Why is it hard to improve at speaking?

“I can’t be bothered”… “I am too shy”… “My level isn’t good enough”…

In the language learning classroom we have heard every excuse under the sun so as not to do speaking practice. It is the most important language skill to take advantage of in class time yet when it comes to speaking, it is seen as the hardest one to improve. But is this really true?

A student’s personality determines their own progress to an extent, some are willing to take risks and make mistakes whereas others are more reserved and do not want to stick their neck out. However, the simple truth is language is learnt through trail and error. If you don’t practice, you will never get better.

What can teachers do?

In class students and teachers alike should realize that using the target is the most important thing, regardless of mistakes. All students need to be encourages to speak as much as they can and not to worry about errors or accuracy.

The teacher can facilitate speaking in the classroom by setting short and frequent speaking tasks suitable for the level (A1-C2) of the students. This will motivate them to have a go and feel more confident. The focus does not always need to be on individual questions and teacher led learning. Try speaking partners, topics, descriptions, summaries and presentations to mix it up and keep it interesting.

In a nutshell

So, what we are saying is that classes need to shift the focus away from just conversation and base speaking activities on tasks or realia so that speaking becomes an integral part of participation in class because we all know that lack of participation leads to lack of progress!

Speaking isn’t really all that difficult to improve. If everyone has realistic expectations and a positive attitude, it can actually be one of the more gratifying.

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