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Senin, 31 Mei 2010

How to teach speaking?

The first thing to keep in mind is that when we are helping our language students learn to speak English, we are not actually teaching them to speak. Unless they are infants, they already know how to do that. What we are really helping them with falls into three categories

1. improving fluency (speaking smoothly)
2. improving pronunciation (saying words properly)
3. improving enunciation (Saying words/phrases clearly - I think this includes word and sentence intonation)

Some would say that vocabulary, grammar, and cultural usage also fall into how we teach speaking, but I'd say that while they are critical, they are not only in the domain of speaking. Speaking is about using our mouth and vocal cords to make sounds that people understand as language. It certainly involves other elements like grammar and vocabulary, but they aren't the core of it.

Improving Fluency

Fluency comes from practice - plain and simple. However it needs to be practice that involves extended use of the language and use of extended sentences. You can not build fluency by repeating single words or short phrases. Fluency at its heart relates to being able to speak for longer periods of time in a smooth way. Broadly speaking, here are a few things that can help build fluency:

1. speeches or presentations
2. group discussions
3. role plays
4. negotiations and debates
5. interviews and meetings
6. chatting in small groups

Improving Pronunciation

Pronunciation is the ability to say words properly with the correct sounds in the correct places. This is a skill that can take a VERY long to develop, but with consistent work and practice, it can be done. There are two keys to proper pronunciation 1) tons of native speaker input and 2) tons of speaking by the learner with native speakers. However, practice and lessons that target specific trouble areas can make a huge difference in a student's ability to deal with issues in pronunciation.

1. working on specific vowels
2. working on trouble consonants (e.g. th for French speakers)
3. working on understanding movement and location of mouth and tongue when making sounds

Improving Enunciation

Enunciation is speaking clearly - perhaps better understood by its opposite which is mumbling or slurring words. Enunciation is a very important aspect of speaking in that poor enunciation can make someone almost impossible to understand. Again improvements in enunciation come from exposure to native speakers, and plenty of natural practice. Of course focused work targeting problem areas can help a great deal as well. Things that can be done to help with enunciation include:

1. focused work on trouble word combination
2. working on reductions (want to –> wanna)
3. working on sentence level stress points
4. working on word level stress points (e.g. differences between noun/verb forms of same word record/record)
5. working on sentence level intonation patterns

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