This study is geared towards investigating how the teaching and learning of letter writing in English language is being carried out in Secondary schools. We study to know why majority of secondary school students fail to use letter writing in today’s communication, why some English Language teachers find it very difficult in the teaching of Letter writing, know why majority of students fail letter writing in their external exams, find out some of the factors affecting the teaching and learning of letter writing in secondary schools. Therefore, there are three methods of data collections used: namely, a pen- and – paper questionnaire, oral interview and observation method. Two Secondary schools in Imo State are selected. Ten teachers and ten students from each class of the two secondary schools, starting from JSS1 to SS3 are selected which gives the researcher a total of 240 respondents.
The findings shows that the students of Secondary School do not use letter writing in today’s communication, the findings also reviews that the teachers of English Language in the Secondary School are not competence in the teaching of letter writing and there are many challenges facing the teaching and learning of letter writing in the secondary Schools.
Therefore, an awareness of these factors can help in the strategies for effective teaching and learning of Letter Writing in our Secondary Schools.
Letter writing according to Oxford dictionary is a written or printed sign representing a sound used in speech. It is also defined as a written message from one party to another, containing information or an exchange of written or printed messages.
However, Letter writing being attached importance in the West African School Certificate and the G. C. E. English Paper, there is an observation that majority of Secondary School students fail letter writing in their external exams. There is also an observation that the teachers of English Language are not competence in the teaching and learning of letter writing in the secondary schools. Therefore the goal of this study is to find out how the teaching and learning of letter writing is being carried out in the secondary schools and also know whom to blame in the failure of lack of effectiveness in the teaching and learning of letter writing. Students are gradually losing the urge to use letter writing in communicating with someone, to pass information, to request for something, to ask for favor, to plead with someone etc. Letter writing serve as a window into the past, we treasure historical letters, preserve them in museums and archives. We keep letters from love ones, words of love and kindness, care and consideration. Letter writing is an essential skill, despite the prevalence of emails and text messages; everyone has to write letters at some point most especially in terms of applying for a job, one cannot apply by way of texting message or through other technological means. This shows that letter writing is inevitable. Therefore, the students should be made to know the importance of letter writing.
However, there are three main types of letter writing which include:
Formal letter, Informal letter, Semi-formal letter.
FORMAL LETTER: This is also known as an official letter or business letter. A formal letter is the type of letter we write to people who are not acquainted to us or people who are not in any way related to us.
Such as: the Governors, Commissioners, Ministers, Managing Directors etc. It is written to the above people to ask for favor, jobs, making request etc. The students are expected to know some of the principles guiding this type of letter and also know the six features of a formal letter.
INFORMAL LETTER: This is also known as a personal letter. This is the type of letters we write to our contemporaries, parents, relatives and friends. They normally contain intimate details or discussions that are best understood by the writer and the recipient. In this type of letter, it is common to use slang or contracted form of words. Informal type of letter also has its own features which the students are expected to know.
SEMI- FORMAL LETTER: This is neither formal nor informal. It is that type of letter we write to the people we know a little. Such as: the principal of your school, your teachers, your priests or pastors, family doctor, your friend’s parents etc.
This field of study under applied linguistics focuses on language teaching, how it is learned, how it is used, language learning techniques, approaches and methods and how to solve some language related problems.
However, one of the problems which linguists have found difficult to handle is the issue of communicative skills which include: listening, reading, speaking and writing but the area we are keen to talk about is the writing skill. Many are trying to know why letter writing becoming a dying art.
According to Arnold Tonybee, an American Linguist, millions of people in the world speak language with no written form. According to him, the development of writing was one of the great human inventions, writing allows us to transcend time and space, it is wheel of our words, the time machine of our thoughts’’. He also reveals that many youngsters are leaving secondary school unable to set out a letter’’. A majority of today’s youth may not have written in their entire lifetime because they consider it pointless because they believe strongly that cell phone, email, text messages whatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc allow instant communication at the point of need.
More so, it is well noticed that our vocabularies, spelling and grammar which were of great importance during our school years have lost their value due to everyone resorts to using slang and abbreviations. The new age of technology can now autocorrects everything for them. There is a proven fact that letter writing is becoming a dying art, technology has taken over and communication can now be made in instant.
