Speaking Skills in TEFL

Speaking is one of the four main language skills. In general it is the second skill to be acquired after listening‏‎. Later comes reading‏‎ and writing‏‎.

There are many areas to speaking and this article looks at the main concerns you, as a teacher, should have here.

General Ideas about Speaking


Before expecting the class to speak, you need to prepare them for the task. This helps in taking away nerves and helps avoids the situation where a student is standing there with nothing to say.

Give the students the topic of the conversation and allow them a few minutes to think about it. Perhaps they can make written notes, reference for the points they wish to cover. Although this sounds formal, it can be used with the most commonplace of conversations, even about such subjects as the weather or a football match that afternoon.

For example, suppose you are going to get the class to discuss what they did at the weekend. Ask them to write down four or five things which they did at the weekend in preparation. At this time you might go over specific vocabulary‏‎ so students have the words they need ready.

The main idea behind the preparation is that when it comes to speaking your students can concentrate on how to say something rather than get bogged down in what to say.

Real Life Speaking

Teach only real-life speaking. There’s no need to present to them stilted speech patterns. In order to do this your students need as much exposure as possible to genuine language and speakers. This can be done through movies, guests, podcasts and so on.

In other words, you should provide your students with a good model which they can follow. This might be the time to introduce drills where common speech patterns can be covered.

Also give your students plenty of practice in the different types of speaking we have. Think about how you use the spoken language each day and transfer this to the classroom, e.g.

  • talking to friends
  • on the phone
  • telling a joke
  • asking directions
  • discussing a news item with an acquaintance
  • asking your boss for a pay rise

And of course there are other types of speaking which your students may need help with:

  • job interviews
  • giving a presentation

A needs analysis‏‎ will tell you what kind of speaking your students need.

Error Correction

Don’t get too bogged down in details at the beginning. If the students have certain pronunciation problems, for example, don’t interrupt the lesson or their speaking to correct them. Save it for later. This helps develop fluency first, accuracy later.

The same holds true, of course, for all errors. Do not interrupt but instead make a quick note for later. If you find that a lot of the class are making the same mistake then deal with it outside the speaking activity in a separate element of the lesson.

Maximizing Speaking Time

As a teacher your English needs no practice. However, your students must practice speaking as much as possible therefore it is best to minimize teacher talking time‏‎ to allow your students to speak more!

You can do this in several ways:

  • Don’t repeat yourself
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Wait for an answer

In the same way, try to involve the whole class in speaking activities since it’s often the case that some louder students will dominate the proceedings. You can use strategies such as choosing a student at random here to make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.

Speaking Sub-Skills

Depending on the level and ability of your students, in the sphere of speaking there are several sub-skills worth looking at:

  • pronunciation
  • using stress, rhythm and intonation‏‎ well enough so that people can understand what is said
  • using the correct forms of words
  • word order
  • using appropriate vocabulary
  • using the appropriate language register
  • building an argument

These sub-skills go towards the main goal of teaching speaking: being able to hold a steady, understandable conversation. They are often dealt with on a as-needs basis rather than as general lessons.

Useful Links

Language Skills in TEFL– a look at the main skills in TEFL

Correcting Spoken English – the best way to correct speaking errors from your students

Accuracy vs Fluency in TEFL – which is more important?

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Posted in Language Skills.

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