What a good speaker does in developing language?

A speaker’s skills and speech habits have an impact on the success of any exchange (Van Duzer, 1997). Speakers must be able to anticipate and then produce the expected patterns of specific discourse situations. They must also manage discrete elements such as turn-taking, rephrasing, providing feedback, or redirecting (Burns & Joyce, 1997).

For example, a learner involved in the exchange with the salesperson described previously must know the usual pattern that such an interaction follows and access that knowledge as the exchange progresses. The learner must also choose the correct vocabulary to describe the item sought, rephrase or emphasize words to clarify the description if the clerk does not understand, and use appropriate facial expressions to indicate satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the service.

Other skills and knowledge that instruction might address include the following:

  • producing the sounds, stress patterns, rhythmic structures, and intonations of the language;
  • using grammar structures accurately;
  • assessing characteristics of the target audience, including shared knowledge or shared points of reference, status and power relations of participants, interest levels, or differences in perspectives;
  • selecting vocabulary that is understandable and appropriate for the audience, the topic being discussed, and the setting in which the speech act occurs;
  • applying strategies to enhance comprehensibility, such as emphasizing key words, rephrasing, or checking for listener comprehension;
  • using gestures or body language; and
  • paying attention to the success of the interaction and adjusting components of speech such as vocabulary, rate of speech, and complexity of grammar structures to maximize listener comprehension and involvement (Brown, 1994).

Teachers should monitor learners’ speech production to determine what skills and knowledge they already have and what areas need development. Bailey and Savage’s New Ways in Teaching Speaking

(1994), and Lewis’s New Ways in Teaching Adults (1997) offer suggestions for activities that can address different skills.

What should teacher know when planning speaking activities?

In planning speaking activities, teachers need to decide whether students need high structure (for example drills and controlled practice) for practice in learning or Getting It or low structure (for example role plays, simulations) for Using It. Questions to consider about speaking include the following:

  • Is it necessary to review the language to be used in a task?
    Will the learners work in pairs or small groups?
  • How will learners be monitored as they complete task?
  • How will teachers provide feedback to students?

When developing activities, lessons or tasks around speaking, teachers should also be aware of the 3 areas of knowledge that speaking encompasses. Each area should receive attention, though not necessarily all at once. It is advisable to inform the students of these areas, so they are aware of the purpose of the activities.

  • Mechanics: This area involves the different pieces that make up speaking including pronunciation, vocab, grammar and word order.
  • Functions: This area describes the uses of speaking whether for transaction or interaction, and when precise understanding is or is not required.
  • Social/Cultural rules and norms: This area involves the more suble cultural value inherent in the language’s culture, such as turn taking, social norms, roles of participants, etiquette and social register etc.

When creating activities that focus on student speaking, teachers can create activities relative to different types of output and their purposes:

  • Structured output focuses on using a correct form, usually something specific that has been worked on in class. The purpose it to develop comfort with certain forms/structures
  • Communicative output focuses less on form and more on the completion of a task that includes using specific language. The purpose is for the students to get their meaning across; accuracy not as big of a consideration.