Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 22--ELT Professionals Around the World

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Discussions Series Twenty-two
Topic 59
NzI MT Green language academy
When your students ask you, what is the best way of improving speaking? What are your suggestions? Let me know...
Talking fluently.

I think the students must practice all the four skills .

I agree with Marzieh that students must practice in all areas of the language but I have also found that in order to improve the speaking skills many of my adult students improve greatly when they watch movies/shows in English and when they listen to music/radio in English. This way they are viewing how the words are being formed when the person speaks them as well as hearing how they sound. I have found that this works well in developing speaking/listening skills regardless of the language. Also listening and participating in conversations in the language that is being learnt further develops the students' skills.


They must pay attention to the vowel sounds----if they get those wrong, it really makes them hard to understand. Also, pay attention to common errors like wrong pronunciation of /th/ or /s/ or /v/ or /w/. And thirdly, pay attention to voicing; for instance, someone from an Indian background said "Dango" when he meant "Tango."

Thank you so much for all your suggestions.The other question is do you think recording voice is a good idea? I remember that my teachers recommendation was record your voice and listen to them .....I've never done that and never believed in that. I would be honored to know your views about it..

In my opinion, the best way to learn anything is to practice. Students should be speaking English to others who speak English. There are many websites that offer language exchanges. They could practice by ordering food. Asking for directions. Reading out loud…The options are endless.

Practice makes perfect. It is a shame that speech is not taught any longer. I taught speech for many years. Classes such as Public Speaking, Debate and Argumentation, Voice and Diction and so on. To get better at anything you have to do it. Positive encouragement helps - that is the teacher';s job. Want to learn how to swim? You must get your bathing suit wet. Same thing applies to speaking.

I find that practice is essential as well, especially in situations where they have to negotiate meaning. They should try to avoid having the same routine conversations over and over again, and instead work on placing themselves into situations where they have to use the vocabulary they have in order to make the other person understand them. This is really how we improve our language skills. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but you can't really improve unless you put yourself into these types of situations.

Closed caption on the TV and music help!

I encourage them to use EnglishCentral regularly for practice and study, and to find real, live, speaking partners with whom to put what they learn into use.

However contradictory it may sound to laymen/women - listen more!

Also, I find that you really need a great classroom culture for speaking to work well in class with everyone. Meaning, a teacher needs to build classroom rapport and community. Lower the anxiety and affective filter of all - this will help immensely. I've even seen some brillant teachers use masks, puppets, hats which the students use when speaking - the mere act of pretending to be someone/something else really helps lower student anxiety and encourages more production.

Storytelling is one the vessels that I found out to be a poweful language bridge. Speaking about food, music, fashion, weeding, and point of interest most ESL student are prompt to discuss these syllabuses.ESL students are very engaged in these type of conversation even though with very little communication they prompt to wanna dialogue more

I taught my students a short course in "presentation skills" first so they could learn and practice the language of presentation while building confidence. I found that after only a few weeks, the results they got were fantastic.

Thank you so much.

Thank you again. Another question is do you think recording your voice and listening to them is a good idea in order to improve your speaking. I remember many of my teachers recommended us this practice. I've never believed in it! I would be honored to know your views about it.

Depends on the age, goals, and ability of the student.

Adults: You can have them practice an elevator speech, or answer common interview questions.

Teens: They can talk about their experiences, practice giving advice, or even conduct interviews.

There are many videos on YouTube and Vimeo that they can try to imitate or use as templates. Storytelling, role-playing, information-gap activities..

And I agree with David, listening is important!

I would like to add something to what Katerina said.

Hesitation is a factor that contributes to keeping the students from improving their speaking skills. Reading aloud using voice modulations and expressions not only gives students a live exposure to how the language is spoken but give them opportunities to themselves become a part of it. Enactment of dialogue conversations (role-playing, as Lizeth shared) while focussing on voice modulations and expressions can help students become more comfortable in the class- with the other classmates, the teacher and of course the language- leading to more active participation of students in the speaking activities, which would, in turn, lend itself to improving speaking skills.

It is also important to cater to the interests of students while selecting the topics of the speaking activities. I have witnessed students being more active in the discussions where the topics interest them.

Nowadays,the mass Media is everywhere.,so it's better for students to listen to the different topics up to their level and interest.And later,practice speaking naturally among their age and classmates;the teachers should be the role of a coach and the students control the conversations-not teachers.secondly,active attitude of learning requires much.

