Teaching speaking in L2 contexts
Minh Thi Thuy NGUYEN and Willy A RENANDYA, 14 July 2022
Renandya, W.A., & Nguyen, T.T.M. (2023). Teaching Speaking L2 Contexts. In E. Hinkel, (Ed.), Handbook of Practical Second Language Teaching and Learning. Routledge.
Speaking in a second or foreign language often poses special challenges. Student speakers need to posses a variety of knowledge and skills, and coordinate these in real time when communicating orally with their peers, teachers or other speakers of the language. They need to know not only basic knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, but also the skills of using this knowledge for a variety of communicative purposes, e.g., how to converse with people in formal or informal settings, how to recount a past event, how to give directions to strangers and how to give a presentation in an academic setting. This chapter explores the kinds of knowledge and skills that L2 learners need to develop during the course of their study, and offers suggestions on how the teaching of speaking can best be approached in L2 classroom contexts.
One of the most important goals of learning English in a second or foreign learning (L2) context is to be able to speak the language for a variety of communicative purposes. However, in many L2 learning contexts, students often find it challenging to express themselves fluently in the target language (TL). They may be able to listen or read with a fair degree of comprehension and they may even be able to communicate in writing, but communicating orally in the language poses a special challenge. They often report experiencing a wide range of speaking-related problems such as lack of vocabulary and grammar knowledge, poor pronunciation skills, lack of knowledge about how to start, maintain and end a conversation politely and lack of confidence when speaking with more competent speakers of English. This chapter discusses the nature of L2 speaking by drawing on the work of L2 speaking scholars such as Burns and Goh (2012), Newton and Nation (2020), and Richards (2008), and also our own experiences teaching English to L2 learners. The chapter explores the kinds of knowledge and skills that L2 learners need to develop during the course of their study, and offers suggestions on how the teaching of speaking can best be approached in L2 classroom contexts. We first begin by discussing speaking as product and process highlighting areas that have important implications for teaching and learning.
Speaking as product and process
Learning to speak in a second language involves learning to produce different types of discourse or speaking genres for different social and communicative purposes. Brown and Yule (1983) distinguish between socially and pragmatically motivated speeches. Socially motivated speech or interactional talk primarily serves social functions such as establishing and maintaining social relationships. Examples of this type of discourse are making small talk, jokes, and casual conversations. Pragmatically motivated speech or transactional talk involves exchanging information, or goods and services, and hence has primary information focus. Examples of this type of talk include asking for information at the information centre, ordering food at the restaurant, making a complaint at customer services, and so on.
Most interactions in real life involve elements of both types of talk. For example, a business meeting can also involve some interpersonal exchanges even though the primary function of the meeting is transactional (Burns, 2013). Expanding Brown and Yule’s (1983) framework, Richards (2008) distinguishes between talk as interaction (e.g. small talk, casual conversations and personal recounts), talk as transaction (e.g. classroom discussion, problem-solving, booking accommodation, exchanging currency, etc.), and talk as performance (e.g. public talk, classroom presentations, lectures, etc.). Each type of talk requires specific skills. For example, the skills involved in using talk as interaction include, among others, knowing how to open and close conversations, using adjacency pairs, turn taking, interrupting, and reacting to others. Those involved in using talk as transaction are explaining, describing, asking for clarification and confirming understanding, justifying an opinion, making suggestions and so on. Using talk as performance requires knowledge of appropriate format, maintaining coherence and cohesion, engaging with and creating an effect on the audience, and using careful oral language style (Richards, 2008). In order to communicate effectively in the real word, learners need to develop the ability to produce various types of talk not only accurately and appropriately for the sociocultural context in which they are interacting, but also fluently. Hence, speaking is never an easy skill to acquire, especially for foreign language learners who do not get to regularly hear and use the target language in naturalistic settings.
