BTR-TESOL Unit 6B - Speaking Skills
Speaking is one of the most sought after skills in foreign language learning. Because people need and want to communicate via speech for business, networking, education, and traveling, language learners are highly motivated to improve their speaking skills. Nevertheless, speaking skills are complicated and difficult to develop. It is important for anybody who is going to teach speaking to language learners to better understand what it takes to speak in a new language and know how to effectively teach speaking skills.
Ben is an American who went to Mongolia as a volunteer to help with a humanitarian service project. His primary responsibility was to help with local development projects such as assisting with events and workshops, helping with building projects, or caring for the needy. However, after he arrived, a change was made to his assignment. He was asked to teach an English speaking class to local young adults who had studied English in Mongolian schools for several years but still couldn't speak it. After teaching the first week of classes, Ben noticed that he did most of the talking in class while his students listened to him for the most part. When Ben asked questions, his students usually answered with only a word or two. He also sensed that his students seemed hesitant to speak in English. Unfortunately Ben did not know how to change this situation. He had no training in English teaching and wondered what and how he should teach this speaking class.
After working through this unit, you will be able to…
AccuracySpeaking accurately means being able to use the correct sounds, words, and grammar when speaking. Spoken language needs to be accurate in order for communication to be successful. Students who are beginning to learn English often focus on speaking accurately first. When students become more proficient, they sometimes stop thinking too much about accuracy. When teaching students how to speak accurately in English, you need to keep in mind the following features of speaking accuracy:
FluencySpeaking fluently in a new language requires the ability to speak with appropriate speed, acceptable flow, and proper tone of voice. When students are first learning to speak, they often tend to focus on their language accuracy and this focus frequently slows down their speech causing them to be less fluent. With students at the high intermediate and advanced levels, you should focus on fluency. To develop speaking fluency, you can focus on the following features:
Students talk a lotLearning to speak in a new language requires students to speak a lot both in class and outside. Thus, students should talk as much as possible during any class period. Plan activities that require students to talk during class.
Participation is evenDuring any speaking activity, every student should have an equal opportunity to speak. You should carefully monitor classroom discussions and ensure they are not being dominated by a minority of talkative participants.
Motivation is highWhen students are highly motivated to participate in classroom discussions, they overcome fear and eventually develop stronger speaking skills. You can keep students motivated by selecting topics that your students are interested in or already know. Playing games or having contests will also keep students excited about participating.
Language is at an acceptable levelWhen the language used in speaking activities is too easy or too difficult, students get discouraged or lose their motivation easily. Make sure that your classroom activities use language at the right level for your students.
Picture-based activitiesPictures are a great way to start students talking. Picture-based activities can be as simple as having students describe what they see in pictures. That will help lower-level students develop speaking accuracy skills. Or you can use pictures for discussions with intermediate and advanced students to help build their speaking fluency. Picture-based activities can be used with all levels of classes. You just need to adjust the nature of the activity according to your students’ level.
Information-gap activitiesIn this kind of activity, students usually work in pairs. One person has information that the other does not have. Students then ask questions to each other to find the missing information. Information gap activities help build both accuracy and fluency and can be used with all levels of English classes. (See BTRTESOL Unit 4C “Communicative Language Teaching and Information Gap Exercises” to learn more about information gap activities.)
DialoguesDialogues and drama are another way to get students talking. With dialogues, students are assigned roles and given scripts for their parts. Then they practice reciting their lines and perform when ready. This is a good way to build confidence in learners because they know what they are saying is correct and that they know exactly when to say what. Students notice structures and learn new vocabulary, which helps develop their speaking accuracy. Students also get to practice speaking fluently as they focus on pausing and using intonation in the right ways to deliver authentic performances.
Role-playRole-plays are like dialog performances, but there is no predetermined script. You assign students roles and a situation and they act accordingly using language they have learned previously. It helps to review the words and phrases they might need in the role-play before they start. Role-playing is a good way for students to practice using spoken language. It is helpful for all levels of students and develops both accuracy and fluency.
ConversationsParticipating in classroom conversations is a common way for students to develop speaking skills. During conversation sessions, students and teachers talk about topics that are interesting to them and at the right level for their language skills. As students speak extemporaneously, they build speaking fluency. Conversations are most suitable for use in intermediate and higher level classes. (See BTRTESOL Unit 8A “Conducting Effective and Enjoyable Conversation Classes” to learn more about how to teach conversation classes.)
Rehearsed presentationsTo build your students’ speaking accuracy and fluency, you may assign them to give short speeches on various topics. They should have a chance to think, research, plan, and rehearse their speeches. Rehearsed presentations are usually most successful when students are at intermediate and higher levels because they usually require stronger speaking skills. (See BTRTESOL Unit 4E “Imitative, Rehearsed, Extemporaneous Practice” to learn more about rehearsed presentations.)
Songs and gamesUsing songs and games in teaching English is also good for developing students’ speaking skills. Songs and games can be used for developing either accuracy or fluency. (See Units 8B “Using Songs to Increase Participation, Recall, and Enjoyment” and 8C “Using Games for English Language Teaching” to learn more about using games and songs for teaching English.)
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Here are some other units in this program that relate to the topics that have been addressed in this unit about teaching speaking skills. By better understanding these additional aspects of spoken language, you will be better prepared as a teacher to develop speaking skills in your students.
For conversation and interview based activities
ESL Gold http://www.eslgold.com/speaking/topics_conversation.html
Dave's ESL Café http://www.eslcafe.com/idea/index.cgi?Speaking
Daily ESL http://www.dailyesl.com
For role-play and drama activities
Dave's ESL Café http://www.eslcafe.com/idea/index.cgi?Speaking
For picture based activities
Kathleen M. Bailey and Lance Savage. New Ways in Teaching Speaking. Publisher: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc, 1994. ISBN 0-939791-54-4. Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com
This book provides a wide variety of activities that are organized under four main sections that include 14 subsections. Some of the subsections include teaching ideas using dialogues and role plays, games for speaking, using audiovisual aids, and group work.
Scott Thornbury. How to Teach Speaking. Publisher: Longman, 2005. ISBN 978-0-582-85359-1. Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com
How to Teach Speaking talks about many components that are required for speaking in another language and how it is different from speaking in one’s first language. This book also suggests activities that will help develop speaking such as dialogues, drama, jokes, out-of-class speaking, and using live listening.
Kathleen M. Bailey. Practical English Language Teaching: Speaking. Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2005. ISBN 0-07-310310-1. Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com
This book introduces teachers to key aspects of teaching speaking and gives in-depth information on teaching speaking at all levels. Readers are offered reflection questions and action tasks throughout this book to apply their understanding of the ideas.
Keith Folse. Talk a Lot: Communication Activities for Speaking Fluency. Publisher: University of Michigan Press, 1993. ISBN 0472082450. Available for purchase at http://www.amazon.com
This book contains exercises that require learners to speak based on the knowledge that they already have and build on that knowledge and improve their speaking fluency.
Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.