Focus on Speaking
When asked by the Department Director to “focus on developing speaking ability” with a group of adult university learners supposedly in the upper intermediate level, I embarked on a program involving multiple integrated skills. These were LEP learners with passable knowledge of grammar, but below-standard oral communications skills. Their English language speaking skills needed urgent development.
Speaking and listening are complimentary language skills. (S. Thornbury, 2002; Brown and Yule, 1983) “If you can say it, you’ll understand it when you hear it”, is a mantra I’ve taught and learned language by for more than a decade of my English language teaching experience.
In developing speaking and conversation skills I’ve found the following strategies to be useful:
Use a survey or questionnaire to determine learner interests, background, learning styles, etc. (L.M. Lynch, 2004)
Play speaking and vocabulary games for practice
Give frequent and regularly recorded oral evaluations
(M. Thompson, 2001; Eggan / Kauchak, 1994; Hilles ref. by Thompson, 2001)
A Speech Development Program
Preparing a speech development program begins with an oral evaluation of each learner. A voice recorder or video camera both are useful aids. Played back, the teacher then has opportunity to analyze speech patterns and problems in more detail, noting such aspects as:
- Pronunciation (G. Kelly, 2003)
- Connected speech (G. Kelly, 2003)
- Grammar use in context (M. Swan, C. Walter, 2002)
- Discourse markers
- Vocabulary / lexis use in context (A: Worrall,1965; H. Setzler, 1981; R. Dixson, 1983)
A video recorder (analog or digital) allows the teacher to make note of physical mannerisms that accompany the learners’ speech as well as the speech itself. Relevant and recordable speech-associated traits (C. Ashcroft, 1993) include:
- Rocking motion of the body or head
- Arm, hand and / or facial gestures
- Foot tapping, leg swaying
- Posture, head and / or body positions
- Other physical idiosyncrasies
A survey or questionnaire which takes the learners only a few minutes to check off, select or answer short questions can provide needed, in-depth information on their interests, hobbies, family, preferred learning styles, motivations and other aspects essential in preparing and conducting an effective speaking development program.
Effective Speaking Practice Activities
A selection of speaking practice activities to offer multiple opportunities for oral discourse must be programmed. Although many learners are shy or self-conscious about speaking in front of others, with practice, this soon diminishes to manageable levels as learners gain confidence.
Effective Activities are ones such as:
- Speech – generating Games (A. Lloyd, A. Prier,2000; J. Hadfield, 1984)
- Oral communication – based short activities (P. Ur, A. Wright, 1996)
- Oral presentations (D. Gutierrez, 2005)
- Dialogues (E. Hall, 1967)
Since speaking and listening are complimentary language skills, by applying a program based on complimentary speaking and listening comprehension development, learners can improve their English language speaking and conversation skills by using multiple integrated skills-based activities. Using language experience with adults (K. Kennedy, S. Roeder, 1975) and teaching vocabulary / lexis in context are highly beneficial in speaking skills development. (V. French, 1983) Regular practice, assignments and oral production involving a spectrum of oral discourse methods will be an invaluable resource for both the English language learners and the English language teacher.