Diary submitted by Oliver H, Valencia.
What approach can improve your students’ speaking skills?
Speaking English is perhaps the most sought after attribute for non-native speakers. The ability to converse is integral when it comes to English-speaking jobs, interviews or simply existing in an English-speaking country. With this comes a level of extra responsibility for the teacher, to ensure that students achieve their speaking goals. What appears crucial to me is the fact that it is the student who needs to be doing the talking, corrections must be appropriate yet not intrusive, and pronunciation is key!
My head-teacher instructed me on my very first day of training that perhaps the most vital aspect of the speaking classes is that the student should be doing the majority of the talking. They are not taking part in that session to listen – they spend time doing that separately – but instead to improve their English-speaking skills. Clearly, the art of conversation requires a listening element, but promoting a low TTT (Teacher Talking Time) is utterly integral.
Pronunciation is of primary importance when it comes to teaching speaking. During my month in Spain it became clear that there were certain issues that a large number of Spanish natives shared. Amongst these, past tense (-ed) endings, plurals, and vowel sounds, were the most problematic. For me, the process of teaching pronunciation became exactly that – a process. Students would have an issue, and over the course of a few lessons this issue would slowly but surely eradicate.
Correcting pronunciation requires patience and consideration. If a student is reading a passage, to be stopped by the teacher at every mistake is simply counter-productive. Not only does it disrupt any semblance of rhythm, but can demoralise students to the extent that they would rather the class be over. Instead, if a student is seeking instant clarification, I swiftly but clearly give them an answer (“under your breath correcting” as Marianne Raynaud describes it); if not, I wait until they have finished to go over their errors. I have found it helps to group errors together. The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, it allows students to concisely hone in on repeated mistakes, and secondly, when grouped together, it sub-consciously minimises the number of errors a student thinks they have made.
The latter reason alludes to a key motif of teaching English which is relevant for teaching speaking. Encouragement and positivity. Even if a student has struggled somewhat, I always say “well done” before moving onto the correction process. Without being misleading, if a student feels positive about their work they are more likely to strive towards improvement than if they feel downbeat about their progress.
- Celce-Murcia. M. 2001. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (3rd ed). USA: Heinle&Heinle.