Speaking in English

     Learning to speak a second language as opposed to other skills is probably the most difficult for students to master.  I can't tell you how many students I had, in what was supposed to be an advanced class that could understand me perfectly well and pass a written exam but could hardly speak a word of English.  Why?  Because language schools have historically gotten the process of teaching a second language backward.

     Think about how we teach our children compared to how we teach second language learners (SLL's).  First of all, we speak to children in the target language.  We also teach them anytime and anywhere.  As kids are always on the go, we follow them around and speak to them.  We look at them individually and vocalize words very slowly and clearly.  When children begin to try and repeat words, we smile at them and clap.  As kids almost always mispronounce words for a while, we say the words again, and again until they speak them correctly.  Victory!  Another smile and a vigorous round of applause!  It's all quite fun really.

     Now, what do we do with SLL's?  We gather them together in a group, make them sit down and hand them a book.  We introduce ourselves and the course in our native language.  We give some translated commands and then tell our students to open their books.  We write a grammar structure on the board and tell the kids to fill in the blank lines in their books.  When they are finished, we give the correct answers and move on to the next section.

     My point?  How much more opposite could the SLL's learning experience be than the native speaker's?  In the following article, we will take a look at a number of ways to make learning how to speak a second language as naturally as possible.  The first thing we will discuss is how to speak and stay in the target language, then we will work on clarification techniques, and finally, we will examine some speaking activities.

Speaking in the Target Language

There are many ways that we can stay in the target language but some of the most useful are using visual input, modifying teacher talk time, and using interactive activities.

     Quite frankly, I am tired of listening to teachers say that it is impossible to stay in the target language.  When I began teaching English to beginning ESL students in Mexico, I had barely just learned the word "hola".  I had no choice but to stay in the target language.  Keep in mind that this was about twenty years ago and there were no Google translate or Google photos, nor were there smart phones with translating apps.  It was simply impossible for me to cheat and give my students translations.  Believe it or not, it was in this setting that I began to learn English.  Why?  Because my students were speaking in the target language that I needed to learn!

     So, what did I do way back then?  I got out my piece of chalk, yes chalk, because most schools didn't even have whiteboards yet, and I drew.  It actually turned into a lot of fun because I am a terrible artist.  Students laughed, I laughed, I said the word in English they whispered the word in English to each other and then said it out loud in English and we all learned.

     The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words" is not found any truer than in a second language class.  Remember children?  They point to things and question, "What's that?"  They are looking at the reference item when they ask the question, making a visual item line up in their minds with the word that represents it.  Showing pictures in class will do the same for your students by helping them to negotiate meanings in the target language.

     Even if you don't have access to a picture or a whiteboard you can still use your body to act out whatever the word is.  If your students found your drawings laughable wait until they see you make a fool out of your chicken impersonation.  Hysterical!

Computer Technology Conversation Workshe

Computer Technology English Conversation Worksheet

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Crime and Law Enforcement Conversation W

Crime, Law Enforcement, and Courts English Conversation Worksheet

     Another way that you can help students to say in and use the target language is to modify your teacher talking time, level, and rate. 

     Simply put, you already know the target language and this is likely the only chance your students will have to practice it all day, so keep your mouth shut as much as possible.  A good rule of thumb is eighty-twenty.  Believe it or not, that doesn't mean that you are teaching eighty percent of the time but the opposite.  You should be able to give your students what they need in order to carry out the class's activities in twenty percent of the class time.  Let your students practice the other eighty.

     You can also help your students stay in the target language by helping them understand the better part of what you are saying.  Do this by keeping your language as simple as the language they have learned thus far, by limiting geographic-specific language, and by staying away from idiomatic expressions and slang.

     Finally, pace yourself!  You will need to slow your speech down significantly for beginners and pick up the pace as their learning experiences increase.  Pronounce the words clearly and with a little extra volume so the students at the back can hear you too.

     The last thing that we will examine in this section is the use of interactive activities in the classroom.  This topic can be broken down into three areas, those being, what an interactive activity is, how you should decide to group your students to carry it out, and what you should do while your students are working.

