Regular speaking practice
Submitted by peter on Fri, 2010-08-06 23:23
Motivation, self-confidence and general enjoyment are key factors in language learning.
For over 30 years of FL teaching, structured speaking activities have played a central role in my lessons. This has brought consistently good results and, more importantly, a great deal of enjoyment along the way. When I meet ex-pupils, it is the words they uttered in these pleasurable speaking activities which figure foremost in their minds.
The truth is that children love to be active, and have an innate desire for self-expression ... in most cases an irrepressible natural urge to speak.
By speaking and enunciating foreign words successfully on a regular basis, the learner's level of confidence and proficiency increases over time.
Initially, the speaking will be repetition. In class, this can be repetitive classroom procedural items, such as "May I go to the rest room?" or "Sorry I am late". Simple rhymes, poems, jokes, tongue-twisters and songs are examples of great motivators.
The enjoyment and reward (through assessment and feedback) feed the memory functions in the brain and provide a springboard into the deeper waters of grammar mastery, use of idiom and independent speaking.
Speaking can be further encouraged by elevating its importance to the level of a performance. Drama is a powerful teaching/learning tool. Physical actions and/or puppetry support the meanings of words used, again triggering memory functions. Audio/video recording enables objective assessment, an approving audience, parental involvement and links abroad.
Successful repetition should not of course remain as a meaningless glossy veneer over a lake of ignorance. The foundations of formal grammar must be laid down, underpinning the quest for fluency. However, the average learner is more likely to bother with this by constant referral to the enjoyment of speaking.
The challenge is to guarantee regular speaking opportunities for each student, and to use it as valid formative assessment.
It has previously been hard to provide such opportunities to individuals in large teaching groups. With precious little time for individual speaking in lesson time, many a long hour had to be spent helping pupils in break times and lunch hours, monitoring miles of taped homework, or sending reciprocal recordings to partner schools through the post.
Nowadays VLEs and online language labs eliminate the bulk of this work, and even provide information about pupils' progress. Speaking tasks can be set and assessed as easily as listening, reading and writing.
This bodes well for the future of FL learning, as increasing numbers of FL learners can enjoy the fun of regular, useful speaking activities, and share their success with a wider audience at home and abroad.