Speaking is a productive skill which requires a lot of back-up factors like knowledge, confidence, self esteem and enthusiasm. Speaking a second language, particularly, brings about its own prerequisites: exposure, consolidation, motivation as well as acknowledgment. Whether we realize it or not, these determinant factors can be made to exist in a supportive learning environment of an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom.
To beginners, speaking activities can appear more demanding and even threatening than plain writing. Compared to writing as an academic skill, you can expect a bigger audience for speaking. The audience may also be encouraging or vice versa. Well-behaved and attentive audience may be supportive of learners’ attempt to speak; nevertheless, distracting members will only dampen their spirit to try and speak up.
As much as learners may dread speaking in a group or in front of the class, speaking as a skill is essential for acquisition and participation purposes. Nowadays, every profession requires some extent of communicative competence and interpersonal skills. The nature of speaking at the workplace presents itself in various forms: discussions, presentations, negotiation, and even debates. Professions like medical doctors and IT specialists also require communication with clients, not to mention teaching, journalism, politics, and public relations. In other words, ESL speaking class in this competitive era will have to do more than pairwork speaking practice by the middle of the semester.
Once ESL learners can cope with some extent of discussion, more room should be given for real-life speaking context. This way, learners can be guided from speaking as acquisition to speaking as participation. Multiple input in the form of language guide and videotapes of group discussions and meetings can be provided for exposure. Real-life involvement in college activities i.e. organizing events, participation in students’ forum and social work, may benefit the ESL learners indirectly.
Since language plays a pragmatic and functional role in our everyday communication, the ESL classroom can also be perceived as a small community. Each and every learner is significant as a member and contributes to the social ambience. A strong and successful community shows cooperation, sharing and caring. There is also evidence of two-way communication and group interaction which consolidates relationship and togetherness. This supportive culture will encourage more openness and acceptance among the members. In such an ideal environment, a learner may not have to think twice about speaking up, contributing to discussions or even offering constructive criticism.
To promote more participation among learners, ESL teachers can add variety to the speaking contact hours. Common activities like group discussions and group presentations remain as the foundation to the design. With a little take-home assignment on specific topics and issues, learners can be encouraged to take part in in-class academic forums where they get the chance to play the roles of experts in assigned areas and fields. More extrovert learners will appreciate some debating activities in various styles i.e. British Parliamentary, Australasian, and All Asian. Sometimes, the whole class can be turned into an occasion and learners assume specific roles of an emcee, the chairman ( entails an opening speech), the guest of honour (entails a speech) and also special interest groups (SIGs) who will ask impromptu questions at the end of the event.
At this end, perhaps the ESL learners are not only participating but also contributing to the lively and animated learning environment. Some authors call this approach empowerment and learners’ autonomy. If we were to provide a social context to the ESL speaking class, we have to rely of learners’ active involvement and contribution.
In a nutshell, ESL speaking class nowadays promotes more participation from the learners in order to prepare them for functional roles in society, as well as employability. The lessons provide a social context that position learners as players and the teachers as facilitators. By doing so, learners can be better groomed to adapt to the demands of the new era since the emphasis is now moving from speaking as acquisition to participation, and hopefully contribution.