According to Goh (2016, p.145), as a complex skill, speaking “involves dynamic interactions of mental, articulatory and social processes”. Cognitively, speaking involves the speaker firstly deciding on what to say (the process of conceptualisation) and then constructing (the process of formulation) and uttering (the process of articulation) the message in TL using necessary linguistic and sociocultural knowledge (Levelt, 1989). The capacity to select content for the speech requires not only knowledge of the topic but also awareness of the type (e.g. formal presentation versus casual conversation) and context of interaction (e.g. participants, topic and settings) involved. Formulating what to say involves selecting and making use of lexical and grammatical means (e.g. words, phrases and sentences) to make meaning. This process requires effective retrieval of linguistic and sociocultural knowledge from the long-term memory to deliver in real time one’s message. Finally, articulation requires mastery of the sounds and sound patterns to be able to physically produce the speech (Burns & Hill, 2013; Goh, 2016). The three mental processes can take place in a linear manner (learners engaging in mental planning of what to say before formulating and producing it) or at the same time (e.g. in the production of impromptu speeches) (Goh, 2016).
Depending on the learner’s proficiency, the production of speech may not be an automatic process, but a conscious and challenging one (Hardace & Guvendir, 2018). Spontaneous interaction may put a great deal of processing and production demands on learners. Low proficiency learners may have to spend more time on planning and rehearsing their messages to compensate for the lack of fluency (Hardace & Guvendir, 2018), or use communicative strategies to delay the production (Goh, 2016). They may also engage in self-monitoring (checking their message in terms of accuracy and appropriateness) and evaluation (judging how effectively the message is delivered and to what extent communicative goals are achieved), which can happen at the end of an utterance or the whole speech event (Goh, 2016). Due to the processing difficulty and hence risk of face loss involved, the learner may experience anxiety and resistance when speaking. As such, speaking is not only a complex mental process but also a demanding affective process that needs to be adequately addressed in the speaking lesson (Burns & Hill, 2013).
According to Goh (2016) and Goh and Burns (2012), speaking competence requires the mastery of various enabling skills, strategies and types of knowledge, and developing speaking proficiency “involves increasing the ability to use these components in order to produce spoken language in a fluent, accurate and socially appropriate way, within the constraints of a speaker’s processing” (Burns, 2013, p. 1967). In terms of knowledge, learners need to understand grammar in relation to spoken language and different types of speaking genres (Goh, 2016; Goh & Burns, 2012). Spoken language has distinct characteristics that reflect the “demands of face-to-face interaction and the real time synthesis of talk” (McCarthy, 1998, p. 77). The basic units of spoken language are not sentences but clauses (utterances), often linked together by means of conjunctions (and, then, so, etc.). It also involves frequent use of formulaic expressions (e.g. you know, I mean, a bit), informal language, ellipsis, discourse markers (e.g. right, so, well), personal pronouns and other performance related features such as hesitations, pauses, fillers, false starts, incompletion and so on (Burns, 2013; Goh, 2007). Knowledge of the typical features of spoken grammar helps learners sound more natural when speaking (Goh, 2016). Knowledge of linguistic and discursive means to produce and structure different speech genres (e.g. personal recounts, debate and argument, service counters, etc.) is also essential in developing speaking proficiency (Goh & Burns, 2012). Genre represents the norms of different types of discourse (Harmer, 2015). Genre knowledge means knowledge of the audience and their expectations of how the communicative event unfolds, as well as knowledge of the linguistic and structural norms of the genre in which we are speaking. Learners of English need to know, for example, that giving a personal account requires the use of the past tense form, while giving instructions or directions requires the use of the imperative form of verbs (Goh, 2016). Since genres of speaking may be culturally variable, learners may find it challenging to produce them in ways consistent with the TL sociocultural conventions.
