The Linguist

The Linguist 54,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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12 The Linguist Vol/54 No/3 2015 FEATURES How can young language learners be encouraged to speak spontaneously? Amanda Barton investigates I enjoy speaking. I'm not so keen on the writing because I'm not very good at spelling it, but I can speak it better than I can write it.' If, like me, you have ever found your enthusiastic questioning met with a wall of silence in a classroom, these are heartening words. Not all students, it seems, are reluctant to speak; this view is especially encouraging since it was expressed by a 14- year-old boy I interviewed during my doctoral research. Many adolescents and adults are not as motivated to speak in the foreign language classroom however. Enabling students to speak spontaneously in the target language poses an even greater challenge for teachers. For those teaching the National Curriculum in state-maintained schools in England, it has become more of a priority since 2014. The new curriculum has an emphasis on learners being able to speak spontaneously by the end of Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). Personality is an important factor in determining attitudes to speaking. The more assertive and willing to take risks a student is, the more likely it is that they will contribute happily in front of their peers. It is easy for teachers to forget that speaking a foreign language can be an intimidating experience. So what strategies can be used to boost students' confidence in speaking? Student talk vs teacher talk A good starting point is to consider whether your own oral input stifles that of your students. Pupils' speaking skills can only be enhanced if they are given adequate opportunities to speak since, as Barnes noted: 'Watching expert acrobats does not lead to the audience performing somersaults, even if they might be able to recognise one'. 1 Consider asking a colleague to observe you in the classroom to monitor how your spoken input compares with your students', or watching a video of yourself teaching. There are strong arguments for increasing the number of opportunities for students to speak in pairs or groups. Shifting the emphasis away from public question-and-answer sessions has been shown to improve the performance of all students and especially those who are reticent. Pair work as warm up Pair work exercises can be useful at the beginning of a lesson as a means of attuning pupils to the foreign language. The following activities can be used to revise and consolidate vocabulary in an engaging way. Word tennis. Students 'bat' words back and forth to each other, miming a game of table tennis. This can be used to revise sequences of words, such as days of the week, months, numbers or the alphabet; with word fields, such as colours, adjectives and hobbies; or as a means of revising vocabulary covered in the previous lesson. For more energetic students, the game could become volleyball, with words thrown over an invisible net. How should I say it? One student takes on the role of teacher and instructs their partner, in the target language, how to describe their weekend or count from one to 50 – for instance, slowly, quickly, quietly, loudly. This is a good way of revising adverbs and the 'teacher' can choose to be more adventurous in their choice of adverbs, challenging their student to say the words in any number of ways, such as 'enthusiastically' or 'lazily'. The 'teacher' changes the adverb while their student is speaking by holding up a hand and giving a different adverb. Language auction. In pairs, students exchange as many words as they can on a topic. The teacher asks which pair can recall the greatest number of words – 'Who has five words? Who has six words? Ten words?' and so on – before challenging the pair that claims the greatest number to repeat them to the rest of the group. The information gap A major disincentive to speaking is being asked to speak for its own sake. When speaking has no purpose, or students are stating the obvious simply for the purpose of On target in speaking © SHUTTERSTOCK

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