I think reading aloud is great for students who can't find real life practice in other places. Also, if there is an audio recording to the book or graded reader, they can listen and practice reading along with the recording.

It is important that we do not assume that listening alone is important for students to speak. Equally important is active participation in speaking activities. Besides writing, I think, can also be useful.

The novice, if asked to jot down their thoughts before they speak, can aid in giving all the students (including the weaker ones) to speak in the class. Thus building confidence in them.

When your students ask you, what is the best way of improving speaking? What are your suggestions? Let me know...

Yes I have seen what our contributors has said and some of them got it right while I have to add that the main obstacle most students have is the misplacement of making mistakes.

Over the years I have been able to make those who felt they cant do it and appreciate that Yes they can because of t=my practical concept of NO HARM IN MAKING MISTAKES

Teach them to practice and never be afraid to make mistake or be shy then you will see the magic.

I agree with a lot of the comments and would suggest you learn actively with a native speaker. This can be done online with chats etc...

Ummm! Let me see! Right! Yeah! So! Just a sec! Oops lost it!

If you feel like a child and some of my adult students are enjoying it, I strongly recommend the Cbeebies "The Alphablocks". It may sound childish but give it a go.

By the way, time fillers. One aspect I have not read about here and should get a bit of time.

My first group of English Language Learners included a young second grade Vietnamese boy. He spoke English so much better than his peers, and his knowledge and use of American idioms was impressive. One day, after he made us all laugh with a comment; I asked him where he learned to speak English with such knowledge. His answer " I watch Sylvester and Tweety bird on TV every afternoon after school". Of course he did. I advise parents and students to practice English in comfortable situations such as sports, dance classes, with peers, and chat sessions. It is equally important to read aloud to each other, and record and listen to your own voice.

In our classroom, we laugh with each other, but never at each other. English is a really CrAzY language.

hi all,as speaking is a productive skill of course by being exposed to receptive skill,listening.

the more being exposed to English through films,story audios,with real native accent,the better they would pick up the speaking skill.the real goal for global communication in English.

Hi all, It would appear obvious to me as somebody who believes that we must primarily imitate the process by which we acquired our mother language and allow our innate capabilities do the work it was designed to do. When we examine children learning to communicate we all know that children between 4-6 years old chatter continuously even when alone and studies have shown that only about 20% in boys and 60% in girls is actually intelligible.(I am open to correction on these figures but they are quite close). This would lead me in my humble opinion to deduct that the chatter is driven by the innate language learning process with the aim of perfecting the vocalization of the language.
Applying this theory I have insisted on my students reading aloud for 5 minutes a day in private and I have had enormous success specifically regarding self confidence when speaking.

Listening skills, which are usually easily developed by the help of audio books, documentaries, watching movies and news, do influence students' speaking! Apart from that, speaking must be the main activity during lessons! Teachers should make emotional discussions and debates, encouraging students to prove their point of view. It will make lessons both enjoyable and lively.

One speaking activity I have passed on to colleagues I found in an article about thirty years ago. It is called "Cardversations". I you are teaching the language functions necessary for agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving an opinion, write the phrases that you would like your class to use in the course of discussion (which can be about anything, from a role play in a business setting to a casual conversation with friends over a cup of coffee). After presenting the language, perhaps with the aid of a video clip or a recording, then distribute the cards to the students. They must use the phrases on their cards apropriately in the course of conversation, and the first one to finish all their cards is the winner. You can use this idea in many different ways, a role play of a business meeting using the above examples, a conversation with someone you met on a plane (pair activity) lots of short conversations with people at party (mingle activity). This last actvity culd be used for standard ways of initiating a conversation, making small talk, and then bringing a conversation to a close. Activities such as these give students tools to manage everyday social and business contacts with ease, and can be used from very early on with elementary level upwards.

Practice makes perfect As a university EFL teacher I manage on how to create a strong desire among my students to speak via task based activities in which most of them feel the necessity to interact in the target language
Reading can help a lot too; students who constantly read are generally good speakers

One thing I've learned from teaching in Japan is that the four skills are like for seperate muscles in your brain. If you exercise only one of them, the other three remain week. That's why there are so many students in Japan who can read and write, but cannot listen or speak.