In terms of enabling skills, learners need to understand how the TL sound system works and develop the ability to produce locally and globally intelligible speeches to convey meaning and achieve comprehensibility (i.e. pronunciation skills) (Goh, 2016). Teaching pronunciation involves not only the teaching of sounds in connected speech but also the teaching of stress patterns, rhythm and intonation. Further, learners need to develop the ability to produce linguistic actions for various communicative and social purposes using appropriate grammar and vocabulary (i.e. speech function skills) (Goh, 2016). Examples of linguistic actions are informing, describing, explaining, requesting, apologising, inviting, advising, or engaging in oppositional talk, and so on. Because of variation in communicative styles and norms of appropriateness across languages and cultures, carrying out linguistic actions in a socially appropriately manner can be a challenging task for many learners. In order to achieve the desired communicative goals, learners need to know not only linguistic forms but also their communicative functions and applicable contexts of use. For example, in making requests, learners need to not only possess at their disposal a range of linguistic forms to make meaning (e.g. “Pass the salt please”, “Can you please pass the salt?” or “The salt please.”), but also to be able to choose the most appropriate expression for the given speakers’ role relationship. This understanding requires extensive exposure to the target language input and formal instruction (Taguchi & Roever, 2017). The next set of skills that learners need to master is interaction management skills, e.g. how to open and close a conversation, to choose socially and culturally acceptable conversation topics, to not introduce taboo topics, to take turns and change topics during interaction (Goh, 2016). These, too, can be challenging skills to acquire because of cultural variation (see Wong & Waring, 2021). Finally, learners also need to learn discourse organisation skills, that is how to produce coherent discourse using discourse markers and moves appropriate for the respective genres in the TL (Goh, 2016).
In developing speaking proficiency, learners also need to be able to use a range of communicative strategies to ensure smooth communication. These are cognitive strategies to compensate inadequate linguistic knowledge and language-related problems such as paraphrasing, using gestures, and approximation (using generic terms to substitute more precise terms that are not within their linguistic repertoires), metacognitive strategies such as planning and self-monitoring and interactional strategies such as asking for clarification, checking understanding and reformulation (Goh, 2016). Communication strategies are especially crucial in intercultural encounters where mutual understanding and common grounds need to be established for communication to take place effectively. Research on communication in English as a Lingua Franca (communication among second language speakers with other second language speakers like themselves) has demonstrated that high proficiency L2 speakers can employ various communication strategies to pre-empt or overcome communication difficulties (e.g. see Jenkins, Cogo, & Dewey, 2011).
The role of speaking in second language development
Throughout the history of the field of second language teaching and learning, the role of speaking in L2 development has been viewed vastly differently. One view is that L2 development depends largely on the amount of comprehensible input (input at an appropriate level for the learner) that the learner receives. Output production such as speaking, on the other hand, is not considered effective in developing proficiency (Krashen, 1994). The Natural Approach proposed by Krashen and Terrell (1983) focuses on creating an input rich learning environment where learners are exposed to plentiful comprehensible input so that they can acquire L2 communication skills implicitly and incidentally. One type of input that is particularly useful for beginners is called narrow listening (repeated listening to a restricted range of input on a familiar topic), which according to Krashen (1996) and others (e.g., Rodrigo, 2006; Tsang, 2019), can help these learners acquire a basic speaking proficiency in the TL. Since it is understood that comprehension precedes production, learners are allowed to delay language production until they have acquired some language through comprehending it (Krashen and Terrell, 1983).
Although there is no doubt that input plays an essential role in language learning, other scholars argue that exposure to input alone may not be sufficient because learners may not always notice what is possible and what is not in the target language. The Noticing Hypothesis proposed by Schmidt (1983, 1993) argues that L2 acquisition is not entirely implicit but requires some attention to linguistic forms in the input. This happens when learners receive input that is manipulated in a way that directs or attracts their attention to the target form, or when they receive feedback on their output production.
