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Teaching ‘speaking’ as a communicative skill

In the hierarchy of communication skills, speaking comes after listening. Although it is an oracy skill that does not require formal training for deployment, it, however, needs good training to be sharpened.

While it is easy to babble, waffle, gibber and do other things with spoken words, the business of being a good speaker is one that requires much more than the mere ability to put sounds into words and words into sentences.

When a person claims to know a language, the first assumption is that s/he can speak it. This, therefore, makes speaking a crucial aspect of second-language learning and teaching.

Hence, the rest of this piece will discuss what it means to teach or master the speaking skill, the different types of communicative competence in speaking, and the methods of teaching speaking.

First off, teaching or mastering speaking involves a number of things, with one of them being to correctly produce the speech sounds of the target language. One cannot be fluent in a language without the ability to produce the distinctive sounds of the language.

In English, for instance, a speaker should be able to differentiate between confusing pairs of sounds such as the initial consonants in ‘tin’ and ‘thin’ and the vowels in ‘sit’ and ‘seat’.

Another requirement for speaking a language fluently is the knowledge of sentence construction and an extensive vocabulary. While vocabulary is a person’s repertoire of words, sentence construction deals with the knowledge of how such words are combined to generate meaningful sentences.

A good speaker should know how similar words differ and in what context each should be deployed. As similar as they may seem, to ‘state’ is not to ‘declare’, and to ‘declare’ is not exactly to ‘affirm’.

Within the knowledge of sentence construction, sentence anomalies such as ambiguity and padding should be avoided.

Again, a good speaker must be mindful of context. The ‘w’ factors of communication (what, where, why, when) must all be borne in mind by a speaker.

Lastly, the mastery of speaking demands being able to use language to analyse societal issues and to present ideas logically without losing coherence.

Communicative competence is an approach to teaching a foreign or second language that deploys real-life situations that require communication.

Rather than presenting abstract ideas, this approach introduces learners to a language by giving them the opportunity to interact with the target audience.

This approach of language teaching is also mindful of the cultural background of the learners vis-à-vis what obtains in the source language. Real-life communicative events are created to sharpen the speaking skill.

There are two parameters to measure communicative competence, and the speaking skill must be taught in line with these parameters.

The first parameter is grammaticality, otherwise known as linguistic competence. This involves speaking a language in an intelligible manner.

It involves paying attention to the arrangement of words, punctuation, and other rules of permissibility in the language.

Such linguistic knowledge is an ultimate prerequisite for fluency in a language. The second parameter for communicative competence is appropriateness.

Appropriateness extends speaking ability beyond grammaticality and gives prominence to acceptability. When a speaker can use a language in an acceptable manner, such a speaker is said to have discourse competence.

This is where cultural knowledge and context come into use. Sometimes, grammatical competence is negotiated for discourse competence when a context so demands.

For instance, while the rule of grammar will rationalise a sentence like ‘It was I’, the informality of a context might make a speaker opt for ‘It was me’ as a more acceptable utterance.

Good speaking ability, therefore, demands a good blend of grammaticality and acceptability.

Lastly, there are methods of teaching speaking or growing one’s speaking ability. For starters, we have repetition which involves a teacher repeating words, particularly unfamiliar ones.

This, in turn, could spur learners to deploy them accurately.

Read also: Demystifying voice in English

Next, we have modelling that entails a teacher presenting a speaking engagement to learners. This will inform the learners’ knowledge of how to execute such an undertaking.

Also, for a language like English, a teacher can advise learners to listen intently to how native speakers speak on the BBC platform and so forth.

Then, we have collaboration which involves students or learners interacting with one another and engaging their teacher verbally as well.

In conclusion, it must be mentioned that the best way to learn to speak is by speaking.

To achieve speaking proficiency, language users must endeavour to consistently engage in constructive discussions in any language.

Teachers, too, must encourage their students to speak the target language more frequently.