How to Teach Speaking

A new teacher who has been observing some of my classes lately as part of her ESL Teacher training asked me this question the other day: “How do I teach speaking?”.
At first I thought it was a joke question, because to me the answer seemed so simple, but when I realized that it was a serious question, I had to stop and think about if for a second. At first glance, teaching speaking simply involves providing your students with as many chances to speak as is possible – sometimes in a controlled context, and sometimes in a free context.
The first thing to keep in mind is that when we are helping our language students learn to speak English, we are not actually teaching them to speak. Unless they are infants, they already know how to do that. What we are really helping them with falls into three categories
1. improving fluency (speaking smoothly)
2. improving pronunciation (saying words properly)
3. improving enunciation (Saying words/phrases clearly – I think this includes word and sentence intonation)
Some would say that vocabulary, grammar, and cultural usage also fall into how we teach speaking, but I’d say that while they are critical, they are not only in the domain of speaking. Speaking is about using our mouth and vocal cords to make sounds that people understand as language. It certainly involves other elements like grammar and vocabulary, but they aren’t the core of it.
Teaching Listening
Listening is the language modality that is used most frequently. It has been estimated that adults spend almost half their communication time listening, and students may receive as much as 90% of their in-school information through listening to instructors and to one another. Often, however, language learners do not recognize the level of effort that goes into developing listening ability.
Far from passively receiving and recording aural input, listeners actively involve themselves in the interpretation of what they hear, bringing their own background knowledge and linguistic knowledge to bear on the information contained in the aural text. Not all listening is the same; casual greetings, for example, require a different sort of listening capability than do academic lectures. Language learning requires intentional listening that employs strategies for identifying sounds and making meaning from them.
Listening involves a sender (a person, radio, television), a message, and a receiver (the listener). Listeners often must process messages as they come, even if they are still processing what they have just heard, without backtracking or looking ahead. In addition, listeners must cope with the sender’s choice of vocabulary, structure, and rate of delivery. The complexity of the listening process is magnified in second language contexts, where the receiver also has incomplete control of the language. Given the importance of listening in language learning and teaching, it is essential for language teachers to help their students become effective listeners. In the communicative approach to language teaching, this means modeling listening strategies and providing listening practice in authentic situations: those that learners are likely to encounter when they use the language outside the classroom. Material for this section was drawn from “Listening in a foreign language” by Ana Maria Schwartz, in Modules for the professional preparation of teaching assistants in foreign languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998)
Many language learners regard speaking ability as the measure of knowing a language. These learners define fluency as the ability to converse with others, much more than the ability to read, write, or comprehend oral language. They regard speaking as the most important skill they can acquire, and they assess their progress in terms of their accomplishments in spoken communication.
Language learners need to recognize that speaking involves three areas of knowledge:
• Mechanics (pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary): Using the right words in the right order with the correct pronunciation
• Functions (transaction and interaction): Knowing when clarity of message is essential (transaction/information exchange) and when precise understanding is not required (interaction/relationship building)
• Social and cultural rules and norms (turn-taking, rate of speech, length of pauses between speakers, relative roles of participants): Understanding how to take into account who is speaking to whom, in what circumstances, about what, and for what reason.
In the communicative model of language teaching, instructors help their students develop this body of knowledge by providing authentic practice that prepares students for real-life communication situations. They help their students develop the ability to produce grammatically correct, logically connected sentences that are appropriate to specific contexts, and to do so using acceptable (that is, comprehensible) pronunciation.

Section Contents
Goals and Techniques for Teaching Speaking
Strategies for Developing Speaking Skills
Developing Speaking Activities
Using Textbook Speaking ActivitieS

Material for this section was drawn from “Spoken language: What it is and how to teach it” by Grace Stovall Burkart, in Modules for the professional preparation of teaching assistants in foreign languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998)
Teaching speaking and listening skills
Submitted by jobertrand on 7 October, 2011 – 06:57
In this article you will find a few tips to get you started with teaching speaking and listening skills to young learners. The aims are:
• To think about what you say in class and to make your language more accessible to your young learners
• To think about how you can make listening fun and easy, not hard and boring

The tips below are for your classes with 5-7 year olds although you can use similar principles when teaching older primary age (8-12).