Further, some scholars also maintain that output production is not only useful but also a necessary part of L2 development (e.g. Long, 1985; Swain, 1985; 1995). For example, Swain’s (1985)’s Output Hypothesis suggests that when learners engage in speaking activities that promote meaningful communication (that is they produce natural and spontaneous conversation rather than just repeating scripted dialogues), their L2 development is benefitted. This is because interaction affords opportunities for negotiation for meaning. That is, as explained in Long’s (1985) Interaction Hypothesis, when there is a problem in communication, both participants will try various ways to make communication work again. They may employ a variety of strategies to re-establish mutual understanding such as paraphrasing or correcting their own output, checking understanding, asking the other person to repeat, or recasting what the other person says. In so doing, learners become more aware of what they say that works or does not work and learn to adjust their language use accordingly. According to the Output Hypothesis, the opportunities to try out alternative ways of expressing themselves help learners process language forms at a more in-depth level and thus develop a higher level of awareness of how and why particular forms are used (Swain, 1985; Loewen, 2020; Park, 2020).
To date, it is widely accepted in SLA research that L2 development depends on the amount of input that learners receive as well as opportunities they have for output (understood as exchanges of meanings, not repetitive drills without understanding). Output production not only provides opportunities for feedback and promotes noticing of linguistic forms but also helps learners develop control over the forms that they have learned, making them more accessible in real time communication (Ellis & Shintani, 2014).
Approaches to teaching speaking
Despite the importance of speaking in L2 development, this skill was not adequately emphasised or developed in traditional language teaching methods. The grammar-translation method, for example, put a greater emphasis on analysing and memorising grammar rules and reading of literary texts. Spoken language was virtually neglected.
Speaking was taught in the audiolingual method, but primarily as a means for reinforcing grammar. Rather than producing natural and spontaneous conversations, learners practised speaking by repeating and manipulating model sentences. This kind of practice was limited and did not simulate real-life interaction. Classroom interaction typically followed the IRF (Initiation – Response- Feedback) sequence in which the teacher always initiated via ‘test’ questions, learners responded, and the teacher provided feedback. As two out of the three moves were controlled by the teacher, learners had very little time to talk (Long, 2018).
In the presentation, practice, production (PPP) procedure, although speaking practice still served to practise grammar, a greater emphasis was put on situational language use. The lesson typically began with the teacher presenting and explaining a new target language structure. After that, learners practised using the new structure in controlled production activities such as substitution or transformation exercises, with guidance and correction from the teacher. The purpose was to get students to master the structure so they were able to apply it in new contexts. The last stage of the lesson involved learners practising the structure in freer production activities where they were able to choose the content of their own messages, with minimal assistance from the teacher. Not every PPP lesson followed a linear sequence as described above, however. A variation was the lesson starting with free production activities where learners used their full L2 repertoire. The purpose was to find out how much learners had already known. This stage was then followed by the presentation stage where the previously learned language items were consolidated and new language items taught and practised. The lesson could end with a further round of free language production (Brumfit, 1979; Johnson, 1982). Byrne (1986) suggested that the teacher should carefully monitor learners’ performance during communication and be ready to provide them with further explanation or controlled practice if this was deemed necessary. Despite the criticism that, as with other grammar-based teaching methods, the PPP prioritises language forms over communication, this method continues to be used in some teaching contexts today. Ur (2018) suggested that the PPP is more effective when used in combination with communicative tasks to promote productive use of language for communication (see bellow).
With the arrival of the communicative approach (Hymes, 1972), speaking was treated as one of the four important language skills that needed to be developed from the beginning (Tylor, 2018). The communicative approach is based on a view that language is a means for meaning making and makes use of classroom activities that engage learners in meaningful communication (that is communication where real information is exchanged, hence; there is a purpose for communication). Speaking is taught and practised by means of a variety of interactive activities that focus on developing learners’ knowledge of speech functions, conversational skills, communicative strategies and speaking fluency (Taylor, 2018). Speaking fluency is understood as natural language use that occurs when learners engage in authentic communication. Fluency is developed by creating speaking tasks that allow learners to use language naturally to achieve specific communicative goals (rather than to display linguistic knowledge), especially when they are encouraged to perform at a faster than usual speed (Newton & Nation, 2020). Discussion, debates, role-plays, problem solving, interviews, information gap are examples of these tasks. The tasks involve students in realistic communication where they produce language that may not be totally predictable, and therefore, need to negotiate meaning to achieve communication (Richards, 2006). When carrying out tasks that simulate real-world communicative situations, such as role plays, learners also need to attend to the context and roles of the speakers involved to make an appropriate choice of communicative styles (Littlewood, 1981).