My husband is not Japanese, but he loves kanji. He spent years studying them and is now better than most adult Japanese, but because he has focused so much on reading and writing, despite having a huge vocabulary and good knowledge of grammar, he just can't hear the sounds of the words and also has difficulty expressing his thoughts quickly enough for speech.

I am the opposite, I have spent nearly all my time in a Japanese workplace and my listening and speaking skills have improved, but I am dependent on a computer for reading and writing as I have not studied kanji in depth.

All this to say that if your students want to get better at speaking, they need to speak. And if they wish to be able to converse with any degree of fluency, they need to develop their listening skills as well. The only way to do this is as everyone else has said - practice, practice, practice.

Practice more is the only way

answer more questions in class...

To speak a language, you should learn to speak it, that is, seek as many opportunities to speak and as many people to speak to. This implies a speaker needs a listener, which means you should also be a good listener in order to continue speaking, exchanging ideas, views, thoughts.

Of course it's easy to say 'speak' / 'Just speak' but the non-native children have their own qualms.So the first thing that the children have to do is to believe in themselves. They're scared of making mistakes and being laughed at. Tell them 'Do make mistakes and learn from mistakes because no one learns a language without making mistakes.'


Also impress upon them this: 'You learnt even your mother tongue making mistakes, didn't you, there was no sense of shame. So is learning another language. If the region where you live speaks a language different from yours, you learnt that too making mistakes. So is learning English because it's just another language. Make mistakes, learn English, learn from your mistakes, get better and better and in due course you'll learn to speak it as well as you do your mother tongue or regional language. As simple as that.'

I totally agree with everyone who said listening is the secret to speaking. I want to add a tiny thing about practice. Practicing without understanding the mechanics of speaking might just be fossilizing mistakes. The mechanics of speaking are so simple (and have nothing to do with grammar) they can pick up fluency from cartoons, as the Vietnamese boy did.
Make sure students know about Word Stress. It is the cornerstone of intelligibility. Word stress on the important (content) words is more important than grammar for getting their ideas across. Have students listen for word stress and be diligent about generating it and their confidence and ability will accelerate. Humans figure out grammar organically by having conversations and as KR said, making mistakes.

Anyone interested in teaching word stress may be interested in looking at BBC Beginners English (long since out of print, but available in many TEFL libraries together with the accompanying audio). In the pronunciation and drill section at the back of the book, there are a lot of exercises where students listen to a short text, write down the stressed content words, and then from the words they have noted, they reconstruct the text. This helps them with grammar and pronunciation. You can do this with quite low level students if the listening is well recorded, that is with the text clearly enunciated with the stress well marked. Another thing I do with classes for light relief is to have them read dialogues following the rhythm of my tambourine. This gets them used to the notion of sentence stress. Another fun activity which has had a lot of success with my lower teenage classes is to read an ordinary boring text demonstrating a paicular emotion. You may have someone looking for a bus stop angrily, and the person he is asking replying sadly or happily or sleepily etc My students would beg to be allowed to do this. I cannot explain why, but their speech was much more natural than simply reading the lines from the book.

Talk often with a native speaker regualrly would help spoken english . Watching movies without subtitles would also help to list be and understand

Hi all,
I agree with many comments here, especially the fact that all skills need to be improved in order to speak more fluently. I'd suggest :
* reading aloud for 20 minutes per day..

* Not to worry about speaking accurately at the beginning of the learning process, speak as much and as long as they can..

I used to speak English all the time with my friend/classmate though she was not a native speaker of English.
My brother watches movies in English and imitates what his favourite actors say , his accent/pronunciation improved tremendously..
I hope this helps :)

Yup!! It doesn't matter you get wrong since you can correct it so it's always a practice :) but keep reading like newspaper articles , watch movies and find a person to talk at least few minutes everyday !!


Practice and speaking comes naturally so don't add pressure too much just keep practicing by no time you will start speaking fluently. The main three areas for speaking is complex, coherent and fluent

Well, I actually think listening has a lot to do with it. If you listen to clear English being spoken, even if you don't understand everything, you are listening to the rhythms and music of the language and it will subconsciously make you more aware of it. I live in a Russian speaking country and without trying, my ear has become more attuned to the language so that I actually distinguish words and can even have conversations now, albeit short ones!! I don't think that to say, practise speaking as much as possible and it will all happen for you - you've got to have something to model it on - so listen as much as possible AND practise what you learn.

