Speaking is a complex skill and when you are learning to speak a new language it becomes all the more complex. In case of English language learning and teaching, in most primary schools, the entire focus is on teaching how to write and read English. But, being able to speak the language well is equally important. This skill is very often neglected and taken for granted. Speaking or talking is in fact labelled as ‘noise’ in schools, thus ignoring a very rich classroom resource. In fact, we need to develop children’s speaking skills by creating opportunities for it in the classroom.
In the early stages of learning, children will benefit from activities which call for repetition. This will help them remember vocabulary and ‘chunks’ of language and learn pronunciation naturally. Most of the language produced by children at this stage will be single words or short formulaic utterances. For example, How are you?, Thank you, You’re welcome. Young children tend to mix languages (with mother tongue or with other languages) when speaking, at times producing incomprehensible speech. Instead of explicitly correcting children and forcing them to speak just one language, teachers should remodel or recast what the children said keeping the meaning intact.
For children who are unwilling to speak or are not ready to participate in the speaking activities, it is extremely important to give them time to listen to and absorb the sounds of English. Forceful participation may backfire. Instead provide these children with plenty of opportunities to speak in the form of choral repetition of action rhymes or choral counting games. Introduce simple classroom routines in English like greeting one another, saying goodbye, asking for permission to go to the toilet or get crayons, etc. Through this daily routine make them aware of simple expressions such as I don’t understand./Can you repeat, please?; and formulaic expressions such as I think…, Maybe…, I don’t know.
The author teaches English at GITAM University, Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.