Research (and the common sense) suggests that there is a lot more to speaking than the ability to form grammatically correct sentences and then to pronounce them. It typically takes place in real time, with little time for detailed planning.
What mechanisms allow us to speak?
Spoken fluency requires the capacity to arrange a store of memorised lexical chunks.
Moreover, since the grammar of spoken language differs from the grammar of written language, the study of written grammar may not be the most efficient preparation for speaking.
Speaking is a skill and as such it needs to be developed independently.
In order to achieve any degree of fluency, some degree of automaticity is necessary. Automaticity allows speakers to focus their attention on the aspect of the speaking task that immediately requires it, whether t is planning or articulation.
Automaticity is partly achieved through the use of prefabricated chunks.
In this sense speaking is like any other skill such as driving or playing a musical instrument: the more practice you get, the more likely it is you will be able to chunk small units into larger ones.
Speaking skills require more than just that:
Turn taking:speakers should take turns to hold the floor
The skills by means of which it becomes possible are as follows:
- recognising the appropriate moment to get a turn - signalling the fact that you want to speak
- holding the floor while you have your turn
- recognising when other speakers are signalling their wish to speak
- yielding the turn
- signalling the fact that you are listening
Different types of speech events
Service encounters, such as buying goods, getting information, or requesting a service, are transactional speech events that follow a predictable script. Typically, the exchange begins with a greeting, followed by an offer, followed by a request and so on:
- Good morning
What would you like?
A dozen eggs, please.
An important factor that determines the character of a speech event is whether it is interactive or non-interactive.
A casual conversation between friends is a typical example of an interactive speech event. Monologues such as a television journalist’s live report or a university lecture are non-interactive.
A distinctions is also to be made between planned and unplanned speech. Certain speech genres such as public speeches and business presentations are typically planned, to the point that they might be completely scripted in advance. A phone conversation to ask about timetable information, while following a predictable sequence, is normally not planned in advance.
Researchers of transcribed speech have demonstrated that the 50 most frequent words in spoken English make up nearly 50% of all talk.
The word well occurs about nine times more often in speech than in writing!!!
Well is an example of a discourse marker which is very common in interaction. Spoken language also has a high proportion of words and expressions that express the speaker’s attitude to what is being said: probably, maybe, really, actually etc.
Speakers achieve fluency through the use of prefabricated chunks:
These are sequences of speech that are not assembled word by word but have been preassembled through repeated use and are now retrievable as single units.
Chunks are also known as lexical phrases, holophrases, formulaic language and prefabs. Of the different types of chunks the following are the most common:
collocations: densely populated, set the table
phrasal verbs: run out of, go on about
idioms, catchphrases and sayings: make ends meet, as cool as a cucumber
sentence frames: what really puzzles me is…
social formulas: have a nice day, mind your head
discourse markers:if you ask me, by the way
Native speakers employ over 2,500 words to cover 95% of their communicative needs. Learners can probably get by half that number, especially for the purposes of casual conversation.
Even the top 200 most common words will provide the learner with a lot of conversational mileage, since they include:
Using listening as a tool for teaching speaking
- Authentic and non-authentic recordings
- Scripted recording incorporated features of natural speech
- Soap operas, documentaries, extracts from the films, radio and TV programmes, game shows
- Activating background knowledge
It may help to establish the topic or the content of the event, brainstorming vocabulary, the teacher can introduce new items
- Checking gist
Playing the extract and asking general gist questions like: Who is talking to whom about what and why? Repeated listening may be necessary
- Checking details
The learners may be set further tasks e.g. a grid to fill, a mutliple choice questions to answer
- Listen and read stage
hand out the transcript, replay the recording while the students listen silently
- resolving doubts
the students are given the opportunity to ask about any doubts or problems they have about the text
- focus on language features
filling in the gaps exercises, spot the difference exercises
- Focus on speech acts, focus on discourse markers, focus on sociocultiral rules, on features of spoken grammar, on vocabulary, on the use of lexical chunks, stress and intonation
Live listening – listening to the teacher or guest speaker
The main advantage is a possibility to adjust the speech and interactive character
The teacher introduced the topic e.g. of his brother by showing a family photograph. Then he told the story using natural but uncomplicated language and occasionally stopped to check understanding (e.g. to explain a term). During the story he used a number of time and sequencing expressions (eventually, all of a sudden, to cut a long story short etc.) At the end of the story the students are invited to ask questions.