Saturday, July 29, 2006

Developing English Language Speaking and Conversation Skills in LEP Learners

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.

Useful Criteria

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
- Fluency
- Vocabulary / lexis use in context (A: Worrall,1965; H. Setzler, 1981; R. Dixson, 1983)

Analysis Tools

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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Throw Away the Course Book and Adapt Authentic Materials

Use Authentic Materials?

If asked why they rely heavily on course books for English language teaching, among a variety of other reasons, one that emerges is the seeming unsuitability of available authentic materials. Principal reasons cited for this “unsuitability” can include:

- Unsuitable material level

- Too difficult

- Too long or short

- Use of grammar or language

- Irrelevancy of themes

- Not adapted for specific use

- Not adapted to student learning styles

While these factors are certainly present and accountable, they need not prohibit the use of authentic materials in the English language learning classroom. Let’s briefly examine how authentic materials might be incorporated into an English language teaching curriculum or course of study.

Availability of Authentic Materials

Authentic, that is, materials produced primarily for the use of native speakers of the target language, are easily available from a number of sources for most of the world. Some more common sources include:

- Books
- Magazines
- Newspapers
- TV
- Radio
- Internet
- Videos
- audiocassettes
- Course books
- CDs
- libraries

Most of these sources are readily available even in remote or poor regions of the world. In more highly “developed” regions, they may all be potential sources of materials for the English language learning classroom.

Adapting Authentic Materials

Successfully utilizing a continuing series of authentic materials in your English language learning classroom is simply a matter of adapting those materials to suit the needs of your language learners. Some keys to successful adaptation of authentic materials include:

- converting them into workshop activities
- adjusting the length of the materials
- simplifying or explaining key language elements
- converting authentic materials into a variety of exercise types

Learners benefit from listening materials spoken at “normal” conversational speed vs. English language learner directed listening materials which have been “altered” or “slowed” to enable “improved comprehension”. All well and good, but if the learners ever need to apply that learning and listening practice in a real-life situation – they’re lost. Why? Because – no – body – talks – like – this – in – real –life – in – any - language. (gasp!)

Authentic language videos, CDs, newscasts and radio programs can provide invaluable insight into current events and cultural aspects of English-speaking countries for language teachers and learners in other parts of the world. A benefit of recorded material is the ability to be able to rewind and repeat it as many times as necessary in order to effect increased levels of listening comprehension. The impact of the imagery provided in these clips is incalculable. Course books which are written and marketed for “use in all the world”, simply cannot hold up to this level of cultural knowledge and impact.

So even if you can’t “throw away your course book”, do realistically consider adapting more authentic materials for use in your English language learning classroom. You’ll ultimately be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What English Language Teachers Want to Know

The Problem

When a group of English as a foreign language teachers was surveyed as to what Tepic areas most interested them a surprising variety of Topic areas emerged. As with a growing number of ELT professionals, there is a continuing need for training and development. Many teachers, though wanting to grow their current boundaries, have neither the time, interest or resources to pursue a higher degree or effect a full return to formal education. The answer, in part, may well be foe savvy administrators to schedule a series of well-planned, in-depth English Teacher training workshops and seminars beyond what may be available locally or regionally from such organizations as TESOL, IATEFL, ASOCOPI, the British Council and others.

The Topics

Here are key teacher training topics which consistently emerge as preferred areas of interst for progressive educators.

• Short Class Activities

• Using Drama

• EFL Learning Games

• Vocabulary Development Techniques

• Listening Comprehension

• Using Short Stories

• Giving Presentations

• Creating Materials

• Using Art & Pictures

• EFL Teacher Certification

• Using Songs

• Writing Skills

Need for INSET

Each area is pertinent in its own right and care should be taken to provide an extensive variety of themes in any program of INSET (In-service training) that well-meaning administrators may undertake.

As standards for ELT develop and improve worldwide, increasing pressure on tenured teachers will cause a growing need for in-house teacher training programs that introduce new techniques and English language teaching concepts, update English teachers on new language acquisition theories and reinforce sound language teaching practice.

Additional Topics of Interest

Some additional topics of interst to a lesser, but more experienced group of English language teachers were these areas:

Learning Disabilities

Virtual EFL Teaching

Preparing Evaluations

Reading Comprehension

Training Program Providers

Local universities may have programs or experienced, Teacher Trainers available. Nacional and regional teacher organizations may also be called upon to offer recommendations for INSET programs and materials.

The Internet, TEFL websites like, and others are also good sources for locating programs, materials and Language Training Consultants who can provide hended input for teacher development initiatives.

Finally, a stepped-up program of technical reading, ELT online forum participation and in-house discussions can likewise be of aid in upgrading the level of English teacher interest and involvement in advanced training in ELT topics. Magazines like:

· Technology & Learning (

· English Teaching Professional (

· English Language Teaching Forum (

· ESL Magazine (

· Internet TESL Journal (

· Its-teachers (

· Modern Englishn Teacher online (

· Oxford ELT Journal (

Use these numerous options to assist you in planning your personal improvement program. They can also provide guidance for the establishment of a departmental or faculty development series of English language teacher training workshops, seminars and training sessions.