Jawanna gedda cuppa COffee? Canni gecha sum COffee? Havya hadda cuppa COffee thi smornin?
Listening is the secret to learning a new language and teaching students what to listen for is the secret to accelerated learning. All words are not created equal in English. They should know that. Have your students listen for important words and the context (not the grammar because there isn't any in speaking) will tell them what is going on.

You try the communicative approach!

My students get 2 hours of "classtime" per week sitting in the food court of the mall just listening to people speaking. Aside from the obvious reason, they say they really appreciate this exercise because it helps make sense of what they're supposed to be saying and how they should be saying it.

Improve your listening!

speaking is the real goal for esl/efl ss but we should mention and emphasize on other skills ,too. when we start learning our mother tongue,we first talk and then learn other skills,ofcourse before talking we listen,so exposure to the target language is the most important matter so then they can produce by speaking what they have listened to.

Stop the internal translator and listen to the message behind the words.
I've noticed that most of the comments focus on listening strategies and, while it is a great way to get your brain adapt to another language and "hear" it clearer, speaking is a whole different skill that comes from a different "wiring system" in the brain. You can have great listening comprehension yet be unable to put a single sentence together. Finding opportunities to speak (and, if possible, receive feedback) are crucial. My own strategies: joining as many Toastmasters groups as I can, participating in group activities (organizing committees, volunteering), and scheduling coffee/lunch meetings with my English speaking friends as often as I can.

I entirely agree with Dwight and most of you, I give my students a survey ( e.g. a shopping survey ) and send them outside the classroom ( to the real-world ) to conduct the survey with the English Speaking staff. They come back with an interesting report. I just sit and listen to them. Nava ... Listening is an important skill as communication goes both ways listening......speaking.

When I taught English before, I always asked Open Question more than Closed Question.
Therefore, students get more opportunities to speak more, instead of answering "Yes" or "No". I think it's a good way that a teacher can help students to get more chances to speak more.

Check this article! Learning English happens best when conversation is part of the curriculum.

The article makes interesting reading. I think the researchers should focus on how 'non-native' children react to this method and take that into account and modify how this activity goes on. Besides, I'd expected to see a model activity so I could learn how exactly this works in real time activity.

Exactly K R, I was thinking about the same question. Thank you. 

From the description provided in the article in the website cited by Malika, majority of the students are native speakers and so conversation comes naturally to them. They also appear to be actively involved in the activity. So it looks like either appropriate external motivators are being provided through content for discussion or they are intrinsically motivated. If the former, there could be feedback from participating students about the content provided.

Their statement: ‘When a non-native English speaker is part of the group, the interactions with their peers help enhance their vocabulary as well as their comprehension of the topic at hand,’ it’s not clear whether they are as fruitfully active as their peers who are native speakers.

Again, there's no statement nor statistics about how good or poor they were before the experiment.

You are right K R, there's no statement nor statistics about how good or poor they were before the experiment. I'm personally interested in exploring this question in my context.

Successful participation in conversations requires several prerequisites: sufficient lexis and structure related to the content in question, sufficient general knowledge of the topic in question, self confidence in language and general knowledge, exercising patience to listen and let the speaker(s) complete their contribution, motivation to join and continue the activity, and these as on-going activities: teacher's and the members' reaction through language and body language.

Again, some are always silent partners (even among adults) as they're not given to overtly indicating they're listening and learning. Forcing them to participate will harm their self confidence and self esteem. So the teacher has to be observant enough to identify these children and nurture them by leaving the participants themselves to handle such silent partners to draw them out.

I couldn't agree more K R, thank you.

I disagree a bit. Lexis and body language are sufficient. Confidence follows successful interactions. Self consciousness and inability stem from unnecessary concerns about structure. Grammar, vocabulary, expressions, humor and fluency follow participation. Our job is to get students to participate successfully, however imperfectly. We have the cart - perfection - before the horse -participation and it doesn't work.

" Confidence follows successful interactions" Thanks Judy.

Judy, whilst I agree that some people are inhibited by fear of looking foolish if they make a mistake, there are people who are not comfortable when in a group with one or two strong personalities who can dominate the conversation, or they may not have confidence in the validity of ther personal opinions on a particular subject and do not want to be put down. There are people who are just naturally less at ease in a group than others. We cannot expect people to be outgoing and skilled conversationalists in English when they are not in their first language.

What can we do in practical terms to help our learners to speak?

