For some students the prospect of talking in their target language in front of a group of their peers, or even worse the whole class, is their ultimate nightmare. Research on the topic suggests that students fear making an embarrassing mistake or forgetting what they had intended to say. Others worry that their audience will simply not be interested in what they have to say, whilst some students simply hate the idea of being the centre of attention.
And, of course, for some students there’s the added complication of not having the confidence and skill to speak in front of the group in their non-native language. But helping learners to build these skills is a core part of the language educator’s role – so how can teachers help students speak confidently in public using their target language?
We’ve identified eight simple tools and techniques that will help you to make the difference! Do also check out our previous post on “helping students to overcome foreign language speaking anxiety”.
1. Positive classroom atmosphere
For all students to improve their public speaking skills, it is vital that educators insist on a classroom culture that is accepting, supportive and respectful. Every student (and teacher) will make mistakes so it’s important to ensure that any disrespect during a student’s presentation or talk is quickly dealt with. Students should not be using their phones, talking to classmates, laughing, whispering etc.
As part of this, it is important for teachers to emphasise that everyone in the classroom will get things wrong, but that we’re all here to learn and improve. Over time, students should see public speaking tasks as a chance to showcase their hard work and demonstrate their interests, knowledge and skills, rather than painful form of medieval torture!
2. Time to prepare
Given all of the challenges that students face when speaking publicly, a good first step can be to give them a brief period (5 minutes) to plan and prepare their response. This gives them the opportunity to think through their argument / response, to check any vocabulary they might need and helps them to feel more confident and prepared to tackle the task you’ve set.
It’s worth reiterating that they should leave any notes in their seats when it’s their turn to speak. It’s not a reading task after all. And of course, their prep time can be reduced over a series of lessons as they build their fluency and skills.
3. Time to practise
As well as giving students time to prepare, it can be important, particularly for graded or longer speaking tasks, to give students time to practise and rehearse. This gives them the opportunity to run through their intended speech, ironing out any errors or misunderstandings. This approach also gives educators the chance to answer any questions students might have or to offer feedback.
Of course, a careful balance is required here. The aim is not to test students’ powers of memory and retention, although that’s obviously useful when learning a new language! It’s also important not to give students too long to practise as the task can then become something that students obsess over – which only increases the tension and concern they feel.
4. Give structure
Another key element of scaffolding the task can be to give students’ a clear structure to work with. This gives them a skeleton that they can use for each type of speaking task (e.g debate, presentation, etc.) onto which they can add their own content and ideas. It could, for example, include starters and conversational phrases so that students can just start talking!
It can also be helpful for educators to provide structure across a series of lessons. This shows students the end goal (e.g you’ll deliver a 5 minute presentation on X) and the steps they’ll take in order to get there. Again this scaffolding can be increased or reduced depending on the students’ requirements.
5. Careful content curation
One of the best ways to encourage your students to talk openly in the class is to choose topics / themes that get them engaged and enthusiastic to contribute. This could include local / national news stories or wider global issues such as climate change. Having a good understanding of your students and their backgrounds will help you know which topics to prioritise and which might be too boring for them to talk about.
6. Focus on fluency
As well as choosing engaging topics, try to focus the speaking task away from fact-based issues. Students have enough worries about speaking publicly that they don’t need to be concerned about getting specific dates or other facts right. A whole class debate about smoking should, for example, focus on their thoughts on the topic rather than the fact that the National No Smoking Act became law in 1876. In this way students can focus on their use of persuasive language without the fear of being wrong.
We know that teachers wrestle the dilemma of whether to correct every mistake that students make during a speaking task. But, as we argued in a recent blog post, it’s important to recognise that the majority of language learners are focused on using their language skills outside of the classroom, so building fluency is key. Educators should aim to help students to be accurate enough to be understood – building fluent, confident and competent communicators is much more important.
7. Decent delivery
In order to deliver a fluent speaking task, there are a number of key areas for your students to focus on. These can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and impact of their speech.
- Pace: In the rush to get the task finished, students often talk too quickly. It can therefore be difficult to understand what’s being said and the key messages are lost. Encourage students to take their time and to focus on enunciating each word properly.
- Volume: Again if the audience cannot hear you, then the meaning is unclear and not well communicated. Try to raise your voice, your volume and speak up. Even if a student does make a mistake, their audience will at least be able to understand them.
- Be confident: Even if students don’t feel confident on the inside, it’s important that they look like they do on the outside. Encourage them to stand tall, keep their heads up, use their hands and other body language approaches to support their argument, make eye contact with the audience and smile!
- Relax: It’s important for students to remember that learning a language isn’t easy. It takes time and patience and they will make mistakes along the way. If they do something wrong, help them to quickly forget about it and move on.
There’s a huge amount that educators can do to help students build these skills, which are just as applicable to speaking tasks in their native languages too!
8. Always give feedback
Whilst highlighting and correcting every mistake that a student makes can be incredibly destructive, there’s a real power in giving all students objective, specific feedback after every speaking task.
Feedback can be provided by an educator or another student to help learners understand how well they are using the target language. It can provide a general indication of ability relating to key skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing) or to specifically identify areas that need further work (e.g grammar and pronunciation).
As outlined in our earlier blog post, high-quality feedback helps improve the fluency, accuracy or complexity of learners’ speaking and writing. It can also develop learner autonomy and motivate learners by showing them a clear path to success. Students can build on and use previous feedback to help increase their confidence each time they speak.
How can Sanako help to develop your students’ public speaking skills?
Sanako Connect is perfectly suited for helping students speak confidently and develop their overall speaking skills. Educators can easily divide students into pairs or small groups for live conversation practice. Each group of students can then talk simultaneously without distracting each other. Teachers can listen in or talk with different groups to assist as required. All group and pair conversations can be easily recorded and reviewed for feedback after the event, rather than interrupting live conversations.
That feedback can be given directly to individual students or simultaneously to the entire class via a text-based message or a shared audio file. Educators can also record oral feedback and are even able to target their comments to particular points of the student’s recorded oral submission!
If you’d like to find out more about how Sanako Connect could help improve your students’ public speaking skills, please contact us now to arrange your FREE demo!