ERIC Identifier: ED435204
Publication Date: 1999-06-00
Author: Florez, MaryAnn Cunningham
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Improving Adult English Language Learners' Speaking Skills.
Communicative and whole language instructional approaches promote integration
of speaking, listening, reading, and writing in ways that reflect natural
language use. But opportunities for speaking and listening require structure and
planning if they are to support language development. This digest describes what
speaking involves and what good speakers do in the process of expressing
themselves. It also presents an outline for creating an effective speaking
lesson and for assessing learners' speaking skills.
ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS IN ADULT ESL INSTRUCTION
the classroom, listening is used twice as often as speaking, which in turn is
used twice as much as reading and writing (Rivers, 1981). Inside the classroom,
speaking and listening are the most often used skills (Brown, 1994). They are
recognized as critical for functioning in an English language context, both by
teachers and by learners. These skills are also logical instructional starting
points when learners have low literacy levels (in English or their native
language) or limited formal education, or when they come from language
backgrounds with a non-Roman script or a predominantly oral tradition. Further,
with the drive to incorporate workforce readiness skills into adult ESL
instruction, practice time is being devoted to such speaking skills as
reporting, negotiating, clarifying, and problem solving (Grognet, 1997).
WHAT SPEAKING IS
Speaking is an interactive process of
constructing meaning that involves producing and receiving and processing
information (Brown, 1994; Burns & Joyce, 1997). 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
(Burns & Joyce, 1997). 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 (Burns & Joyce, 1997; Carter & McCarthy, 1995; Cohen, 1996). 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 (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
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 (Brown, 1994; Burns & Joyce, 1997;
Carter & McCarthy, 1995).
EXAMPLE OF A SPEAKING LESSON: CHOOSING APPROPRIATE TOPICS
"Preparation." Show the learners a picture of two peopleconversing in a familiar
casual setting. (The setting will be determinedby a prior needs assessment.) Ask
them to brainstorm what the peoplemight be discussing (i.e., what topics,
vocabulary, typical phrases).
"Presentation." Present several video clips of small talk incasual situations.
Have learners complete a worksheet in which theydescribe or list the topics
discussed, the context in which the speechis occurring, and any phrases that
seem to typify small talk. Follow upwith a discussion of the kinds of topics
that are appropriate for smalltalk, the factors in the specific situations that
affect topic selection(e.g., relationships of participants, physical setting),
and typicalphrases used in small talk. Chart this information.
"Practice." Give learners specific information about theparticipants and the
setting of a scenario where small talk will take often used speaking activities
in language classrooms, a teacher can select activities from a variety of tasks.
Brown (1994) lists six possible task categories:
in which the learner simply repeats a phrase or structure (e.g., "Excuse me." or
"Can you help me?") for clarity and accuracy;
or repetitions focusing on specific phonological or grammatical points, such as
minimal pairs or repetition of a series of imperative sentences;
replies to teacher or learner questions or comments, such as a series of answers
to yes/no questions;
conducted for the purpose of information exchange, such as information-gathering
interviews, role plays, or debates;
to establish or maintain social relationships, such as personal interviews or
casual conversation role plays; and
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 vocabulary or grammatical structures. This can distract
learners from the primary speaking goals of the lesson.
Speaking assessments can take many
forms, from oral sections of standardized tests such as the Basic English Skills
Test (BEST) or the English as a Second Language Oral Assessment (ESLOA) to
authentic assessments such as progress checklists, analysis of taped speech
samples, or anecdotal records of speech in classroom interactions. Assessment
instruments should reflect instruction and be incorporated from the beginning
stages of lesson planning (O'Malley & Pierce, 1996). For example, if a
lesson focuses on producing and recognizing signals for turn-taking in a group
discussion, the assessment tool might be a checklist to be completed by the
teacher or learners in the course of the learners' participation in the
discussion. Finally, criteria should be clearly defined and understandable to
both the teacher and the learners.
Speaking is key to communication. By considering
what good speakers do, what speaking tasks can be used in class, and what
specific needs learners report, teachers can help learners improve their
speaking and overall oral competency.
Bailey, K.M., & Savage, L. (1994). "New ways
in teaching speaking." Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Brown, H.D. (1994). "Teaching by principles: an interactive approach to
language pedagogy." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Burns, A., & Joyce, H. (1997). "Focus on speaking." Sydney: National
Center for English Language Teaching and Research.
Carter, R. & McCarthy, M. (1995). Grammar and spoken language. "Applied
Linguistics, 16" (2), 141-158
Cohen, A. (1996). Developing the ability to perform speech acts. "Studies in
Second Language Acquisition, 18" (2), 253-267.
Grognet, A.G. (1997). "Integrating employment skills into adult ESL
instruction." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL
Lewis, M. (Ed.) (1997). "New ways in teaching adults." Alexandria, VA:
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
O'Malley, M., & Pierce, L.V. (1996). "Authentic assessment for English
language learners: Practical approaches for teachers." New York: Addison-Wesley
Rivers, W.M. (1981). "Teaching foreign language skills" (2nd ed.). Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Van Duzer, C. (1997). "Improving ESL learners' listening skills: At the
workplace and beyond." Washington, DC: Project in Adult Immigrant Education and
National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education.