Fluency practice is often contrasted with accuracy practice, in which the focus is on language forms (Richards, 2006). Writing a scripted dialogue and acting it out, describing pictures using given words and grammatical structures asking and answering questions following a model conversation are examples of accuracy activities. There is always some degree of control over linguistic choice in these activities and students have little freedom in what they say and how they should say it. Although the accuracy of the language that learners use is less important than the successful achievement of the communicative tasks they are performing, teachers should ensure a balanced focus on both fluency and accuracy development in teaching speaking, and use accuracy activities to support fluency practice (Richards, 2006). For example, in a task-based speaking lesson (a strong version of communicative language teaching) attention to language forms can be integrated at the different stages of the lesson to help learners to proceed with the speaking task at hand. At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher may highlight language that is considered useful to perform the task. Learners may also be given time to prepare how to perform the task, during which stage they may attend to accuracy. Then based on the teacher’s observation as the lesson goes on, she may teach more language or assign further accuracy work to deal with the grammatical or pronunciation problems that are observed while learners are performing the task.
In line with the communicative approach, Newton and Nation (2020) propose that an effective approach to teaching speaking should focus on both accuracy and fluency development as well as an integration with other language skills. According to this proposal, a well-balanced speaking course should have four components, none of which should be treated as more or less important than the others. The first component is learning to speak through meaning-focused input, that is learning to speak through reading and listening where learners’ attention is on the ideas conveyed by the language rather than on language items in isolation from context. It is understood that through reading and listening for meaning learners acquire relevant ideas and content that are useful to conceptualise their speeches. They may also be encouraged to notice language features specific to various speaking genres (e.g. recounts, lectures, news reports, etc.) and how these discourses are organised, hence enhancing their genre knowledge. The second component of a speaking course is learning through meaning-focused output, that is learning to speak through engaging in communicative tasks. This kind of practice simulates real world communication where we use language to get things done (e.g. buying train tickets, solving a problem together with friends or colleagues, expressing opinions) and engage in social interaction. Third, learners should have opportunities for language-focused learning, that is learning to speak through feedback and instruction that focuses deliberately on pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and discourse features as well as communication strategies and strategies for self-regulated learning. This component emphasises the need for learners to attend to language forms (e.g. sounds and sound patterns, discourse markers, words, phrases and sentence structures) and strategies for maintaining smooth communication, hence enabling learners to develop awareness of the new language as well as accuracy of speaking performance. Finally, there should be opportunities for learners to develop speaking fluency through meaning-based activities (see above) where language items are within learners’ previous experience (e.g. familiar topics and types of discourse, known vocabulary and grammar), and where learners are encouraged to perform at a higher than normal level (e.g. such as the 4/3/2 technique).