Listening – Instructions
• Remember you are their model so always think about how you are going to introduce an activity before you go to class. Writing out instructions as part of your lesson plan will really help you to notice what language you are using with your young learners. You may find that your language is too complex for the beginner pupils.
• Imagine yourself as a beginner learning a new language and see if what you say is too difficult to follow. You may need to modify what you say. Instructions, if well thought out and accompanied always with demonstration, can be communicated purely in English.

Listening – Class management
• Don’t panic if you don’t speak the children’s first language. This won’t prevent a bond forming between you and the children. If they know you as the person who only speaks English then they will always want to communicate with you as much as possible in English.
• Discipline can be easily understood by young children through your facial expressions and smiley/cross faces drawn on the board.
• Feedback can also be understood clearly when you use your face to help express whether or not you are pleased with the work they produce.

Listening – Using a song
• Prepare the learners before they listen to anything.
• Show them pictures of characters from the song.
• If it’s a song about teddy bears then bring in some teddy bears to show them. If the teddy bears sing sections of the song then use them as puppets and make them actually sing the song.
• Use actions as much as possible to accompany songs so that the children can participate. This will help build their confidence, increase their enjoyment and give them extra clues as to the meaning of the words they are listening to.
• They should predict, ‘imagine’, what they are going to hear. Again, sticking with the teddy bears, ask them if they think the teddy bear is happy or sad.
• When they are listening they should always have something to do. They need a reason for listening. You could allocate part of the song to a small cluster of children so they have to listen out for their part and sing along to that part only.
Use the same song again and again. Listening is a difficult skill so building their confidence is vital at all stages of language learning. If they recognize the words they will be much more motivated. This is valid not only from a language point of view but also from a logical point of view. Listening to a song you know and like is always an enjoyable experience. Familiarity helps children feel secure.
Speaking – Songs and chants
• Using songs and chants in class gives the children a chance to listen and reproduce the language they hear. They are working on the sounds, rhythm and intonation.
Remember when you speak or sing keep it simple but very importantly, natural so that when they copy what you say they can have a chance of sounding natural
Speaking – Whole class chorus drills
• If you have a large class make sure the language they produce is not just confined to stilted whole class repetitions of sentences produced by you. If the class tries to speak at the same time they automatically slow down and the intonation and rhythm are lost. Whole class repetition does of course have its advantages as it allows weaker students to build confidence with speaking without being in the limelight. Do chorus drills as described above but limit them and always move on to letting individuals speak.

Speaking – Real language
• As with listening, make sure they always have a valid reason for speaking. The more realistic the need for communication, the more effective an activity will be. In other words get them to ask their neighbour ‘Do you prefer chocolate or strawberry ice-cream?’ rather than saying; ‘What’s my favourite food?’ This last question is just asking the children to guess rather than think. Avoid getting them to repeat sentences such as; ‘What is my name?’ or ‘Is this a book?’ Not only do you know it’s a book, so the interaction isn’t very interesting, unless the book is hidden in a bag and they are having to work out the contents, but also the response is limited to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Closed questions are ok to lead onto something more with low level learners but be aware of not using them too often.

Speaking – Further suggestions
• Vary the types of speaking and listening activities you do. Keep them interested by introducing new approaches to speaking in class. This could mean talking to different people, talking to different numbers of people, speaking as a whole class, half a class or in small groups.
• For different levels in the same class you can ask them to listen for different things. Ask the weaker ones to tell you how many teddy bears there are in the song and the stronger ones to tell you what the teddy bears are doing in the song.
• To make one activity suit all levels ask them to practice saying between five and ten sentences. This way the quick finishers have more to do and the weaker pupils still feel they have achieved the task if they have practised only a few sentencesLinks – teddy bear song – lots of free downloadable song lyrics – a welcome song for the start of class.