Using cartoon pictures to enhance English-language learners' attitude towards speaking skill

VO THI DUYEN ANH, MA. (Language Institute, Van Lang University)


This study aims to explore how efficient cartoon pictures as a pedagogical material can be applied in improving non-English majored students’ attitude towards English classroom and the related aspects that cartoon pictures enhance students’ speaking skill. This study employed the qualitative research in which the main research tools include classroom observation and semi-structured interview to collect data. The study’s results indicated that cartoon images enhanced students’ positive attitude towards speaking activities. Students learned better when cartoon pictures were used in preferred ways, especially, when being given tasks which suited their preference. Based on these findings, the study recommended the necessity of implementing the cartoon images in boosting students’ attitude in improving English speaking skill. It also suggested that a further research on the effects of cartoon pictures on students’ critical thinking or on developing student’s other skills should be taken into consideration.

Keywords: cartoon pictures, speaking skill, attitude, English-language learner.

1. Introduction

English language has become a lingua franca worldwide. More people need to learn this language in order to land a good job, get scholarship, or get a chance to study abroad (Micheal 2008). One of the weaknesses of Vietnamese students is speaking proficiency. According to Do (2010), students are often less confident to communicate with foreigners since they lack vocabulary, cannot express ideas fluently, and worry about making mistakes. It is not surprising that when Vietnamese students finish high school, most of them are unable to communicate in English in daily conversations. However, some learners are good at speaking because they have the chance to study at another Foreign language centers from an early age or communicate English in their immediate surroundings.

Teaching general English at Van Lang university for non-English majored students, speaking is a challenging task among four skills because it depends on many different factors such as time frame, syllabus, and learners’ background. Majority of students in Van Lang are better at reading, grammar but weaker at productive skills. Although the lessons are presented well and teachers try to apply innovative teaching techniques such as using technology in learning and teaching process, students continue to have difficulties when using language effectively in practical situations.

A large number of learners cannot remember the correct words to express their ideas. It often takes them a long time to produce comprehensible utterances. Concerning the current context problem, cartoon pictures were used to enhance non-English majored students’ speaking skill and their attitudes towards learning. The significance of this study is to find out how efficient this cartoon application is, whether it brought the reliable and accurate answers for current research and how it worked in language teaching context.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Factors of causing less effective speaking

The English use of Vietnamese speakers must meet an international standard by 2020 (MoET 2007, cited in Vu & Lam 2008). Students will need to be able to communicate in the four skills fluently. Nevertheless, this trend still faces challenges. It is not an easy job to achieve this objective while the design of the traditional teaching and learning methods, curriculum, and learners’ performance assessment are still to a large extent centralized (Khoa 2008). According to Nguyen (2012), so as to achieve the higher use of language, the essential factors should be considered are classroom size, teaching methods, textbook, and testing assessment.

In practice, it cannot be denied that the education system of Viet Nam has gradually been changed. However, Le (2010) found that in most of rural and urban schools, the teachers’ role is still dominant. They are as the authority; preparing the learning program, deciding what students should or should not do, organizing testing and assessment. Majority of the lessons focus on accuracy. The teachers act as the model in which the learners are asked to memorize and practice the lessons in mechanical ways. Teachers often ignore the oral skill because it is time- consuming and difficult to apply in big classes where not every student can speak due to the limited duration. This traditional teaching approach is against the goal of education today (Yan 2012). The assessment for the students’ language proficiency is in terms of achievement test in which the learners are evaluated what they have learned from the textbook and the course. Additionally, learners lack chances to bring their knowledge into practice. Le (2010) indicated most of the teachers try to finish the lessons from the school syllabus so that all of students are sure to perform the final test well. Hence, these elements lead to less motivation, active participation, creativity, flexibility, and critical thinking.

