Students speak more when using Extempore

Students speak more when using Extempore

A little over a year ago, I blogged about the results of a survey on the role of Extempore in boosting confidence to speak among advanced learners of Spanish. Three quarters of the students reported feeling more confident to speak in the target language after a semester of regular speaking practice using Extempore. Among the reasons students gave for this increased confidence was that they felt they spoke more when using the app than when not. This year I decided to test whether students’ notion that they are speaking more in the target language has any reality to it, or whether it is simply a perception. It turns out it is true, they speak more with Extempore.

The classes

I taught four intermediate Spanish I classes this year, two in the Fall and two in the Spring. All four sections were the same in that, besides having me as their instructor, they used the same syllabus, lesson plans, textbook, activities, etc. We even met at the same times of the day, the same days of the week. They also used Extempore to complete a semester-long speaking portfolio and the activities assigned as part of the portfolio were the same for the four groups. Oh, and yes, I obtained a global oral proficiency measure (Bowden 2007) for each of the students to make sure the four sections were comparable in terms of their speaking ability.

The difference was that for their final exam, two of the sections (42 students total) used Extempore and the other two (31 students total) had individual face-to-face meetings with me. The sections that used Extempore met in the classroom as a group the day of the final exam and spent the first 10 minutes completing the oral section of the final with their cell phones. That is all we needed, ten minutes out of the two hours scheduled by the university for our final exam. The students in the sections that followed the traditional oral exam method, signed up to meet individually with me for 10 minutes over two days during Finals Week (a total of seven and a half hours of 1:1 meetings for me, plus the two hours of the final written exam), and I recorded their answers with my laptop. All four sections had one question in common: a narrative in the past about their weekend. They were given 15 seconds to think and 2 minutes to answer.

The Extempore group spoke about a quarter of a minute longer

After discounting the time spent on filled and unfilled pauses (that is, silent pauses or saying fillers like “ah” or “um”), the 42 students who answered the question through Extempore spoke on average 54.6 seconds out of the 2 minutes they had to respond. The average time spent on silent or filled pauses was 60.7 seconds. On the contrary, the group of 31 students who answered the same final oral exam question in a 1:1 meeting with me spoke less, 41.3 seconds on average, and paused longer, 75.5 seconds on average.

Mean Length of Speaking Time
(time spent talking in the target language)
Mean Length of Pausing Time
(time spent on silent or filled pauses)
Final oral exam on Extempore 54.6 s 60.7 s
Final oral exam with 1:1 meetings 41.3 s

75.5 s

A possible reason for spending longer on speaking than pausing when responses were submitted with Extempore may be that students felt less intimidated than during the 1:1 meetings. In any case, the fact is that learners in the Extempore group spoke about a quarter of a minute more in the target language and paused on average a quarter of a minute shorter than their counterparts. And we know that more speaking in the target language leads to more learning.

Bowden, H. W. (2007). Proficiency and second-language neurocognition: A study of Spanish as a first and second language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.