In a similar vein, Goh and Burns (2012), Goh (2016) and Sabnani & Renandya (2019) suggest that because speaking is a complex and demanding skill, which can pose a great challenge to learners, practice alone is considered insufficient to develop speaking competence. Learners need some structured learning experiences that combine both direct teaching and oral practice. Teaching should focus learners’ attention not only on language (e.g. fixed expressions, routines, discourse markers and so on) and skills (e.g. speech functions, discourse organisation, interaction management and so on) but also strategies for planning, monitoring, and evaluating their speeches and maintaining smooth communication (Goh & Burns, 2012). According to Burns (2013), a teaching cycle may begin with learners being guided to think about their goals and plans for overall speaking development as well as how to approach specific speaking tasks. The next step involves providing input and guiding learners to prepare to perform the task. This can include activation of background knowledge and teaching or recycling useful language. This step is followed by learners performing the speaking task and having an opportunity to focus on skills and strategies. Learners can be encouraged to repeat the same task with a different partner or to perform a similar task to develop fluency. Upon task completion, learners can be guided to reflect on their learning experiences and receive feedback to develop the ability to manage and self-regulate their own speaking development. Although speaking instruction should include a balanced coverage of all types of speaking genres and core speaking skills, it is suggested that each lesson should be planned around only some selected aspects and that the cycle should be extended over a series of lesson in order not to create stress and stretch learners’ attention and processing capacities (Burns, 2013).
To develop learners’ speaking proficiency, Goh and Burns (2012) recommend that teachers make use of three types of communicative tasks: (1) communication gap (tasks requiring learners to describe or explain the missing information or details to each other), (2) discussion(involving learners exchanging views and ideas to achieve an outcome); and (3) monologic (e.g. presentations and stories). Communicative tasks are different from drills in that they focus first and foremost on meaning. They also involve some kind of gap (e.g. missing information or details) that learners need to talk to each other to close (Ellis & Shintani, 2014). This characteristic is based on the idea that participants in real life interaction seek information they do not know rather than information they already know. To encourage learners to speak, therefore, classroom activities must imitate this condition to give learners an incentive to communicate. Communicative tasks are useful for this purpose because they create a real need for learners to interact meaningfully (Goh & Burns, 2012). Also, unlike drilling exercises the main purpose of which is for learners to display linguistic knowledge, communicative tasks have communicative outcomes (e.g. data gathering, problem solving, ranking, etc.) and not simply engage learners in practising language (Ellis & Shintani, 2014). These outcomes are often related to real world activities, hence increasing learners’ interest in completing the tasks. Finally, because learners need to engage in exchange of real information, opinions and views (not reading out loud dialogues in the textbook or practise saying out loud sentences given to them), they also draw on a broader range of linguistic resources, which reflects real life, natural language use (Ellis & Shintani, 2014).
Researchers contend that there can be many forms of gap. In information gap tasks, each learner may hold a piece of information that the other learner does not know and hence must come together to complete the task (e.g. the Same or Different task). Alternatively, one learner may hold all the information that other learner needs to find out about and hence the exchange of information is largely one way (e.g. creating a shopping list based on someone’s recipe) (Ellis & Shintani, 2014). Simple information gap tasks focusing on the here-and-now (e.g. describing a picture that you can see) or involving structured information (e.g. drawing the route of a journey that is described in sequence) are more suitable for low proficiency learners than complex information gap tasks without these conditions (Ellis, 2019).
In context gap tasks, every learner is given the same set of information but uses it to construct new content for their listener. An example is giving learners a set of randomised pictures or words and asking each to create their own story. When one learner tells his or her story, the other needs to listen and put the pictures or words in the order the story unfolds (Goh & Burns, 2012). Although both learners have the same set of pictures or words, their stories might be totally different; hence, they must listen carefully to each other to complete the task successfully. Generally, the context gap tasks are considered more cognitively challenging than information gap tasks (Goh & Burns, 2012) and hence may be more suitable for higher proficiency learners. A story task that involves more elements (e.g. with several characters in different locations) and a topic outside learners’ personal experience is also considered more cognitively challenging that a story task involving fewer elements and a familiar topic (Ellis, 2019).