2.2. Multimedia role in teaching speaking

Richards (2006) emphasized that people learn a foreign language best when they are taught to use it and they can connect it to the realia rather than memorize the rules and the theoretical features of the language. Hence, meaningful activities such as games, songs, music, pictures, cartoon, and film are the key factors contributed to the success of the language learners. Khoa (2008) found that majority of Vietnamese students learn English to pass the exams. They lose their interest in English learning. It is necessary to create interactive and constructive learning to boost the learners’ passion, motivation, and confidence. Chang (2002) stated that these factors were vital for the success of the academic achievement. If the learners are more motivated, they will take part in the lessons actively and the learners’ performance will be improved.

When applying multimedia resources in teaching, Gunn (1997) demonstrated the cartoon graphics combining with the content of the lessons enhanced social interactions, matched the content of course materials, increased cultural understanding among learners, and provided comfortable atmosphere in classroom for the learners to participate in the lessons, to communicate, and to reinforce their learning.

2.3. Cartoon pictures in learning

Despite the overall support for cartoon pictures, there are not many studies which reveal effects of using cartoon images on enhancing the learners’ learning or attitudes (Kristians 2001, as cited in Arikan & Taraf 2010). However, Nunan (1996) argued that the emphasis of traditional methods in which the teacher role is centred presents an explicit and de-contextualized context instruction which is not appropriate for the need of the learners (cited in Arikan & Taraf 2010). Consequently, the use of cartoon pictures will be a positive effect on the learners’ attitudes and learning enhancement. One of the beneficial effects found by Mayer and Moreno (2002) is that cartoon pictures are the visual images that attract the students’ interest on the topic, provide visual learning, and help the learners memorize the facts better than the words alone.  Mayer and Moreno conducted a research about animation in multimedia learning for 15 students at the university in California to find out whether animation promotes learner understanding. The researchers added the animated pictures to the given words and asked the students to present what they saw from the pictures. The data tool was in terms of the pre- test and post-test. After comparing the results of the tests, they found that cartoon picture is a kind of multimedia learning. It is a kind of “pictorial representation” which is used as an educational tool to explain something to the learners.

It is also noted that attention gaining is an important factor to any initial presentation. Teachers often have warm up activities to draw the learners’ attention. Along with the findings of Mayer and Moreno (2002), Dalacosta, Kamariotaki, Palyvos, and Spyrellis (2009) conducted the study with the sample of 30 students chosen randomly at the Greek elementary school in which half of the learners studied with the traditional method and half of them studied with cartoon pictures. They found that cartoon pictures provided a good way that made the learners concentrate on the lesson content and it led them to the world of fantasy and imagination.

In addition to the previous researchers, Ginman and Sternberg (2002) also developed the study for 27 students at Abo Akademi university so as to find the efficiency of cartoons in communication. The data collection tool was two forms of questionnaires in terms of structured and open-ended questions. In order to develop the study, the students looked at the visual cartoons and then expressed what they learned from the previous lessons. The results indicated that more than half of the respondents preferred to get the information in the form of cartoon images and they found that animated pictures stimulated the previous information when they were asked before presenting new lessons. Given the limited scope of the previous studies on the researcher’s issue. This study is carried out to find the convincing answers for the following questions:

- What are the attitudes of learners towards cartoon pictures?

- What aspects do cartoon pictures enhance learner’s speaking skill?

3. Research methodology

 3.1. Research instruments

The checklist was designed for the observers and was delivered to two other teachers. There were three aspects to observe: the students’ attitudes, the speaking tasks, and the teacher’s instruction. Semi- structured interview enables the interviewers to get deep information on specific questions and allows both freely expressing their opinions. It was anonymous without the participants’ names to avoid ethical concerns relating to the students’ confidentiality.

 3.2. Participants

20 participants of English level 2 from Tourism faculty took part in this research. The level is pre-intermediate. 10 of them were invited for the semi-structured interview. Each interview lasted approximately 60 minutes. Each student was asked five main questions and some extended questions to increase the reliability of the research. During the interview, the responses from the students were recorded, transcribed and took note carefully.