1. We can help them by teaching them conversational strategies, such as dealing with hesitations and checking understanding, and the language associated with different functions.such as agreeing and disagreeing, giving an opinion, asking for advice etc.We can help them understand about turn-taking, interrupting etc. Techniques such as responding to a statement with a question helps to keep a conversation flowing.

1. We can explore the use of role play, as a shy person may respond better in a group when he is not actually being himself, but is expressing the views of his character.

1. As teachers, we have to awaken a desire to communicate and a need to communicate. Role play can help here as the learner is given guidelines as to how he should react in a certain situation and he may find this easier than to project his own personality, so he now wants to participate. However, this is not the case of everyone.

Communication games are another way of creating a desire and a need to communicate, as people like to win, and put into the context of a well-thought out game, they will communicate in order to win. Think of the language necessary to play Happy Families. Many junior board games can be adapted for use in the language classroom.
Simulations can be used very successfully This may come under the heading of role play, but in many courses you may simulate the recruiting of the best person for a job, the best place to take the class on a day out If possible, this could be followed up by actually arranging the day out.

I couldn't agree more Christine, role -play simulations and communication games can support shy students.

I have a student who is preparing for a job interview, part of which will be a group discussion in English. I've recommended that he watches English language television/video clips repeatedly first with subtitles and then without. Prior to that we had done sessions on the huge difference between written and spoken English and this can make listening and conversation difficult. HIs preference is that we have as much conversation as possible in our lessons and that I correct him as we go along . My preference is to identify frequent errors at a suitable break and explain and explore them. We do both! I have also recommended that he must listen to more English, but despite sending him mp3 files I don't think he does this enough. There isn't much access to English speakers here so he can't hang out at the mall unfortunately!

Whether or not listening and speaking are separate brain processes - a conversation must involve both so this is the approach we have agreed on. I also find video clips of group discussions (but this is not easy) for focused listening practice. He also wants to work on his vocabulary and we've agreed to use Quizlet for this. I've recently come across the 4-3-2 method of increasing fluency ( and we tried it and it seemed helpful.

Lots of agreement here. I agree with Chas that listening is the access to speaking. And I see lot of teachers agreeing that the goal is to support learners' participation in successful, authentic dialogue. More and more teachers are realizing grammar is not the secret to fluency and I love seeing the array of approaches to teaching speaking that are being shared as a result.

I agree with all the above. I think it's so important to let the student know that it's ok to make mistakes - to use the wrong tense - whatever, as long as they're trying to communicate. I rarely stop a student midstream. Let them get comfy with the language and then, and only then, when they feel confident that people understand them, should the trainer nudge them - correct them. Baby steps. Once the confidence is there, everything else falls into place.

I agree entirely, Gary. I once had a student, a businesswoman, who lacked confidence and was afraid to make mistakes although her level of spoken Eglish was excellent, if a little pedantic. We talked about different subjects - travelling, local government, tourisme, education etc, and I refused to correct every mistake she made, concentrating each lesson on one or two language points. She began to see that she was still communicating successfully in spite of her mistakes. When she went on a business trip to Japan, where the main language spoken at the conference was English, she realised that she was a lot better than she thought, and I lost a student! 

I encourage students to take their time. Speaking slowly in the beginning will reduce mistakes. Speed will come naturally later.

the thing which happens with me and some other follows...we have the idea regarding the discussion that is going on in the class but i dun know why it happens most of the time we are unable to speak. In other words we do not try to take step. Is there some sort of reluctance?? Many of you are professional please give me suggestion to over come it.


Well I will leave the theory on this one to others ( please chime in theory-heads :-) ) but I had a lesson today with my student that I wrote about earlier in the thread. Despite talking for nearly an hour with just some questions from me, he still feels that he lacks confidence in speaking. So is this a teaching problem? Yes and no. I reassured him that the best way to become confident is to practice, so the more he speaks. He also said that he felt today went well because he was more relaxed and wasn't tired. I said that he can create good conditions for his interview by making sure he is relaxed and rested before his interview.

As an ex-counsellor, I could get more into the psychology of his beliefs, but that's not my current role is it? Some ethical issues for me to think about.

So Nazia ask yourself - what stops you speaking? Is it fear of making a mistake? Do you have an over idealised picture of how you should sound? When my student said he worried about not finding words in English, I reassured him by saying that happens to everybody even in their native language. He said "no it doesn't". Well not to him, he says he is never lost for words in his mother tongue. Do you think this is true or just another barrier belief?
What's the atmosphere like in your discussions, is it forgiving of errors? What are the discussion topics?

