Using role plays to teach students speaking skills
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! If you are working with students to teach speaking skills you likely face a myriad of potential pitfalls. The first is that many students have been conditioned to fear failure. This, unfortunately, tends to inhibit them from developing speaking skills. Another being that many teachers fail to teach speaking in a meaningful and logical sequence.
When students learn to tell their own stories in targeted speaking activities they learn to handle real life situations through task repetition. Authentic materials do best and there is nothing more authentic than actual conversations students have every single day. An ideal second language course acts almost as a theater course.
Role play subject to reflect real life situations
Focus on recreating real life scenarios that the students will experience in their daily lives. Think about how they might interact with their families and friends at the dinner table. Develop speaking activities that include nonverbal cues so that the entire class can get a glimpse into the myriad of ways there are to express the same things. If the target language is Spanish, make sure you share different ways that different cultures express themselves and interact at the dinner table. Part of the learning process is going to be learning skills, so make sure the students learn how to ask for help.
Asking questions is important, but just as important is being able to understand the answer to the question. It does not matter if you can formulate the perfect questions if you are unable to understand the response. For that reason the students should discuss things that they are interested in, so they can pursue deeper knowledge. Speaking ability is developed by learning to give and take in a conversation. That means equal time for asking questions and answering questions. Working steadily toward speaking in complete sentences while simultaneously paying attention to non verbal symbols is essential in successful second language acquisition.
Placing an emphasis on listening skills is another key to teaching speaking. While it takes time to think of responses normally, in a classroom environment you can write down the responses before attempting to speak them aloud. When students discuss their interests it makes it enjoyable to practice language skills. At the same time, when students hear how others communicate they can refine their communication strategies to ensure they can express themselves in the most precise and eloquent manner. Most speaking activities rely on creative thinking, but for some students this can be overwhelming.
Replicating real life communication to teach speaking
The best way to ensure you are replicating the conversations that students have in their real lives is by having them record conversations they have. Obviously they do not have to record everything, but provide examples of times when they could. At the dinner table, at a sports game, while playing video games. Everything they would say in those times in their native language they should know how to say in their target language. Public speaking skills are down stream from private speaking skills. Ensuring the students are able to speak with their friends and families will go a long way in ensuring they can speak whenever they want with whomever they want.
Once the conversations are recorded, have them choose 3-5 and write them out. Transcribing what they say aloud will open their eyes into the ways they speak. After the transcriptions are done, have the students translate the conversations and practice them together. Reading aloud off the script is a powerful tool in learning to speak fluidly. Students who are able to read aloud fluidly in front of the whole class will have no problem speaking with anyone in the real world. The next step is to have the students play out these conversations in other ways to refine their oral communication.
Effective instruction is going to include ample amounts of controlled practice. That means providing students with the opportunity to use their critical thinking to think through new scenarios. Language learners tend to struggle most in developing their spoken language skills. Reasons for this vary, but the most common reason breaks down to an inability to think in the new language. Communication strategies are different for almost everyone, learning to think in the new language is necessary for everyone.
Having a script when starting out is a good thing. Over time, however, you are going to want to urge your students to approach the new conversations without having something prewritten to read aloud. Learning how to tackle things in a variety of contexts of vital for successful second language acquisition. When students learn to play to their own strengths and field open ended questions because they are comfortable speaking you will know they have surpassed the need for pure memorization. That is why authentic activities are so important. Equally as important, though, is promoting speaking skills so students are not afraid to fail.
Promote speaking by ensuring students learn to conquer failure
A fear of failure is one of the few things that will all but ensure a limit to a person's ability to learn a language. With students it is important to praise them for every time they use appropriate words. At the same time, mistakes are an opportunity to teach students more vocabulary to further develop their language skills. Treating mistakes as an opportunity to learn will ensure that students approach every opportunity to work on speaking skills as a chance to improve. Rather than shy away whenever someone wants to speak with them they will jump at the chance to add to their skills.
Promoting speaking skills by allowing students to have multiple attempts and take time to correct themselves is paramount. Most people will not get things right the first time. Giving them the chance to correct themselves will show them what the real world is actually like. In all reality most people will have no problem conversing with native speakers because mistakes are completely irrelevant. Mistakes are an opportunity to improve and if you treat them as such with your students then you will ensure they view it that way outside the classroom.
The majority of the time when they make mistakes most people will not even acknowledge them. If someone does acknowledge the mistake or stop the student from speaking they need to be ready to try again immediately. It is never fun to have someone hit you with a "what?" but getting three or more is unbearable. Being able to bounce back immediately because you are conditioned to take mistakes and failure in stride is a super power. Not only will people you speak with appreciate the effort, speaking ability will drastically improve as well.
Every person who is teach oral communication has a duty to ensure the students they work with do not fear failure. Students should view failure as opportunity for improvement, but they should also remember it is not a reason to stop. As a master musician would play through any mistakes they make, knowing only another master musician would even notice them, so must you encourage speaking through mistakes. No one will acknowledge mistakes more often than not. When they are pointed out, it is an opportunity to learn. Nothing sticks quite as well as information you are given when your emotions are heightened. All but ensure the same mistake is not made twice.
Teaching oral communication is difficult. Most people underestimate just how bad the taste of public education language courses is for students. Considering many have been told for years that they need to get the perfect article for every noun in order to speak fluently, it is no surprise they are so hesitant to speak. No one wants to sound like a 5 year old. That does not matter, though, because everyone is going to sound like a 5 year old until they no longer do one day. Those who refuse to speak delay that day of maturation indefinitely.
Putting students into real life situations where they speak in the same way they would speak in their daily lives gives them a glimpse of what it is like to live speaking a new language. If they are translating the thoughts and conversations they have in class then they are conditioning themselves to translate the thoughts and conversations they have outside of class. You want to build an environment in which they practice speaking the way they actually speak. Students should focus heavily on vocabulary they use in their native language. Supplementing that with a bit of challenging content, much like an English class does for native English speakers, will have profound results.
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. Don't forget to check out the YouTube channel as well!