The study is therefore guided by the following research questions
• How do the teachers of English language in the Secondary Schools handle letter writing?
• How do the learners of English Language communicate through letter writing?
• What are the challenges facing the teaching and learning of letter writing in the secondary schools?
• What are the strategies for effective teaching and learning of letter writing in the Secondary Schools?
Coming to the significance of the study, it is hope that the findings will enable the students of Secondary Schools to understand the importance of using letter writing in communication, enable the students develop writing skill and also enhance the student’s art of good hand writing and then return to the full fledged letter writers.
TEACHING SKILLS FOR LETTER WRITING: In the Secondary Schools, the use of teaching skills is very necessary at least for the purpose of enhancing effectiveness in teaching and learning. For a subject such as letter writing, this is very important. The following techniques should be thoroughly mastered and used: Entering behaviors, Set Induction/ Introduction, Use of Examples, Stimulus Variation, Non Verbal Communication, Questioning ( probing/ Higher Order Questions and Divergent Questions etc), Reinforcement, Conclusion or Ending the lesson.
One way of introducing letter writing is to introduce an interesting topic and enable them focus on the content to be learned.
Entering Behavior/ Set induction: these two component parts go together. The entering behavior links the previous knowledge or experience of the students with the new material of the lesson. I n the Entering behavior, students are to recall the knowledge previously acquired or learnt. This is done by answering the teacher’s questions. The set induction however links this with the introduction to the new lesson.
Use of Examples: remember that the point of using examples is to illustrate, clarify or substantiate an idea. Also, one way to be sure the students understand the concept is to have the students give their own examples.
Variety and Variation (Stimulus Variation), by varying the classroom situation and teaching style, the teacher can help the students remain actively interested in the lesson. Most students have fairly short attention spans and can lose interest after certain periods of time. Good teachers vary learning experiences and teaching behavior during a classroom session. If a teacher does not add some variety in his/ her lesson, the students may tune him out by day dreaming or falling asleep. English language teachers could master the skill of stimulus variation by not being held or tied at a place while teaching. Teachers should move about ie front to the side or back of the class. Also the teacher should learn how to switch from speech to questions so that the students will be forced to switch from ears to eyes.
Planned Repetition: this skill is applied by the English teacher when he discovers that the students are in attentive or do not understand the lesson, repetition can occur in a variety of situations and in a variety of ways. The teacher tries to emphasize the main points at various intervals during a lesson.
Conclusion Skill or Ending the lesson: there are different ways of ending a lesson, a teacher can summarize a lesson using the main points or by asking the students to list the main points. The use of examples and demonstrations
could be a worthwhile way to end a lesson.
APPROACHES OF TEACHING LETTER WRITING:
However, there are many approaches in English language teaching which include: Traditional Approach, Oral Approach, structural Approach, Situational Approach, Language Approach etc. Though there is no best approach in the teaching and learning of letter writing but if we should access the language skill approach, language is seen as a set of activities which attempt to make people form habits in writing. Language skill approach emphasizes what you do (activities) instead of what you say. The implication is that the acquisition of facts does not mean that one has learnt the language but the usage of language.
METHODS FOR TEACHING LETTER WRITING: There are different and basic commonly used methods for the teaching and learning of English language and foe effective teaching and learning of letter writing. A good teacher thinks of the best method in order to achieve success. Here are some of the methods: Audio- lingual method, Grammar- translation Method, Direct method, Natural method, Reading method, and communicative method. For instance, communicative method gives one an insight of the need for communication in the teaching and learning of English language, it is by way of communication that one will be able to know the ability to use language fluently. To show comprehension, a student that uses L2 will be able to write L2 fluently. Most often, it is through writing that one detects spelling mistakes, faulty sentence structure, omission of words, omission of capital letters, lack of paragraph, punctuation marks etc.