One of the reasons my student has increased his amount of speaking is because I have started choosing topics I know he feels strongly about. Despite today's theme being problem-solving I put it in the context of a local political issue, and as he is the local leader of a political party, on this topic he can speak for days! Even in English! I'm sure he could speak for weeks in his L1. So if the discussion is something you feel passionate about it provides you with extra motivation to kick away your barriers of reluctance and speak.

I see this question akin to asking how to play the violin well. I asked my music teacher how to play the violin better than I was. He replied that if my goal was to play the violin better than I was, I should begin by playing the violin better than I was. I look back on that and see wisdom that I missed before. Very often, students are looking for magic bullets that will instantly improve their English. There are none, and they should get back to the drudge-work of practicing for hours every day instead of looking for them. Language education is a lifestyle, not a class.

Nazia, you say "...most of the time we are unable to speak. In other words ..."

Chase and Joshua have shared their thoughts on this. Here is what I think about this:

a. The topic may not interest you; even if interests you, you may not have much to say. Or what others say may be difficult to grasp for several reasons like the topic depth, the language used, the pronunciation, the body language. Or your other partners may not be actively participating.

b. Your topic knowledge may be so little that you may not be keen to participate and expose your ignorance.

c. You subconsciously feel that other participants may already have a low opinion of you and your initial silence may confirm this to you and them.

d. Other partners may be aggressive and may not provide you space.

e. All these could've been your past experience or they may be strangers or just acquaintances.

f. You may not be confident enough to speak up for you may by nature be not very vocal.

g. The environment you're in may not be conducive to active participation--background noises etc.

h. The presence or absence of one individual might be the cause. When someone you like is present, you may feel like expressing yourself or when someone you don't like is present, you may not be willing to join in the discussion or conversation.

i. Your language skills--listening and speaking--may not be in your opinion matching those present.

j. You may be physically or mentally tired, you may not be in the right mood.

k. Some recent or distant problems may be engaging you subconsciously and may be distracting you.

l. Or your concentration span may be troubling you.

These are some areas I can think of.

i agree with one point of K R Lakshminarayanan some time it happens in the class if few students are absent who are troublesome for others...that thing give confidence to rest of the people to take participate in some extent i speak in very speedy manner even in my native language as well so for this reason it happens sometime i have to repeat my sentence it can be overcome?

And please give me suggestions how fluency can be increased in second language.

hi all teach the verbal and most importantly the non verbal so that your students will be fluent as language users thank you all 

hi all,the more they listen to real english the more they can speak,think how we learnt our mother tongue,we first listened and then started to expose them to english speaking by films,audio stories,etc.......

To add to K R 's list:

m. Students are not ready for such activity yet. Someone else here engages his class of elementary students in discussing sweatshop practices following a lesson on shopping language.

n. Ability to speak for some may mean ability to recite textbook sentences on the topic with minimal substitution. They may be so conditioned to value accuracy over fluency by standardized test practices, that they are unwilling to engage in activities that they undoubtedly recognize, will only further habituate L1 interference patterns.

Last fall, I was willing to risk my job in defiance of a student who complained about my teaching. My spineless boss, took the side of the complainant who considered allowing pair or group work in my class an abdication of my responsibility as a teacher. She only wanted to talk directly with me, not to other students.

@Nazia: You may want to ask yourself, would they be so reluctant if a fluent bilingual could lead them in a CLL discussion (translating and/or correcting each and everything they say, and then having them record it so that, in the end, they'll have a recording of themselves conversing on a topic with native speaker accuracy)?

If that indeed is what's plaguing your students, you might want to try something that Scott Thornbury mentions in his 2005 "How to Teach Speaking". Give your students a speaking task, after eliciting the vocab and structures; i.e.: discuss the pros and cons of homebuying vs. renting. After they complete the task, let them listen to/read how native speakers complete the same task.

Picture stories are another great way of doing this. There are a few ELT books on the subject but unfortunately, nothing I've come across that I'd highly recommend. There's one Macmillan resource I forget the title of containing about 20 pictures of the day in the life of a woman on holiday.

Great additions to my list, Ferd. Thanks.

