HOW TO UPGRADE
YOUR SPEAKING SKILL
By: Saverinus Kaka
ENGLISH is now the universal language. If you need to get ahead you have to have a good mastery of the English language. In our national curriculum, English is still a foreign language, not the second language. That is why most English teachers are still teaching the language as a subject or just to understand the language itself. The teaching and learning is oriented on how to know the content (the language) and to answer the test. But now, in accordance with the need of English as the worldwide medium of communication, the teaching and learning of English should be oriented on the real-contextual and meaningful usage.
This article will emphasize that in speaking classes, learners must be exposed to three key items:
1. Form-Focused Speaking
When learners first begin to speak in another language their speaking will need to be based on some form-focused learning. Based on the writer’s experiences in teaching speaking for the beginners, it is an effective way to learn to speak a language. It will enable the learners to improve the language and grasp it by themselves outside the classroom.
The speaking activities can be started on some useful, simple memorized phrases and sentences. A teacher can begin the speaking activities by giving the learners some common greetings, simple personal descriptions, and simple questions and answers. All the activities can be practiced in Repetition drills.
The teacher first says a phrase or sentence (for example; “What is your name?”) several times and then asks the class to repeat. Some learners can be called on to repeat individually. Then the teacher says the answer (answer; My name is James) and the learners repeat again. Then they repeat it by changing the answer with their own names. By the same question and answer, the learners can take turns to do with friends.
Having done the simple practice and repetition, the teacher can change the object of the question with others words, such as; What is your hobby? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite animal? And so forth. To avoid boring atmosphere, the teacher needs to find out ways of varying repetition activities, so it will keep the learners interested and continuously practice the language.
The use of drills, however, should be seen as merely one kind of form-focused activity that needs to be balanced with other types of form-focused activities, as well as with meaning-focused and fluency development activities. Drills play a useful part in a language course in helping learners to be formally accurate in their speech and in helping them to quickly learn a useful collection of phrases and sentences that allow them to start using the language as soon as possible.
2. Meaning-Focused Speaking
Beside form-focused speaking, language learners should also be exposed to and given opportunities to practice and use meaning-focused communication, in which they must both produce and listen to meaningful oral communication. The following are some ways to explore the learners’ skill in speaking;
- For beginning learners, the oral speaking can be started by giving each learner a number and a topic. The topics could be about family, hobbies, sports, school activities, colors, traveling, and so forth. Then all the learners are requested to take a number and a topic. Having got them, each learner can think about their topics for a minute or two and then the teacher calls a number. The learner with that number then says two or three sentences about his or her particular topic. The speaker then calls a number and the learner with that number has to ask the speaker a question or two related to the topic just spoken about. When the question is answered, the questioner calls for another number to do the same. After several times then the speaker calls the number of a new person who will speak about the topic that she or he was given. Then he or she will do the same steps as the first learner has already done.
- Before the learners speak on a topic, they can work in pairs or groups of three or four to prepare it. This gives the learners the chance to learn new items from each other. Here is an example using a same or different information gap activity. Then each learner can describe pictures or topics to each other. Without looking at other learner’s picture or topic, the opponent speaker must response to the description whether it is the same or different. All learners can take changes in practicing this way.
- The learners are given topics to talk about. They prepare at home, using dictionaries, reference texts, reading sources, and so forth. Each learner has to choose a short and interesting article from an English language newspaper to present to the class. The learner must not read the article aloud to the class but must describe the main points of the article. The class should then ask the presenter questions.
3. Fluency focused speaking
Fluency in speaking is the aim of many language learners. Signs of fluency include a reasonably fast speed of speaking and only a small number of pauses. These signs indicate that the speaker does not have to spend a lot of time searching for the language terms needed to express the message. There are some techniques for developing fluency;
a. The learners can be called to read certain reading or text in a limited time given by their teacher. The learners should be completed reading the text on the exact time provided.
b. The learners choose a topic or are given a topic with which they are very familiar. Then they try to explain the topic given as fast as possible with the limited time provided.
c. The learners can be led to work in groups of about four people. First they read a given text carefully until they have reached a good understanding of it. They discuss their understanding of the text to make sure everything is fairly clear. Then each learner takes turn to retell the text in their own word, and others will deliver some questions. Then the next learners utter the tasks again in turn, like role plays.
The writer is the headmaster of SMA Tarsisius II, West Jakarta,
This article has also been published in Inside Tehnology Magazine, Vol. 3. August 2008.