In discussion tasks, learners see the same information that they must use to achieve an outcome. For example, they may be asked to organise information (e.g. ranking items in the order of importance), resolve some issue (e.g. solving a crime using the given clues), evaluate a situation and reach a consensus (e.g. selecting the winner for an art competition), or recommend an action plan (e.g. finding ways to increase household income and reduce utilities bill). The purpose of the discussion tasks is not to exchange information but to create an opinion or reasoning gap for learners to work together and negotiate an outcome (see Ellis & Shintani, 2014 for further discussion of opinion and reasoning gap tasks). The outcome may be open (e.g. involving more than one solution) or close (e.g. involving a single solution). A discussion task with an open outcome is generally considered more cognitively demanding than one with a close outcome (Ellis, 2019).
Goh and Burns (2012) also note that some tasks may only aim at getting learners to practise expressing themselves creatively and critically (e.g. discussion of an abstract topic) rather than leading to an outcome. Yet, having a clear outcome can give learners a sense of purpose and help them see what work can be done to complete the task. Teachers should keep in mind, however, that the nature of the outcome can affect the type of language used and hence should take learners’ proficiency levels into account when planning speaking tasks (Nation, 1989). Adding a challenge (e.g. time pressure, competition, hidden solution, etc.) to make it more difficult for learners to achieve the outcome can increase learners’ interest and involvement; however, this too must be carefully considered and planned to avoid making it unlikely for learners to complete the task (Nation, 1989). For a comprehensive list of characteristics that may make a task more or less challenging, see Robinson (2007; 2011; 2015).
Discussions may also occur through simulation in which learners assume different social roles (e.g. doctor, school counsellor, family members) to resolve an issue and must use language appropriately for the speaker role relationship (Goh, 2016). Having a role to play in discussion tasks is important because it can promote more active participation by learners (Nation, 1989). A variation of roles is to assign each learner a specific task to do (e.g. raising problems, asking questions, summarising the views of others) so that everyone must contribute to the discussion. It would also be helpful if the procedure for carrying out the task is made clear to learners (Nation, 1989).
The third type of speaking tasks recommended by Goh and Burns (2012) is monologic tasks in which learners have a chance to present ideas individually or speak extensively on a topic to an audience. Learners may be asked to produce spontaneous speeches or can be given time to plan and rehearse their speeches. Pre-task planning can help increase both complexity and fluency of learners’ performance (Ellis & Shintani, 2014). The kinds of tasks and duration of performance may also be tailored according to learning objectives (Goh & Burns, 2012).
The three types of speaking tasks discussed above can be useful to practise how to use talk for different functions. Information gap and discussion tasks, for example, are particularly useful to develop the ability to use talk for sharing and obtaining information and carrying out real world transactions (Richards, 2008). Information gap tasks are also beneficial to learners’ interactional competence development, because the gap in information likely triggers the need to negotiate meaning and through this process learners notice gaps in communication and learn to express themselves more clearly to their interlocutor (Ellis, 2019). Oral presentations and stories, on the other hand, are effective practice activities for using talk as performance (Richards, 2008). Both discussions and monologues can facilitate academic oral communication development because they allow learners to practise skills to communicate meaning explicitly in context-independent situations. These skills are required for performing academic tasks (e.g. explaining abstract concepts or understanding novel information) and hence essential for academic learning (Goh & Burns, 2012).
In lesson planning, Richards (2008) contends that it is important for speaking teachers to identify the kinds of speaking skills that their learners need most and plan speaking tasks accordingly. Interactional skills may be most difficult to teach since they are subtle phenomenon governed by ‘unspoken’ rules (Richards, 2008). To learn to use interactional talk, learners may benefit from observing authentic interaction and paying attention to interactional features and conversational strategies such as initiating and closing conversations, managing small talk, shifting topics, turn taking, or reacting to others. Unfortunately, textbook tasks do not always provide opportunities for such learning to occur, as many textbooks tend to present unrealistic conversations and do not teach conversational strategies (Burns & Hill, 2013; Wong & Waring, 2021). Hence, teachers are encouraged to supplement textbooks with natural conversations and speaking tasks that enable learners to practise various interactional features and conversational strategies in spontaneous communication. Learning to produce monologues such as presentations, stories and speeches requires attention to the grammatical and discourse features of such texts as well as their social contexts of use (e.g. goals and audience). Learners may benefit from having abundant samples of texts of various types for deconstruction to understand how different types of texts work (Richards, 2008).
