Get it from the horse’s mouth

Leena Anil

Teaching students to speak in a language which is not their own is a challenge, be it one or fifty students. The analogy that comes to mind is of learning the cuisine of another country. Take for example, French cuisine. If you are adventurous and want to bake your own bread, you might want to try baking a baguette. The battle with the baguette begins with pronouncing the word correctly, collecting the right ingredients and of course painstakingly following each step in bread making, so that the end product has a close resemblance to the French original. Most importantly, one has to repeat the process several times to come close to achieving perfection. Likewise, when teaching students to speak English, one has to follow a very systematic process of understanding how second language learning happens, the problems faced by learners and the solutions that can be worked out so that at the end of a “Course in Spoken English,” one can speak it with near native-speaker competence, though not literally with a native-speaker accent. As with learning any skill, one cannot over emphasise the importance of practice. Like cooking, cycling and swimming, speaking is also a skill, one of the four skills of language, the other three being listening, reading and writing. A skill is learnt through practice, and through application in daily life of what is learnt in the classroom. After you have baked your baguette, the real test will come when you serve it and people start eating it. Likewise, after you have completed your course in spoken English, the real test is when you open your mouth to speak.

According to Penny Ur, “Of all the four skills, speaking seems intuitively the most important: people who know a language are referred to as “speakers” of that language.” She goes on to describe the characteristics of a successful speaking activity as one where:

  1. learners talk a lot as against teacher talk.
  2. participation is even, where classroom discussion is not dominated by talkative students but where all get a chance to speak.
  3. motivation is high among learners who are eager to speak because of an interest in the topic and because they have something new to contribute.
  4. language is of an acceptable level of accuracy, with learners expressing themselves in relevant and easily comprehensible ways.

The author is an English teaching entrepreneur. She can be reached at linaneel@gmail.com.

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