What speaking is
Speaking is an interactive process of constructing meaning that involves producing and receiving and processing information . Its
form and meaning are dependent on the context in which it occurs, including the participants themselves, their collective experiences, the physical environment, and the purposes for speaking. It is often spontaneous, open-ended, and evolving.
However, speech is not always unpredictable. Language functions (or patterns) that tend to recur in certain discourse situations (e.g., declining an invitation or requesting
time off from work), can be identified and charted . For
example, when a salesperson asks "May I help you?" the expected discourse sequence includes a statement of need, response to the need, offer of appreciation, acknowledgement of the appreciation, and a leave-taking exchange. Speaking requires that learners not only know how to produce specific points of language such as grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary (linguistic competence), but also that they
understand when, why, and in what ways to produce language (sociolinguistic
competence). Finally, speech has its own skills, structures, and conventions different from written language . A good speaker synthesizes this array of skills and knowledge to succeed in a given speech act.
What a good speaker does
A speaker's skills and speech habits have an impact on the success of any exchange .
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 .
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 .
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 , and Lewis's New Ways in Teaching Adults offer suggestions for activities that can address different skills.
General outline of a speaking lesson
Speaking lessons can follow the usual pattern of preparation, presentation, practice, evaluation, and extension. The teacher can use the preparation step to establish a context for the speaking task (where, when, why, and with whom it will occur) and to initiate awareness of the speaking skill to be targeted (asking for clarification, stressing key words, using reduced forms of words). In presentation, the teacher can provide learners with a preproduction model that furthers learner comprehension and helps them become more attentive observers of language use. Practice involves learners in reproducing the targeted structure, usually in a controlled or highly supported manner. Evaluation involves directing attention to the skill being examined and asking learners to monitor and assess their own progress. Finally, extension consists of activities that ask learners to use the strategy or skill in a different context or authentic communicative situation, or to integrate use of the new skill or strategy with previously acquired ones (see supplement 4).
In-class speaking tasks
Although dialogues and conversations are the most obvious and most often used speaking activities in language classrooms, a teacher can select activities from a variety of tasks. Brown lists six possible task categories:
Drills in which the learner simply repeats a phrase or structure (e.g., "Excuse me." or "Can you help me?") for clarity and accuracy;
Drills or repetitions focusing on specific phonological or grammatical points, such as minimal pairs orrepetition of a series of imperative sentences;
Short replies to teacher or learner questions or comments, such as a series of answers to yes/no questions;
Dialogues conducted for the purpose of information exchange, such as information-gathering interviews, role plays, or debates;
Dialogues to establish or maintain social relationships, such as personal interviews or casual conversation role plays; and
Extended monologues such as short speeches, oral reports, or oral summaries.
These tasks are not sequential. Each can be used independently or they can be integrated with one another, depending on learners' needs. For example, if learners are not using appropriate sentence intonations when participating in a transactional activity that focuses on the skill of politely interrupting to make a point, the teacher might decide to follow up with a brief imitative lesson targeting this feature.
When presenting tasks, teachers should tell learners about the language function to be produced in the task and the real context(s) in which it usually occurs. They should provide opportunities for interactive practice and build upon previous instruction as necessary (Burns & Joyce, 1997). Teachers should also be careful not to overload a speaking lesson with other new material such as numerous