02 Vietnamese teachers who are seniors and experienced at Van Lang did the observation checklist. They were selected because they are teaching the same course and use the same textbooks. They do the observations with checklist and give comments on this research.

3.3. Research Procedure

The research was conducted in 4 weeks beginning from 21 March to 23 April, 2021 with 4 Units. It is notable that there are 2 class meetings each week.  Students were informed that their participation was voluntary and totally unrelated to their grades.

The lessons presented in three tasks: pre -task, while -task, and post- task. For Pre-task, students were presented vocabulary and structures in the combination of cartoon pictures to facilitate the lessons. While-task began when cartoon pictures were presented to help students produce accurate grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. During the final task, the lesson was consolidated by inviting students to look at the cartoon pictures again and talked about the topic in order to evaluate students’ progress and give them feedback.

4. Findings and discussion

4.1. The classroom observation

Students are exposed to an authentic situation that cartoon pictures make some changes to their emotions. The speaking tasks are designed properly so the basic students are able to do it successfully. The cartoon pictures encourage speaking for pleasure in the classroom, especially when the students are given a chance to practice with their partners, they find the task really interesting. The tasks designed are close to the content in the textbook. They are appropriate to the students’ background and interests. Most of the students were engaged in the lesson, they were keen on the topic and enjoyed talking to their peers despite some Vietnamese due to being nervous.

 “ I am interested when the teacher shows cartoon pictures. These cartoon pictures are nice and vivid”.

“When I look at cartoon pictures, I am not shy and want to take a risk to speak English because everyone around me is very excited”

 “ I do not know what to say but cartoon pictures make me laugh when I describe my cartoon picture to my partner”.

4.2. The semi - structured interview

 Question 1: What do you think about cartoon pictures used in teaching speaking?

All of the students responded that cartoon pictures are useful because it helped them   more motivated and engaged in the lesson. It encouraged them to take risk in speaking. “ I am interested when the teacher shows cartoon pictures.”

Cartoon pictures are interesting and inspiring when I look at them and use my gesture to describe the words to my friend”

Question 2: Do you like to learn speaking with cartoon pictures?

                 Yes- to what extent do you like? Why?

                  No- Why not?

 More than half of the student responded that they liked cartoon pictures and wanted cartoon pictures to be employed in speaking. The reason for their liking cartoon pictures is that they bring an amusing, interesting, and relaxing atmosphere. They were more confident to take part in speaking. They remembered vocabulary well and understood the lesson content easily and they were curious to see their partner’s speaking presentation.

      “I have a sense of fun and cartoon pictures encourage me to talk more about the topic. I can easily remember new words”.

        “ I do not know what I say because cartoon pictures were sometimes simple to me to connect them to the real situation but it increased my curiosity. I was eager to see how my friend described her picture”.

Question 3: What difficulties do you meet when cartoon pictures are used?

When being asked the difficult aspects of the cartoon pictures, most of the students said that they struggled with how to convey their ideas comprehensibly and correctly. They did not know how to form accurate sentences when they looked at the cartoon pictures and described into details with their partners. Five of them were confused with the intended meaning of the pictures and three expressed that they did not have good imagination when the teacher asked them to describe the cartoon pictures. Two were difficult to follow the teacher’s instruction. They suggested that the teacher should spend a lot of time doing follow- up questions so that they could enhance their comprehension.

 “ The difficulty was that I did not have enough words to express my thought”.

 “ The thing that challenged me was that I lost concentration when I was so excited to look at the cartoon pictures and of course, I was difficult to follow the lesson’s instruction.”.

Question 4: Do you want to keep using this new technique to learn speaking?

Most of students wished to keep this technique because cartoon pictures could create the relaxing and funny atmosphere. They felt comfortable when they practiced speaking in the class. Seven responded that cartoon pictures helped them understand new words easily.  Three students revealed that they memorized the new words better.