TECHNIQUES FOR TEACHING LETTER WRITING:
1. Use of examples
2. Use of questions
3. Use of explanations
4. Use of interview
5. Use of Questionnaire
6. Use of short stories
PROBLEMS IN THE TEACHING AND LEARNING OF LETTER
1. LACK OF INTEREST: Some learners are not interested in learning English language let alone letter writing, some learners only concentrate and read for passing exams and never care to learn the language as the tool of communication.
2. INTERFERENCE OF MOTHER TONGUE: This is a very big problem even among the so called graduates. Because of the varieties of spoken forms or dialects, which are usually determined by the place a speaker comes from or by the social class the speaker belongs to, therefore the speaking accents of the learner’ s local languages affect English Language writers. For instance, the students transfer the Igbo pattern of writing letters into English letter writing.
3. MODERN TECHNOLOGY: Technology has taken the position of a letter writing, communication can now be made in an instant. A majority of today’s youth may not have written letter in their entire lifetime. They do not need it as compared to the letter which may reach the receivers after a considerable length of time. Phone cells and text messages allow instant communication at the point of need.
4. LACK OF QUALIFIED TEACHERS: This is very important and overlooked. Most teachers who teach English Language in the Secondary School lack competence in the course due to inadequacy of training on the job. They lack devotion to duty rather than competence. Sometimes, they deliberately avoid topics they are ignorant of and letter writing is one of them.
5. TEACHING METHODS: The various aspects of English Language equally demand appropriate teaching method and sometimes not applied by teachers. In addition, the problem of depending on a particular method makes the lesson boring and uninteresting.
6. LACK OF TEXT BOOK: The inability to buy text book is really affecting the learners of English Language. Because they are unwilling to read these days, they it very difficult to buy text books at least find time to study text books on the introduction to letter writing. More so, most textbooks in English Language in the market presently are not designed to meet some of the linguistics topics such as letter writing.
7. SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT/ OVERCROWDED CLASSROOM: The population of the learners found in the classrooms of some schools is more than the capacity of the room. This is as a result of overpopulation or merging of classes because the ratio of the students in relation to the teachers is not proportional. In this situation, distractions are bound to exist, adequate ventilation is impossible. Both the teachers and the learners will be affected and there will be lack of concentrations.
8. MALPRACTICES IN EXAMINATION: It is so disappointing that some students rely on somebody to write a composition section for him/ her during exams. It is so rampant in the rural area. Sometimes their parents bribe the school authorities to help their child mostly in the area of composition and this intensifies the problem of teaching and learning of letter writing.
In view of all the findings, the researcher has some recommendations to state. We have through various reasons; demonstrate that communication in English Language through letter writing is fading out. It is very real and as a way out, urgent but concrete actions must be carried out to prevent the lost of this form of communication. Therefore, here are some recommendations:
1. The teacher should consider the active participation of the students by involving them in constant practice, by giving them assignment or even give an easy test before the main lesson.
2. .The teachers should participate in seminars as well as workshops which help in updating teaching method.
3. There should be moderate pace of lesson delivery by the teacher. The speed should accommodate the different learner with different rate of understanding. Do not try to cover too many topics at once.
4. The teachers of English language should be very knowledgeable of the subject matter because it is the most important factor in determining effective teaching and learning of letter writing and English Language general.
5. The teacher should get hold of current and relevant text books that treated everything about letter writing and also encourage the students to buy English text books.
6. The teacher is expected to build some confidence by preparing lesson notes and lesson plan before entering the class.
7. There is also need for the Government to recruit more qualified teachers.
8. The students should be made to know the importance of letter writing and also make them to know that it is inevitable in the sense that one cannot search for a job after graduation from the university by way of texting messages or making phone calls.
9. They students should be made to realize that they are not supposed to transfer the Igbo pattern of writing letter into English letter writing.
10. The Government should organize a quiz from time to time on composition writing in order to motivate the students.
From the forgoing, the researcher has raised a number of strategies to achieve the skill of effective letter writing in English Language. If this issue is abide by, it is the strong belief of the researcher, that students and teachers of Secondary Schools will understand the importance of using letter writing in communication, it will help the students develop writing skill and also develop confidence in letter writing because it is a very easy way of getting students interested in writing. We are a poorer society if we let this form of communication fade away. English well written is English well spoken.