
high communicative competence.
These confirm the results of the study conducted by MacIntyre, Baker, Clément, and
Donovan (2002) who indicated that different factors mainly communication anxiety and
perceived communication competence were the predictors of the learners’ willingness to
communicate. Therefore, it seems that shyness and lack of self-confidence, which some
learners were suffering from (based on their talks and the researcher’s observation), had
negative effects on the learners’ willingness to participate in discussion. However, this is
against what Ur (1981) believes about discussions. He believes it is easier for the shy learners
to speak and express themselves in a small group discussion rather than to the teacher.
The possibility of change in the free discussion topic was another problem posed by
some of the participants. Free discussion had an arguable nature, and its topic could change
by a learner’s comment or question and as a result the learners had to speak spontaneously.
Ortega (2005) declares having extra time for pre-planning has various benefits. It brings the
possibility of collecting and digesting one’s thoughts, identifying language problems ahead of
time, engaging in lexical searches, and finding helpful and appropriate vocabularies which
cannot be followed in free discussion when the trend of the discussion is changed.
Moreover, some shy interviewees mentioned that they were very sensitive about receiving
negative feedbacks. They were worried about the rejection of their ideas, and it was the source of
their silence. Liu and Littlewood (1997) believe “if this feedback is done with great sensitivity to
students’ self-esteem in a trusting and supportive environment, it should enhance their confidence
and proficiency rather than inhibit their desire to speak English” (p. 380).
The other 10 interviewees who liked free discussion more, had their own justifications
for preferring it to oral presentation. Some of the interviewees stated since they had more
chance of speaking in free discussion activities, and they could speak freely after a simple turn
taking, their language proficiency was improved. As Ur (1981) asserts, discussion is one of the
best and most beneficial ways of practicing oral communication freely in the EFL contexts.
Furthermore, most of the interviewees asserted they felt totally relaxed in free
discussion since they could speak voluntarily while sitting in their seats. In fact discussion is
an activity which provides a low-risk environment. Clearly, it is a learner-centered activity
with the voluntary nature that fills the gap between the learner and the teacher on one hand,
and the learner and peers on the other hand.
There were some interviewees who referred to free discussion as the activity which
triggered and improved their creative, critical, innovative, and systematic thinking. It helped
the learners be able to contradict or support others’ views and to express and defend their
opinions with logic. As Pally (2000) claims these critical thinking activities including
questioning and discussing are widely needed and used in different academic and
In addition, many of the interviewees believed that the free discussion activity provided
a more supportive learning environment and a high level of interaction among the learners.
They could be familiar with their classmates’ opinions. Enhancing interaction, cooperation,
and friendship among the learners are the very points mentioned by Ur (1981) as the main
aims of free discussion.
Many of the interviewees referred to free discussion as an interesting and enjoyable
activity. They said they had a lot of fun during this activity. According to Ur (1981), free
discussion is one of the most appealing, enjoyable, and motivating activities.
On the other hand, the very participants referred to the disadvantages of oral
presentation. Many of them believed oral presentation was a stressful, anxiety provoking, and
face- threatening activity, especially for the shy and low self-confident learners. According to
the shy interviewees, they were always worried about making mistakes, losing face, and
failing in front of the teacher and their classmates. King (2002) also believes that oral
presentation can be a source of extreme anxiety and a face-threatening activity.
Moreover, most of the interviewees said that they felt bored to listen to mostly
memorized and monotonous speech. It seemed that the main or even the only audience who
was paying attention to the presentations was the teacher. Some participants in Yu and
Cadman’s (2009) study also thought that it was only the teacher who listened and cared about
their presentations. Yu and Cadman (2009) emphasize the importance of a coherent speaker–
audience relationship and audience engagement in oral presentation. King (2002) asserts
“reciting from passages copied down from references makes the presentation sound canned,
machine-like, and dull” (p. 405).
Besides, there were some interviewees who referred to the difficulty of being the center
of attention for a specific time. They said this feature of oral presentation caused them to
focus on themselves rather than concentrating on their speech. Daly (1991) argues about the
difficulty of stage and its fright and states being self-focused might result in a lower
concentration on the audience, speech, and the surrounding.
Ultimately, some of the interviewees mentioned that they felt a hierarchal distance
between the teacher and themselves in oral presentation activity. They mentioned that they
felt the controlling role of the teacher. However, this is against what King (2002) believes
about oral presentations. He states oral presentation is a learner-centered activity in which the
teacher has the role of a facilitator of learning rather than a controller.
This study was an attempt to shed some lights on the effects of oral presentation vs. free
discussion on the EFL intermediate learners’ speaking proficiency; moreover, it explored the
EFL learners’ perceptions of these two activities. The results of the first research question
indicated the significant superiority of oral presentation to free discussion activity; however,
both free discussion and oral presentation activities could affect and improve the speaking
proficiency. Furthermore, the result of the second research question indicated that both of the
activities had some merits and demerits from the learners’ point of view. Hence, since we
usually deal with learners who have different personalities in the same class, it can be
recommended to include both activities as complementary in classrooms though either one
may not be to the favor of some of the students. In this way, using one compensates for the
shortcomings of the other. Elaborating the objectives of including each activity can help the
learners to be more cooperative in class activities.