  “ I often take a lot of time to look at the words and guess the meaning in the context without cartoon pictures”.

Cartoon pictures are practical and close to the real context. When I look at them, they flash back to the related content so they enhance my memory of the previous lesson”.

Question 5: Is your speaking now better than before applying cartoon pictures?

                              Yes- how progress is it?

                               No- what is the reason?

 Most of them said that cartoon pictures enhanced their speaking because this technique gave them more confidence without being afraid of making mistakes. They often received feedback from the teacher when the lesson was over. Four students revealed that their speaking improved partly because they could remember new words well and produced accurate grammar in simple sentences. However, they did not think that they could produce complex sentences without grammar mistakes. The students revealed that they made progress in vocabulary and then accurate grammar structure, and better fluency in communication.         

5. Discussion

The principal results of this study seem to be consistent with the previous studies in recognizing the effectiveness of cartoon pictures in teaching and learning process. Through the observation, note- taking, and semi-structured interview, the results indicated that majority of the students were engaged in the speaking activities when cartoon pictures were employed in the first speaking session. It is not surprising because the pictures and content of the lesson are rather simple, easy to understand and suit the learners’ English background. In comparison with the first session, they were then more confident, relaxed, and motivated to take part in the speaking activity although cartoon pictures were used with speaking tasks of increasing difficulty as Mayer and Moreno (2002) found that cartoon pictures are visual images that attract the students’ interest on the topic or as Dalacosta et al (2009) stressed that cartoon pictures provided a good way that made the learners concentrate on the lesson content. Not only did the use of cartoon help engage students in the topics but using cartoon also encouraged them to take part in the pair work actively.

Together with the positive changes towards students’ attitudes, the semi-structured interview results indicated a general positive consensus that the cartoon pictures contributed to the meaningful learning. The use of cartoon pictures enhanced the students’ use of vocabulary and a solid understanding in order to describe them to their partner well in the following sessions. Over half of them wanted to use cartoon pictures to study speaking because they believed that their communicative competence to some extent was improved, especially in vocabulary, pronunciation, basic grammar, and fluency. The students’ responses to the semi-structured interview “cartoon pictures increased my curiosity towards the topic and I was eager to see how my partner presented and describe her cartoon picture” show that the use of cartoons was meaningful.

In addition to the positive findings, the results indicated that they struggled with identifying ways to convey the ideas in English comprehensibly and accurately. It is not surprising that these difficulties are inevitable to these learners because they are well familiar with traditional learning approaches at high school which lack emphasis on learners’ critical thinking. When English speaking skill was exposed much in classroom, they at first felt upset and irritated as they did not understand what being said and felt hard to get familiar with classroom language. Three learners were difficult to follow the lesson’s instruction. “I was difficult to follow the lesson’s instruction because I was interested in the cartoon pictures”. They lost concentration when they were excited to look at the images. These findings may provide evidence that student perceptions about their own language ability needs to be considered when requiring them to describe the visual images and when the teacher explained how to do the task in English. They need more guidance in identifying ways to generate ideas, form precise sentences, and the ways to help them understand the classroom language.

6. Conclusion and recommendations

The cartoon pictures found to be suitable for students to enhance their positive attitude towards speaking activities. Students learned better when cartoon pictures were employed in preferred ways and when the learners were given tasks which suited their preference. From the data results, the use of cartoon pictures will contribute to the professional knowledge of those who have similar teaching problems. The researcher examined that the students were not less motivated. They were unable to demonstrate their potential ability towards learning English because they were not learned in a right and suitable environment which would have helped them to study better. This study was carried out on a small scale at Van Lang university with the aim of improving learners’ attitude towards English speaking skill; hence, a further research suggested for another disciplines to examine the effects of cartoon pictures on students’ critical thinking and on student’s other skills is essential.



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[Tạp chí Công Thương - Các kết quả nghiên cứu khoa học và ứng dụng công nghệ, 

Số 24, tháng 10 năm 2021]