Speaking Skills: The Why And The How? Paul Bresson In MET

In the October 2006 issue of Modern English Teacher, Bresson starts Speaking Skills: What Are They And How Can We Teach Them? by distinguishing between a fluent and a non-fluent speaker. I think it’s important to realize from the outset that the meaning of “fluent” in ELT terminology is somewhat different from the meaning of “fluent” in common discourse.

People speak of being “fluent” in a language to imply a very high level of proficiency, or even something akin to bilingualism. In ELT, as Bresson explains, a fluent speaker is one who is confident, who uses full sentences and groups of sentences and who speaks with “reasonable” phonology [I take this to mean pronunciation] and speed. In my understanding of the term, it makes sense to compare the fluency of two pre-intermediate students: they obviously lack much grammar and vocabulary, but they can still potentially speak with a level of fluency appropriate to their level.

Bresson’s main tips for teaching speaking skills include:

1. Set up free-speaking activities very carefully – give your students ideas to work with, build up their confidence gradually by moving in stages, and very importantly, give clear instructions.

2. Provide a good model for them to follow…and stick to it! You might demonstrate a dialog yourself with a stronger student, or if you ask students to tell a story you might start with one of your own.

3. Give individual attention if students have trouble with phonology – you can circulate and monitor while they do the activity and step in if there are comprehension problems.

4. Do speed drills before you being – this might mean repeating one of the phrases they’ll use and clicking/snapping your fingers in time to show the rhythm and then having them repeat it. I have to admit I am sometimes hesitant to do this – but if you can “sell it” and believe in it, it can be a useful tool.

5. Finally, do sometimes give students the opportunity to practice freer speaking activities where they don’t have an exact model or formula to follow. Make an effort to personalize these to incorporate students’ own ideas.

For a few speaking activities from the TEFL Logue, try Two Questions, Alibi, or Two Fun Roleplays.