speaking skills

You study a foreign language, English in this case, because you want to learn to use this language correctly and appropriately in different contexts and for many reasons: for future studies, travel, a future job (maybe the “job of your dreams” is abroad) and so on. The reason why you are learning English however, is that you want to learn to communicate in English competently.

The speaking skill is undoubtedly the most important among the skills needed to successfully communicate in a foreign language. This is why English teachers keep encouraging their students to take advantage of  e v e r y  opportunity, whether inside the classroom or outside, to practise their speaking skills.

It’s not very difficult to find opportunities to talk in English if you go to Britain or travel. Or, lucky you!, maybe an English native speaker lives in your town, and you can talk to him/her in English. These are such great opportunities you shouldn’t miss any.

On the other hand, there aren’t many opportunities to talk in English at school, apart from the situations created by the teacher in class, from greetings or short conversations to role-playing activities or a communicative game. These activities however, cannot be carried out over a long period of time, as lessons also have to focus on the development of the other skills and on the content of the syllabus. Apart from that, the high number of students in each class doesn’t allow much time to the development of the speaking skills of each student.

However, the real problem seems to be that when confronted with a communicative task, sometimes even a short, simple conversation with another person (usually their English teacher or another student) students are very often shy, and prefer not to say anything because they’re feeling embarrassed and are afraid of making mistakes. Whether a student is shy, embarrassed or afraid, what actually happens is that students really feel linguistically “paralyzed”, to the point that they do not even seem to be able to say anything or to understand a very simple word or sentence that the other person in front of them is saying, with the result that no communication (and therefore no practice of speaking skills) is possible.

What’s more, things don’t seem to be better if students are asked to talk about a topic they should have studied in English. Most of the times, the effort students make to organize their thoughts while speaking about that topic is so great and all-absorbing that they forget to consider other important communicative elements, like pronunciation or grammar, for example.

So, what can be done to overcome, or “bypass” these problems? How can you develop your speaking skills in an effective way?

More than one solution could be suggested, though not all of them may be THE definite solution. Nevertheless, they may be of help.

The most obvious solution would be to spend some time abroad, in an English speaking country. But unfortunately this is not always possible. However, maybe you might start talking to your parents at home about going to the UK next summer! 😉

The less obvious solution, which also involves a great effort from you, is to reconsider your learning strategies as far as speaking English is concerned, and slightly modify your study skills in order to integrate them with your writing or reading English skills. For example, try applying the suggestions you found in “how to develop your writing skills” also to the way you organize your oral production! And don’t forget that.. reading is a perfect habit to develop your writing skills… but also to develop your speaking skills!

Just remember…

– when speaking in English, always keep in mind the topic you’re talking about

– to help memorize a topic you are studying, try dividing it into simple sentences that have a simple structure and use mainly words that you already know. In this way you won’t have to concentrate on the pronunciation of all words, as you already know most of them

– if you know how to draw a concept map, you can use it to revise the topic. If not, try using your visual memory

– DO NOT translate any piece of information from your own language into English! This activity is completely USELESS and TIME WASTING. What’s more, it won’t help you learn the topic better, as it keeps your mind tied to the Italian language

– when you feel you need a few seconds to recall something to your mind, fill the conversational pause (i.e., the silence) with “fillers”,  words or utterances like “er…” or “uhm”

if you don’t remember a word while you’re speaking in English, simply say so or ask for the word (“sorry, I can’t remember the English for…….”).

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