Module1|Describing language and language skills| Language Skills: Speaking


What do we do when we are speaking?

Speaking, like writing, is a productive skill which requires using speech to convey messages to others.

Here is a list of things people do. Tick the ones they do when they are speaking.

  1. Enunciate words
  2. Give answers to questions
  3. Use intonation
  4. Request clarification and/or explanation
  5. Correct themselves when they make errors
  6. Participate in discussions
  7. Change the content and/or style of their speech according to how the person who is listening to them responds
  8. Address people/greet them
  9. Plan what they are going to say
  10. Smile/laugh
  11. Request and give information
  12. Respond suitably
  13. Convince someone
  14. Begin to speak when somebody else stops speaking
  15. Narrate stories
  16. Use perfect grammar and vocabulary
  17. Use tenses correctly
  18. Participate in conversations/discussions

Apart from number 9 and number 16, we regularly do all the other things on the above list when we speak. It is only when we are making a speech or speaking formally that we have the time to do number 9 and 16. Below is a list of categories which are examples of the other points:

  1. Grammar and vocabulary (17)
  2. Functions (2,4,6,8,11,12,13,15)
  3. Features of connected speech (1,3)
  4. Appropriacy (12)
  5. Body language (10)
  6. Interaction (5,7,14,18)

What matters in a two-way communication?


Two-way communication requires using language and body language to keep the person who is listening to us interested in what we are saying and to see that they have the full understanding of what we mean. This kind of communication is called interaction. Here are some examples of interactive strategies: making eye contact, use of facial expressions, asking questions (for example, to see whether the listener understands clarifying what we mean and confirming understanding.

Normally when we speak, we do it with fluency. Fluency means speaking smoothly at a normal speed with confidence, without any hesitation or pauses and also without having to repeat anything or correct ourselves. We also speak with accuracy which is the use of correct forms of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

The nerd baby says ...

  • The speaking skills of students can be further developed by concentrating more often on specific features of speaking. For example, pronunciation, fluency, grammatical accuracy and body language.
  • Controlled practice activities are activities in which the students can use language that they have just learned. These kind of activities are done in a lot of classes and focus mainly on accuracy in speaking. They do not focus on communication, interaction or fluency. Therefore, they teach a very limited kind of speaking.
  • Controlled activities do not give the students as much opportunity to revise and practice communication, interaction and fluency than tasks and less controlled practice activities.
  • If students have a good reason for communicating, for example to solve an issue or to give necessary information to someone else, they will often speak more comfortably and with more enthusiasm.
  • Sometimes students might need extra assistance in the classroom to get ready for speaking because it is such a complicated skill. For example, they may need to practice the necessary vocabulary, they may need time to arrange their opinions and organise what they want to say, they may have to practice how to pronounce new words and expressions and doing a task before they are fully prepared to speak in freedom.
  • Students who are just beginning to study the language and children might find it necessary to have extra time to absorb what they have learnt and heard before they can start speaking.
  • Usually, activities that are used in a speaking lesson look like this:
  • Lead in: this is an introduction to the topic that is being taught in the lesson and activities which concentrate on the language being taught.
  • Practice activities or tasks which are used to give students opportunities to make use of the language they are learning.
  • Post-task activities: these are activities which encoruage students to talk about the topic with ease and if necessary, ask the teacher questions about the language which is being used.
  • To help learners to improve their reading fluency, learners should be given numerous chances to read as much as possible both in class and out of class.
  • Teaching reading subskills depend on the age and the first language of the student. Sometimes, there may be students who haven’t yet learned to read in their own language but are learning English. It is important for them to learn to connection letters in order to create words and they should also learn how written words relate to spoken words in their language as well as in English. Some students might not be able to understand the script which is used in English because it is dissimilar to their own script. For example, Chinese, Egyptian, Arabic. Students who have this problem need to learn the English script. Sometimes, they may also have to learn how to read a page from left to right.
  • The texts that we choose for our students to study should be chosen carefully and in the right way. They should not be too difficult or the student will lose interest in them. If the text has much too complicated language or is about a topic that the students have no clue about, it will be too difficult for the student. Texts should be enjoyable enough for the students  because this will help them to be motivated and inspired. 
  • Text which is too difficult can be made easier for students to read and understand. This can be done by giving the students a simple comprehension task. Therefore, the difficulty of the text can be managed by the difficulty level of the comprehension task given to the students.
  • There are texts that are written separately or made easier for students who are studying languages. Students may be asked to read these at times. They may also read articles, brochures, story books, novels… or any other text written in simple language (this is called authentic material).The language in these kinds of reading material are sometimes better than the language in texts that have been simplified. According to experts, students who read simplified as well as authentic material learn the best.
  • Various comprehension tasks and activities for reading can focus on separate reading subskills. It is up to the teacher to distinguish which task focuses on which subskill.
  • Teachers must choose the comprehension tasks with great care as they should be the right level of difficulty and the student should be able to practice the reading subskills matching to that task.
  • Normally, reading activities look like this:
  1. Introductory activities: there is an introduction given to explain what the text is about and then come activities which focus on the language in which the text is written.
  2. Main activities: a collection of comprehension activities which are created to develop separate reading subskills.
  3. Post-activities: these are activities created to encourage the students to talk about a topic in the text and how this topic relates to the students’ own lives. Students will also be asked to give their ideas on certain parts of the text. Doing activities like these makes learners use at least a little of the language that they have come across in the text.

Test your knowledge

Listed A – E below are aspects of speaking and 1-10 are the headings of speaking teaching materials. Match the headings with the aspects that they concentrate on. You will find that some headings concentrate on multiple aspects.

A  accuracy               B  fluency          C  connected speech    D  functions     E  appropriacy

  1. Storytelling
  2. Participating in discussions
  3. Conveying doubt with the use of intonation
  4. Opposing in a polite way
  5. Recognising minimal pairs of sounds
  6. Storytelling using past tense
  7. Language for disagreeing and agreeing
  8. Greeting in informal language
  9. Language for requesting verification politely
  10. Intonation in wh-questions (what, when, where, why, how)

What methods did your teachers use in order to teach you English speaking? Were you given the opportunity to practice all the aspects of speaking regularly?

What do you think are the easiest and hardest aspects of speaking English? Do you still feel the same way about those aspects?

When you teach speaking, do you use the same teaching methods that your teachers used for you? Why or why not?

Make a recording of yourself telling a story in English. Now listen to the recording and note the weak points and strong points when you use connected speaking. Practice it and then record it again. Do you notice any changes or improvements?

Given in the box below are teaching focuses (A-C). Listed from 1-7 are activities. Match the activities with the teaching focuses.

Teaching focuses

 A  appropriacy

B  fluency

C  connected speech

  1. Using intonation to convey surprise
  2. Using exponents of formal invitations
  3. Speaking without hesitating
  4. Recognising main stress in short conversations on audio cassettes or CDs
  5. Addressing people informally
  6. Speaking at a normal and natural speed
  7. Recognizing specific phonemes in dialogues on audio cassettes or CDs