Getting students to speak
Welcome, aspiring polyglots! As many of you know, speaking is one of the most difficult things to teach students. In fact, the difficulty does not change simply because you are the student. It is such a complex thing to get started, that there are entire portions of language acquisition directly referred to as the Silent Period of Language Acquisition. The first thing you should know is that if you are studying alone, you are not alone in facing the difficulty of getting your first sentences out. There is a reason that a child's first words are so impressive. Do not underestimate the power that getting even two or three sentences put together will have on your experience. If you want to read about the Silent Period, you can see more on that here:
Once you've understood the silent period, it is time to break free from its restraints. While there are many things you can do to develop your language skills, the development of your speaking skills are going to be entirely different. For those who are working with an entire class, there are also some classroom activities for speaking skills you should be aware of as we approach the start of the school year.
Provide comprehensible input for Language Learners
Sticking with comprehensible input is vital. If you want to start speaking or help someone else develop their speaking skills, it is important that there is an 80% understanding of every resource being used. While it can be difficult to jump into anything, but if you understand absolutely nothing, the prospect of speaking is even more intimidating.
That said, it can be helpful to have spare materials around to continue checking on the level and advancement overtime. Saving these documents and resources is equally important. As your students learn, they will continue to advance, but it can be difficult to understand just how much progress has been made without a historic record of what has been done. If the student is struggling, rather than starting conversations or trying to hold conversations, start with reading aloud.
There is power in reading out loud. It is a way to start speaking with training wheels. Normally the student would need to come up with an idea, think of ways to express that idea, and work through all the conjugations and sentence structure just to get a single sentence out. When reading aloud, they can take all the guess work out of sentence development and focus entirely on pronunciation, annunciation, and flow. For more on the language learning hack that reading aloud is, you can see this previous article you may have missed:
How To Teach Speaking
When it comes to actually speaking, there are a few things you can do to set yourself, and your students, up for success in the long term. Some are a lost art and it is time to revive them.
First, what does phonics mean? Well, I believe this summary explains it best:
At the end of the day, what it breaks down to is mastering the basics. Phonics is essentially how letters interact with one another to be pronounced in unique ways. Understanding the various options (how ch- sounds in character vs church) and this should lead up to reading. Focusing on phonics first will make the rest easier, though it will feel tedious.
Anyone who skips the basics will struggle to master the more intricate pieces of learning a language, especially when it comes to developing speaking skills. Tied to phonics, probably the most important aspect of learning to speak, is sounding things out. Fortunately, your students are already reading aloud so sounding things out is the natural next step!
- Sounding things out
Depending on the age of the students, one of the most pervasive hangups that teachers run into is students feeling as though they are being infantilized. Realistically, the last time most people read aloud, outside of the classroom environment, is when they were a young child; and that is if they ever read out loud in their native language.
As most anyone can remember, reading time in class was always stressful and few people ever look forward to it. This does not change just because everyone is starting from the ground floor in a new language. Your most important job is helping them realize that in order to be great at something they must risk being bad at it. That includes not punishing students for mispronouncing things. Address it if it becomes a pattern, but one or two times is not going to hurt anyone. Progress over perfection.
- Alternative ways to say things
In line with working to progress rather than focus on perfection, the ability to adapt and think of new and alternative, even if broken, ways to say things. There are many ways to say the same thing. Direct translation can hurt, but it can also help. If your students are struggling to say something, rather than giving them the words, ask them to think of alternatives. At first it will be awkward and the students may be hesitant, but if you are open to demonstrating, they may just be inspired. Here are some examples you can try:
You have to be open to new experiences.
It is imperative that you try new things.
How about another example:
The problem is I am struggling to speak.
I am afraid to talk, that's the issue
I have fear to speak (shout out to my romance language learners.)
At first these sentences are probably going to be rather simple. Consequently, the alternative sentences are probably also going to be rather basic. Your job is to slowly push your students towards excellency. Step one is opening them to communication. Step two is refining them into eloquent speakers who will never struggle to communicate when abroad.
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If you are a teacher, the website being developed currently is designed to set you and your classroom up for success. From resources to newsletters and long from and short form content, the goal is to create a language learning environment conducive to long term success. Much of the content is designed to promote speaking and in the classroom.
With effective strategies geared to maximizing each person's own strengths, in real life situations, the goal is not necessarily bring someone straight to fluency, but rather to help people work a second language into their daily routine. Allowing students to choose their own study materials while developing speaking activities for each of the individuals will promote oral communication inside and outside the classroom. The language acquisition process is long. Getting your students to practice speaking, though, will likely be your greatest hurdle as a second language teacher.
An amazing side effect of learning or teaching a second language is that it encourages creative thinking and critical thinking. The advantage of this is that it gives you, as the teacher, an in to create some incredible activities. Some of the things possible to help develop speaking ability involve:
- Role plays
Have the students do a world building activity. Give them ample time, but make sure that everything going into it is being written and recorded in the target language. Have them add art in, whether digital or self made. Once they have a world, have them write a story about the world. It should contain a meaningful and logical sequence with at the very least two defined orators. From there, it's time to develop public speaking skills.
Role plays can be great for bonding and as people become more comfortable with their cohort, they will inevitably begin speaking more freely. Taking away the anxiety of making a mistake by having them write the script ahead of time. At the end of the day, this goes back to the power of reading aloud, but with a couple extra steps.
Another amazing way to get students speaking is by getting them to debate. While this can get out of hand, there are ways to keep reign the students in, and as many know, it can be difficult to express yourself when you are fired up. Bringing students to understand and embody effective communication strategies by debating which flavor of ice cream is best or which pizza toppings do and do not belong, is a cheat code. Teaching oral communication is difficult, but it doesn't have to be complex.
Finally, to further develop speaking skills, have your students describe pictures. As they say, "a picture is worth 1000 words" and this is your opportunity. Description is a vital skill when learning a language. The ability to describe things well is something that is developed slowly over time, however the more often it is done the less time it will take. If someone is trying to describe the things they are seeing in their day to day life in their target language for an hour every day, or every other day, they will advance much faster than someone who is hesitating to speak altogether.
Tying the things the students enjoy into their language lessons is the perfect way to ensure they remain engaged in the long term. The biggest aspect of getting someone to dedicate extra time outside the classroom is by giving them a reason to stay interested. When people spend time doing things they enjoy, even if they are learning, they tend to continue doing those things. By helping the students develop habits centered around adding their target language into their daily routine you will change their lives forever.
Learning to speak has more to do with building and gaining confidence than it has to do with perfecting the language. If students feel comfortable making mistakes and getting better over time rather than immediately, they are more likely to speak. By teaching different ways to say the same things, students will begin to think of ways they can express themselves creatively. While this certainly does not fit into a system that requires things be said the same way every time, it is a good way to actually bring students to bilingualism.