     Interactive learning is a simulation of real-world or hands-on events.  This type of learning engages students by modeling real-life situations.  It taps into their critical learning abilities by engaging their problem-solving skills.  Interactive activities can be anything from games to role-plays, to discussions, and speeches.  They are activities that enable teachers to partner with students in order to facilitate their language learning journey.  The main point of these activities is to provide a way for students to apply the language to their lives in a practical way.

     How many students do you decide to put together to work on an activity?  That depends on what the activity and what the entire class size is.  If you have a printable activity such as a board game and a small class of ten to twelve students then you have many options.  You can play the game with the entire class, pairs or small groups of fours.  I like to use all three and mix them up to keep the students guessing.  If you have a printable game and a large class you can divide the class into equal groups not exceeding six to eight students and give each group a copy or you can project the game, use a good PDF editing program to create markers, and play the game digitally.

     Keeping things mixed up not only keeps things interesting for students but challenges them as well.  Try as many variations of groupings as possible.  It is also a good idea to separate friends or clicks, and students that lag behind from their eager translators.  This will help decrease distractions in the classroom and add to the students' abilities to stay in and practice the target language.
     Finally, what is the teacher's place in all this?  First, teach, clarify, give feedback, then circulate and monitor for questions.  A lecture is boring whereas a short explanation that includes visual examples is interesting.  Give your explanation then promote participation by handing the class over to your students.  This will make your classes far more interesting and fun for your students than listening to everything you know about how to conjugate the verb "be".

City versus Country Conversation Workshe

City versus Country English Conversation Worksheet

Clarification in English 

     Now, let's take a look at giving students feedback in the form of clarification more closely.  There are many techniques for this process but I have narrowed them down to my favorite three, which are, asking questions, providing students with clarification phrases, and using frequent comprehension checks.

     When it comes to clarifying understanding, nothing replaces a good ole' fashioned question.  Just remember to stay away from yes/no questions and use open-ended questions instead.   Dig out your question words and fire away.  You can even write some multiple-choice questions on the board and get students to answer that way.

     No matter what type of questions you ask, be sure to keep them short and simple.  Also, make sure that the answers to your questions are short and simple as well.  If your students don't know the answer, don't give it to them.  Give them clues instead.  Keep giving them until your students come up with the correct answer.  Remember, you can always fall back on drawing and miming answers.  You can even turn it into a bit of a game by having your students come up to the board and draw their guesses until somebody gets it right.

Quantifiers Conversation Worksheet CP.jp

     Another clarification method is to have a preprinted list of phrases that you will use to help your students clarify things and phrases students can use to get clarifications from you.  Give the sheet to each student and strategically place a few of them around the room as well.

     In other words, give your students the tools that they need in order to ask you for help when they need it.  You can even use students who catch on quickly to explain confusing concepts and vocabulary to other students.  The point of clarification is to get your students to understand the topics that you are attempting to communicate.  What better way to do this but to enlist other students and get them to practice by clarifying concepts for you.

Quantifiers English Conversation Worksheet

     The final clarification technique we will discuss is comprehension checks.  The last thing a teacher should ever assume is that everyone understands and simply ask "Do you understand?"  This never works.  Do this and watch as all your students give you the same blank stare, nod their heads and say "yes teacher."

     For this reason, teachers need to provide frequent points in a lesson where they can check in with their students to see if everyone is on the same page.  There will always be lost students.  It is the teacher's job to check in with them in order to keep them involved and not leave them behind.  

     It is a good idea to come up with some sort of signal that students can use to communicate their lack of understanding to their teacher.  I'm not talking about having students risk embarrassment by blurting out "I don't understand, teacher."  I'm talking about a creative and even fun signal that all students can use comfortably.  They can throw their arms up in front of their chest in a gigantic "X" symbol or even use a fake buzzer noise. 

     Watch how using animated gameshow gestures can change what was potentially a public admission of failure into a round of laughter directed at the teacher for not explaining the subject well enough.  This is fine and the students should not be chastised unless they are being rude, of course.  Teachers have big tough shoulders and should never blame a student for not understanding.  They should always accept the responsibility for students' lack thereof and keep trying other ways to reach the all of the students until understanding is attained.

