The speaking area of learning a language presents the most difficult challenge for most language learners. Why, you may ask. There are a number of reasons for that which I will go into shortly. The other main areas, listening, reading and writing of course have their challenges and there may well be some who struggle more in one of those areas.
The four skills compared
I don't mean to say the other areas are easy. They are just less demanding when compared to speaking. Listening is a receptive skill that requires you to master a lot to be able to listen accurately. However it is not productive, like speaking, so it places less demands on you. Reading and writing can be mastered by means of study. They certainly have their challenges, especially the higher you go. However they don't require you to master voice production and they don't require you to be creative from moment to moment as speaking does. We typically don't have time to think, plan or work out what we are going to say in conversations.
Speaking as a skill
Every one talks about speaking as a skill. However, the reality is that once people start talking about what they do to learn/teach (either students or their teachers), there is a mismatch. Most of the exercises that we see in this area appear to assume that language is knowledge that needs to memorised.
Who studies basketball, driving or baking? Sure, there may be courses in them, but no basketball player, driver or baker will ever say that their course is what made them great. In fact, all of these skills you can learn to a high level without ever attending any course. Just as we did with our first language.
No one who learns a skill goes about memorising lists, rules or anything else. They learn them mainly through the act of doing. Some reference may be made at times ( like road rules) but they form a very small part of the actual skill development.
Skills are fundamentally learned by doing. The more realistic the situation, the better it is. I am not saying classes or courses do not have a place. I am saying that when we learn a language we have to completely respect the fact that we are learning a skill.
Doing anything else will be leading us to unnecessary struggle. No wonder so many people struggle to learn to speak a second language!
Making the job more difficult
So, already we face a considerable challenge in learning to speak. It is made even more difficult by traditional teaching and learning practices. I could spend a lot of time on this as I have seen at first hand as a teacher and as teacher educator just what recommended practices and materials look like.
One of the key reasons why so many of these practices have problems because they don't recognise that speaking English fluently and confidently is all about skill. Not about knowledge. Yet so many of the practices we see are all about that. I will pose here a question for you to reflect on. "Who uses memorisation practices to learn or improve a skill such as basketball, dancing, fishing or music?"
By what they "do", their memory of course is activated. However you will never find a basketball player trying to memorise how to shoot a basket! Instead they just shoot baskets and look and see what others do. Sometimes they will get a piece of advice from a coach. That's it!
Just be aware that many of the practices you have used or may be using may be flawed. Not looking around to see what actually works will cause your progress to be slow or even worse!
Speaking relies on 3 main skill areas
- Placing meaning into language
- Structuring how you put language together
Each one of these areas presents challenges to the learner. Ignoring any one of them or not sufficiently mastering that area will cause problems to appear in your speaking.
In the posts below you will find a lot more detailed insight as to what to do and not do to improve your speaking. As well you will find the reasons why these suggestions are made.
Speaking as a Learning Approach
This post examines why improving through speaking it (compared to studying or using writing) is the best way to proceed, IF your aim is to speak it confidently and fluently.
Trying to speak after you have "learned" something from a book or from study is always going to be a more difficult route.
Can Repetition Help Your Learning?
Repetition is used widely, but is it really effective in helping you to become more expressive, fluent and comfortable in speaking. Read this post to find out what many repetition practices should be avoided. And also find out what kind of practices can actually help you move forward.
Lifting the Lid on Mastering English Stress
Stress in English presents unique challenges for those wishing to speak English. It does so because English speakers use not just their mouths to produce the right kind of stress. Find out what you need to do by listening in to pronunciation expert, Dr. Piers Messum.
Is Imitation effective
Imitation is used my many as a main tool to improve pronunciation. Is it all that effective in producing the kinds of results we want?
Is there anything we can do to make it more effective?
Conversation Skills ARE Important
If you want to improve your speaking skills, you need to create opportunities to use your English a LOT. Your conversation skills will help you or hold you back.
Find out here what you can do improve them in English!
A Five Step Process to Improve your Speaking
These steps will help you master pronunciation issues you may have. The reason why many people struggle with their pronunciation is twofold. It is either because they are using methods that are not fit for purpose OR they are approaching the problems in an ad hoc way.
The techniques you may have learned from schools, books or courses are based on ideas that have long since been discredited. It is important to look around for ways that work and not think that somehow you are flawed. You are not!
Effective Grammar Practice
Improving the "accuracy" of how you speak (in terms of grammar) is all about how you learn and practice. Studying grammar rules and doing grammar exercises will seldom of itself improve how you speak.
There is a lot more required. This post will take you through and show you the kind of practices you can use to improve your speaking in this area.
Taking Your Learning Deeper
Language Learning Unlocked
This book will help you discover just what has been slowing your learning down AND what you can do not only speed it up but also to make it more rewarding and enjoyable.
There are numerous practical ideas throughout the book to help you take into your practice what sounds like commonsense. Learning a language should not be endlessly frustrating and snail like in progress.
Read this book to find out what you need to turn that corner! More information here.
You may well be accepting a quality of pronunciation that is well below what you could achieve. This can happen because the methods you are using do not use what we now know about how adults learn AND retain what they have learned.
Download this Ebook now