You are very welcome, and thank you! Can anyone else add to K R 's list? As soon as I saw it, I thought of ways I might use it with my students as a kind of meta-dialogue (dialogue on dialogue).

@Nazia: What if you were to survey your reticent students with K R 's list? You could just add a 1-5 scale after each statement: (dis)agree strongly or somewhat or neither agree nor disagree.

Thanks for the extension, Ferd. A practical one that is more than likely to yield positive responses from the reluctant ones. 

I first 'met' ... here on a thread I'd started last year suggesting the use of dialogue translation for revision. I started the practice in 2011 with a group of elementary adults who obviously needed more much more skills work to revise existing vocab and grammar. So, I printed sets of vocab flashcards and then had them flip through the stack naming each item and gave them additional structural practice. Then I gave them a dialogue half with their part translated into their L1, and their partner's in English so they could demonstrate what they'd learned from the course in terms of knowing how to express in English the L1 in front of them. It provided very useful feedback to me and to them.

Any further additions to what I'll call K R 's 'Inhibiting Factors to Speaking on Topics in Class' list?

Perhaps someone who does a lot of testing or is read up on ELT research can set me straight.

When ''improving speaking" means improving fluency, should we only concern ourselves with structural and lexical automaticity and appropriate pausing (which seems integral to this)? What about the need to think on one's feet which every native speaker relies on? When native speakers do not know a word or structure to express a thought, they resort to other language. It seems the ease at which someone is capable of doing that is never tested, at least not that I can recall from Nic Underhill's Testing Spoken English. I realize I might have missed it---perhaps the skill is integrated in some other testing technique--it's been a while since I read it. It just seems to me too important a skill to simply ignore in language testing. The absence of such a test begs the question: is it not tested because it's not considered within the scope of language teaching? And if so, would it involve the same meta-cognitive hand-holiding that currently passes for discovery learning in mainstream education?

To test this 'fluency' aspect myself many years back, I created a sort of verbal charades. Students quickly describe a list of 10 items (listed with translations next to them) 1 by 1 to a small group in English using any manner possible: function, composition, appearance, or location until someone in their group shouts out the answer---they can use L1 if they need to.

The relative time required for a student to describe the listed items until understood is what I'm interested in. In hindsight, I should've made longer lists and also had them repeat the same activity with other groupings and also exclusively in L1 with at least another 2 groupings to see whether there's a correlation. I think I'll do that with one of my current classes. Thoughts anyone?

BTW: This evening, another one of my students asked me how to improve her speaking. Along with some tips for speaking, I told her what others have said here about focusing on listening. As I tell many students, I recommended she choose news topics, articles, levels, and speeds for this.

I agree that learning to listen and improving your English listening comprehension skills is essential to improve your English speaking skills, but a good exercise I recommend to my students who really want to improve their English speaking skills is simply to speak English to themselves inside their heads. As they gain confidence speaking English to themselves, they will feel more confident about speaking English with others.

I agree! I think many people have some kind of internal dialogue or commentary going on inside their heads at different parts of the day, and if you force yourself to so it in L2, it's good practice. Also, just thinking, as you go about your day, "how would I have said that in ---" gets your brain to engage with the task of L2 production more frequently, even if it is just imaginary production.

Another big help is reading aloud, again, even just to yourself.

Listening is an important skill as communication goes both ways listening......speaking.
Learning HOW to listen like in real life can help students become better listeners, but TESTING listening, like we often see in the classroom , for example ( pre-teach vocabulary + listen to the recording twice and answer true / false and multiple choice etc.) can be a waste of time.

Speak more, when possible with native speakers. You might be surprised how many students don't do that outside of class.And yes, listen more. It's like learning to play the piano. You can't learn to play the piano by reading books about playing the piano. You have to practice.

English is a language and a language can never be acquired instantly or by learning and applying rules and the worst thing is that many students try to mug up. It's really dissapointing!!!. The best way is to listen, comprehend and try to express oneself using the language . The more they're in touch with the language, easier and quicker it would be for them to learn.

I back Jeff Burnham!! The fastest way to get fluency is to converse with native speakers.

the most important thing to consider is that students most of the time transfer their ideas from their mother tongue into english, and this lead in problems in speaking. We must aware them that : if you want to speak english fluently first you should think in english

<<the most important thing to consider is that students most of the time transfer their ideas from their mother tongue into english>>

That's a measure of how much they assume a language is merely a vocabulary set. You can test for this by comparing the amount of exposure to L2 with the amount of interlanguage exhibited. My hunch is, not only do they not correlate but the variance is predictable.