Present Simple Tense Verb Be Conversatio

Present Simple with Verb Be English Conversation Worksheet

Subject Pronouns Conversation Worksheet

Subject Pronouns English Conversation Worksheet

Indefinite Pronouns Conversation Workshe

Indefinite Pronouns English Conversation Worksheet

Activities to Practice Speaking in English

     The last avenues for learning to speak Englishish that we will go over in this article are reading out loud or speaking to yourself, language exchange apps, and games.

     The first activity that you can ask your students to do requires nothing but some time and a reading resource.  Students can use anything from an online article to an entire novel.  The point is to get them to practice speaking by reading out loud.

     It takes about one hundred face muscles flexing and relaxing at the same time to produce speech.  As muscles have a memory and improve in elasticity and strength the more they are used, you need to get your students moving these muscles as much as possible.

     Most students won't have a native speaker to hang out with and practice while they are at home, so why not do the next best thing and read a native language author out loud.  Students can not only practice speaking but they can practice pronunciation as well.

     Like any other set of muscles, training them to behave in the manner necessary to speak the new language will likely be a bit painful at first.  However, students need to train their brains, mouths, and tongues to coordinate together in order to produce the sounds that the target language has, especially if their native language doesn't have them.

     Getting students to pay attention to what they are reading buy speaking the words out loud will not only help them improve their speaking skills but it will help them to improve their reading skills as well.

     Even if students don't have access to written material to practice speaking with, they can still practice out loud by having a conversation with themselves.  Due to the fact that spoken language is often different from written language, it is very important that students practice having conversations out loud.  If the students don't have the luxury of a partner then why not practice with themselves?  

     Talking to oneself can also be a great way for shy students to build confidence by practicing conversations they might have while in class.  Tell your students that talking to themselves may be uncomfortable at first and can even seem a little crazy.  Tell them to just try and find a solitary place before they begin to practice.  They might even have to whisper in order to keep their conversation from reaching the mocking ears of family members but they still need to practice.   ​

Imperatives Conversation Worksheet CP.jp

Imperatives English Conversation Worksheet

     Now, let's take practicing how to speak in English to the next level.  There are many excellent apps where students can practice with a native speaker online.  These apps are called "Language Exchange Apps."     

     Language Exchange Apps are a very popular way for language learners to help each other out.  The concept is simple.  Person A is a native speaker of language A but wants to learn language B.  Person B is a native speaker of language B and wants to learn language A.  Put the two of them together and voilà!  One person speaks their non-native language while the native speaker corrects and explains things to them, then they trade places.

     There is no method or syllabus, no structure or pressure either.  It's just two people with a mutual desire to speak to someone with a different native tongue and get help while helping in return.  Language exchanges are especially helpful for developing language proficiency by increasing fluency and comprehension skills of both parties.

     Language exchanges not only enhance listening and speaking skills but they help to improve reading and writing skills as well.  Most apps require that potential language partners communicate via email in order to decide if they want to video chat, which makes typing back and forth necessary.  The typing forces the participants to use all the possible ways of communication available to them, which in turn increases their ability to do so.

     The last activity type we will address is games.  Games are a great way to learn a language.  You may find this shocking, but I can't count the number of students I have had, whose language levels were quite high, that learned the target language solely by playing online video games.  How did this happen?  They were extremely motivated to get to the next level but couldn't get there until they learned the language associated with getting there.  By the time they finished an entire game they had established a pretty solid grasp of the language.

     Now, don't get me wrong, I don't believe that learning a language should be nothing but a game but I do believe it should be pretty close.  Remember the examples I gave you earlier on how children learn their native language?  I would venture to state that about ninety percent of learning is a game for them.  That's why they learn how to speak about ninety percent of their native tongue before they even crack open a book!

Health and Personal Hygiene Conversation

Health and Personal Hygiene English Conversation Order Cards

Conclusion

     So, how do you get students to speak?  There are hundreds of methods and tips that can be found in textbooks or circulating around the internet.  Whatever they may be, I think we can all agree on a few things.  As teachers, we need to stick to the target language no matter how inconvenient it or time consuming it may be, use clarification techniques that help our students stick to the target language, and provide activities or avenues for our students to practice the target language inside the classroom and at home.

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