Autonomous Learning and Speaking

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

Autonomous learning

It would be great if all our learners had a native English speaking language partner, but many students who come to live in London, and I assume other cities in Britain, often complain that they do not get much of a chance to practice their speaking with native speakers. They may work in shops where most of their colleagues have English as a second language, or, they live in accommodation where everyone comes from their country. Therefore they tend to speak in their mother tongue for most of the day. Even so, there are ways that students can help themselves improve their speaking.

Students often do not realise that speaking is a complex process, they tend to forget that it has taken them years to master their own language and they tend to kick themselves if they struggle in their new language.  I regularly use dialogue creation in the classroom to focus on speaking; it is usually as simple as giving a group of two or three students pictures of people, and asking them to create a dialogue between the people.  Dialogue allows learners time to think about the language they need to use and it often generates new lexis that either comes from the teacher or the group.  Giving them time to rehearse their dialogue until it begins to sound more fluent is very useful, because then you can focus on features of connected speech, which enhances fluency. Dialogue can be used for all levels and is something students can continue to create at home with any new words or expressions they have learnt.

Encouraging them to record their dialogues on their mobile phones at home and bring them to the class along with a gradual introduction to the phonemic script gives a certain amount of autonomy in speaking. Often, a lack of confidence in pronunciation can hinder fluency, so even when they do get the chance to speak to native speakers their concern about pronunciation can be a stumbling block, so, some basic knowledge of pronunciation is always beneficial.

Another way for learners to help their speaking is to replicate speaking section two of the IELTS speaking exam speaking part, or even the Cambridge exams; the student has to speak on a particular subject for a certain amount of time – this helps to improve fluency. Recording themselves is very useful, they can use you the teacher as a resource for feedback on pronunciation etc. Of course the ideal situation is to have English speaking friends, but if that is not immediately possible, I believe these are viable alternatives until they do.

Cambridge Speaking Exam

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