Strategies for learning and teaching speaking in a second language
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! As many people know by now, speaking skills are among the most challenging to develop. Real life communication is not something that can be found on most language apps. Unfortunately, it is also exceedingly rare in most classroom environments. Since most educators fail to teach students oral language skills, it is up to each individual to practice speaking of their own accord. That can be a daunting endeavor.
Fortunately, there are things you can begin doing immediately to enhance and accelerate the learning process to begin speaking sooner. That said, as per usual, these methods and strategies will demand of you many, many failures. Sometimes the best way to see how to do something is to find all the ways not to do it. Until you feel a bit more comfortable speaking, though, there is one thing you can do to avoid most mistakes.
Reading aloud - a language learners best friend
The reason this comes up almost every time there is a discussion around developing speaking skills is because it simply works. It is not the most enjoyable thing in the world and when you are first starting you will feel like it is a waste of time. In fact, the better you get the more you will feel like you no longer need it.
If you truly want to improve your speaking ability then sticking with it is vital. You will have ample time to come up with your own phrases and speak your own thoughts. Until you can truly think in the target language, reading aloud is your best option.
It is important to start small with this. Read one sentence aloud until you can read the entire thing fluidly. Then read the next sentence, over and over, until you can read it fluidly. Next read the two together until you can do them without error. Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, but you have the words right in front of you so read them until you no longer are making mistakes. Once you have mastered two sentences move to three, then four, then five and suddenly you will be reading entire paragraphs. If you are concerned about your accent, mimic orators who read the same books.
At this point in time, most books have an audiobook option and taking advantage of this will bring you closer to success. Mastering an accent is difficult, but by mimicking the orators you hear you reduce the chances of mispronunciation. This process will not help your public speaking skills, but it will get you speaking.
One of the most difficult parts of becoming fluent is building up the confidence to say anything to anyone, even if you might be saying it wrong. Even though it is "speaking with training wheels" it is still speaking and you should let yourself feel confidence flow through you as you move from one sentence to the next.
After enough time with other people's stories, it is time to create your own. This is when the training wheels come off and you can truly begin to think in your target language. Language learning is difficult, but learning to think is perhaps the most difficult aspect. That is where writing and then reading your own stories can make the most difference.
Rather than reading the conceptions of someone you likely do not know and will even more likely never meet you get to spend time conversing with yourself. After all, thinking is truly just a conversation with oneself. If you are going to talk to yourself you might as well do it in the language you are learning. One day you might even find you have created an entire world without ever setting out to do so.
World building a controlled practice
While there are many classroom activities for speaking skills, world building is something that does not need to be done within the confines of a classroom. You will probably get more out of world building for its own sake than you would doing it for class anyway.
Along with helping you develop your oral language skills, you will also be working on your creative thinking, ideally in the language you are learning rather than your native language. The best part of this exercise is that there are absolutely no wrong answers.
Part of developing your own world is creating character to live within it. These characters should not be vapid. They should have personalities and they should converse with one another. You should be writing out these conversations, speaking them at the same time, and thinking about where the conversations could go next.
Creating a meaningful and logical sequence that works within your world is important, but if you want it to be meaningless, make it so. If you want it to be illogical, make it so. You are in control of this world and all that truly matters is that you and your characters interact in your target language.
For those who are at a loss for ideas, try creating interviews. Interrogate the characters of your world. What do they like to do? What do they think of the climate? How long have they been there? What are their plans for the future? Playing out all of these conversations is a phenomenal way to develop your oral communication strategies and determine how you would approach conversations with native speakers. These are all questions you can ask to anyone and know what the potential answers could be will prevent you from freezing when it is game time.
If you are teaching, on the other hand, the best way to teach speaking is by speaking. When students can see that you are unafraid of making mistakes they will realize they have no reason to be afraid of making mistakes. Teaching oral communication is difficult, but nowhere near impossible. In order to develop language skills it is vital to go on unafraid of making mistakes. No matter how good you get you are going to make mistakes and that is true for everyone.
Almost every person makes mistakes, even in their native language. What matters more is that students learn to continue on through their mistakes, like a master musician would play on through their mistakes. Most of the time the only time people will notice your mistakes is when you take the time to stop and point them out yourself.
Classroom environment: Fear of failure not an option
Rewarding speech is huge, especially if the plan is to institute a form of role play. Not only that, but when working on communication strategies, there will be times when you, or your students, do not use appropriate words. Being able to laugh this off rather than lose confidence is powerful. It is something that transcends the classroom and will help in real life situations. Allowing students to make mistakes and laugh off the awkward miscommunications will do more for them than correcting every single mistake they make.
If you are personally working on your speaking skills all of these things are still relevant. Practicing your listening skills in conjunction with it is equally important so that you are not left confused when the time to have a real time conversation comes. As you improve your critical thinking you will also be able to converse with more ease. When you are struggling, try to put yourself through authentic activities where you are asking and trying to answer questions as accurately as possible. Speak all of these things aloud in your new language and ask yourself open ended questions.
As frustrating as it can be, too, write these things down. One of the most effective strategies for learning a language is writing. It is easier than pure memorization and will make recall easier when the time comes. Play to your own strengths, obviously, but be writing early and often.
Reading aloud, especially that which you have written, is the perfect way to begin developing your speaking skills. As I say often, reading aloud is speaking with training wheels. Reading your own writing is even better in the sense that you are speaking aloud your own thoughts.
Teaching speaking skills is without a doubt one of the most difficult pieces of second language instruction. Whether you are teaching one person, a classroom, or just yourself, it is going to be challenging. However, by praising speech and rewarding effort you can make an enormous difference.
Some teachers choose to punish mistakes which results in people giving up on foreign languages entirely. Mistakes are part of the game and no matter how good you get you are going to make mistakes from time to time. Learning to take them in stride is vital. Of all the things you can do, learning to cope with mistakes will make speaking your target language less intimidating.
It is not impossible to learn a language fast, but if that is the goal it is imperative to understand that it will be difficult. Picking up a foreign language at any speed is going to be challenging. But you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same. I'll be here rooting for you and watching out for your successes in the meantime.
For more content check out Second Language Strategies dot com or find me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, get up to 55% off a Babbel subscription using this link. I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.