I've realized that the biggest barrier for adult learners to overcome is fear. Children speak because they have something they want to communicate. Adults don't speak because they fear how poorly they'll communicate. As adults, we want to express ourselves as intelligently in our L2 as we can in our L1 and we worry too much about how we are perceived. Yes, an ignorant individual may perceive nonfluent speakers as unintelligent; but the majority of native speakers are polite and understanding. I encourage my adult students from the beginning to be aware of this fear of failure and to overcome it.

<<...the biggest barrier for adult learners to overcome is fear...>>
Delali, might that fear also be conditioned by an 'educational' emphasis on skills that are more easily tested than over more valuable ones: i.e.: accuracy over fluency?

It's definitely possible that some classroom activities like testing could reinforce a fear of failure in some students. I think it depends on how the teacher approaches these activities. Perhaps the key is emphasizing that in the classroom we are trying to get the students as close to native speaker English as possible (whatever that is), but that native speakers themselves make grammatical errors. And also that people generally value someone who connects with them over someone who speaks accurately.


Good question Delali - what is Native Speaker English? Do we want our students to get close to it? For the London (UK) based students I worked with last year I would recommend they try not to get too close to that particular variety of everyday native speaker English :). But more seriously, I think creating a more specific awareness of what speaking in English consists of and how learners can begin to reproduce and combine the elements of pronunciation, rhythm, stress and unstress is a tough task for teachers. I'm going to try using Adrian Underhill's approach ( see his blog at and there are of lots of videos of his workshops on youtube) because I think speaking is a physical activity and his approach does this in a very structured way.

Adrian Underhill's charts look really useful. I'll have to delve into his approach more. Thanks for sharing!

The first obvious answer is to get out and speak the language - even when stumbling, at first, but I've found that my spoken German, for instance, has improved greatly since I started reading widely in the language - most of the novels I read now are in German. It has helped to improve my fluidity of speaking, expanded my vocabulary, and given me a better sense of correct language structures. (Of course, one must be sure to read things which are correctly written or be aware when something is presented differently for dialogue purposes - dialect, representations of accents, etc.) I would suggest that you encourage your students, in addition to conversing whenever possible, to read widely in the language of study - in this case, English. (Watching movies or television in the language of study is also helpful - especially if it's a movie or show with which the learner is already familiar.)

Another way is to show them videos of English movies in the classroom - preferably movies with which they can relate - for example the serial 'Lie To Me' , animated cartoon movies etc. The teacher may then initiate a discussion on what they have viewed.
Also one may encourage students to listen to the English news on t.v. and watch any other programmes in English they may be interested in.

<<It's definitely possible that some classroom activities like testing could reinforce a fear of failure in some students. >> --Delali

I find it ironic that the possibility of that fear instills even more fear in private school teachers and administrators than in their students. Where I work, for example, students receive one speaking test--their initial placement conversation interview and it has less weight in level determination than the computerized component. I'm not even supposed to show them their result and for subsequent level advancement, there's no speaking component, just a computerized listening and language use test.

You specifically mentioned classroom testing. A lot of what I do in the classroom I consider informal testing. All indicators I've seen suggest that this practice, along with formal testing of speaking skills is not only welcomed by students, but preferred. Seems to me, if you don't test your students, you're not a real teacher, just a lecturer. There are far too many of those in ELT.

I always tell my students to watch movies in English, to listen to music in English and to speak English outside of class whenever they get the chance to do so. I also jokingly tell them to find a Native English speaking boyfriend or girlfriend.

My students all follow my advice and all of them have made tremendous progress in a very short time. It's also a very good way for them to learn new vocab and to get use to different accents.

I'm half Scottish and half Thai, and trilingual (English, Thai and French), therefore I lead my students by example and explain to them that I managed to have a perfect Thai accent because I speak Thai to my mother everyday, I watch movies in Thai and I sing/play the guitar in Thai as well.

I go over this question in detail in my book 'Speak English Once And For All'. Check it out on Amazon, it's only 2,99 (Amazon wouldn't let me list it any cheaper, sorry!)

<<I go over the question in detail...>> do many other authors, but this is a discussion.

Thanks for taking the time to show us your pickle, Ferd.

I will tell that student to talk to your classmate a lot and you gain experience