Conclusion and future directions
Should teachers then try to incorporate speaking materials from other varieties such as Singaporean English, Indian English and so on? This would certainly help increase learners’ exposure to and develop receptive skills in World Englishes (see Canagarajah, 2016 for a similar discussion on this point). However, that is not the whole point about teaching English for intercultural communication. Scholars generally contend that English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is not a variety in itself but “a process of accommodation” (Harmer, 2015, p.4) through which global users of English from diverse cultural backgrounds strive to achieve mutual understanding and acceptance. As such, ELF communication is highly fluid and in constant influx as participants negotiate meaning and norms. Several scholars have also pointed out that variation in ELF communication is not only a regional factor but also contextual and individual factor (see a review in Marlina, 2008). Based on this understanding, language teaching therefore should not simply be about teaching regional varieties per se. More importantly, it should be about raising learners’ awareness of the emergent and fluid nature of intercultural communication, and the messiness and unpredictability of English variation as well as enabling them to develop effective communication strategies and negotiation skills (Marlina, 2008).
When applied to teaching speaking skills, some important implications can be drawn. With respect to pronunciation skills, for example, intelligibility (how easy to understand L2 speakers can make their speech) and comprehensibility (how easy to understand interlocutors find L2 speakers’ speech) rather than native speaker-like pronunciation should be seen as the goal for learners to achieve. Researchers generally agree that the teaching of pronunciation should focus on areas which most likely impede communication rather than trying to correct all non-native phonological features to avoid undermining learners’ confidence (Wells, 2008). With regard to this idea, researchers studying interactions among ELF speakers have found that not all phonological variations would lead to communication breakdown (e.g. Jenkins, 2004, 2009). For example, differences in word stress, vowel quality, rhythm, or pronunciation of some consonants such as /θ/, /ð/, or dark [l] would not break down communication. On the other hand, there are features that must be articulated as precisely as possible to achieve mutual intelligibility. Jenkins calls these Lingua Franca Core features. The LFC includes most consonants (except /θ/, /ð/, or dark [l]), initial consonant clusters, vowel length contrasts and nuclear stress. Jenkins (2004) advocates that teachers focus on these core items and “leave the non-core items to the learners’ choice” (p. 40).
In terms of speech function and interaction management skills, research has shown that ELF speakers do not necessarily conform to native speaker’s norms of interaction and politeness, yet manage to successfully communicate their meaning and establishing rapport with their interlocutors by employing various interactional resources, shared non-native speaker status and negotiation strategies (e.g. Mugford, 2021; Taguchi & Yamaguchi, 2021). This suggests that rather than insisting native speaker norms at the expense of learners’ cultural identity and subjectivity, speaking instruction should aim at enabling learners to develop a repertoire of effective communication strategies to achieve their communicative goals. Learners should also be encouraged to utilise their pluralistic resources and reflect on how well these resources support them to accomplish their communicative goals. That means the first language and culture should be seen as a resource rather than hindrance to learning L2 speaking skills (see Jenkins, 2006; McKay, 2012 for a similar discussion on these points).
Finally, teachers should consider using technology to further engage students in the speaking lesson. While the question of whether and to what extent technology can improve speaking proficiency is not known presently, research shows that technology can help students produce more language, interact more freely with their peers and improve on their pronunciation skills (Golonka et al., 2014). Freely available and easy to use video-sharing apps (e.g., Flipgrid), screen-recording apps (e.g., Screencast o matic or Flashback) and speech-to-text apps (e.g., Google Gboard and Speechnotes) can be used to give students ample opportunities to practice speaking and help them become more fluent and confident speakers of the language.
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