Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What is speaking?

Speaking is an interactive process of constructing meaning that involves producing and receiving and processing information (Brown, 1994; Burns & Joyce, 1997).  Speaking is also spontaneous and open ended but it is also not always unpredictable.  A speaker not only needs to know how to produce the specific parts (such as grammar, pronunciation, or vocabulary) of language but also needs to know how to produce language in social situations (pragmatics).  Speech has its own skills, structures, and conventions different from written language (Burns & Joyce; 1997; Carter & McCarthy, 1995).  When a speaker is involved in a speaking exchange, many different skills are involved in the process.  A speaker needs to be able to anticipate and then produce a correct response when in a speaking exchange.  Turn-taking, rephrasing, providing feedback, or redirecting (Burns & Joyce, 1997) are all elements that a speaker must manage in a speaking exchange.  Other skills a proficient speaker of English would need include:
·         Producing the sounds, stress patterns, rhythmic structures, and intonations of the language;
·         Using grammar structures accurately;
·         Assessing characteristics of the target audience
·         Selecting vocabulary that is understandable and appropriate for the audience
·         Applying strategies to enhance comprehensibility, such as emphasizing key words, rephrasing, or checking for listener comprehension;
·         Using gestures or body language; and
·         Paying attention to the success of the interaction and adjusting components of speech (Brown, 1994).
There are many components that are needed in order for a person to be a proficient speaker.  As a student learning the English language a teacher needs to determine what skills and knowledge a student already has and what areas needs support and development.  If an ESL student is not able to appropriately use speaking skills, the message to a listener will not be able to be understood.  Whether an ESL student is in or out of a classroom, language functions are used to express meaning.

Here is a speaking conversation between two people:

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