PRELIM 3 – Speak English as a Second Language

PRELIM 3 – Speak English as a Second Language

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Having the confidence to speak a foreign language in front of your peers or a ‘native’ L1 speaker requires a lot of effort. 

As teenagers, especially, we were always embarrassed to speak in front of our classmates just in case people made fun of us.  Even as adults, we are embarrassed when trying to speak another language in front of our peers just in case we pronounce a word incorrectly.

In the past we were told that there was only prestige one way of speaking; one accent: the ‘correct’ accent.  Depending on where you lived, this was either Received Pronunciation (RP) from southern England or the speaking style of the American East Coast elite that has now morphed into the so-called Mid-Atlantic accent. 

Arguably, these accents reflected the accents of people who, in the past, were wealthy enough to travel or the narrow class of teachers who taught languages, ‘correctly’.  Even today in our supposedly diverse world we are bombarded by online language schools claiming to teach only the correct English or English with the correct accent. However, English speakers come from many countries around the world and each speaker of English has their own way of speaking.  Their own way of speaking or idiolect is their peculiar way of speaking.  Coherent groups of English speakers have their own sociolects that identify them as a particular social group; teenagers, for example, especially have their own group sociolects. 

When encouraging learners to speak, it is important that the teacher of English model their own accent, but also use models from around the world.  Teach the accent you have; you’re the teacher. Just remember there are over a billion English speakers globally. The majority speak English as a second language. Approximately 360 million people speak English as their ‘mother’ tongue or first language, so that is over a billion accents.  Use examples of English from across the world and not only ‘native speakers. Remember even if your students eventually visit North America, the UK, or Australia to study at university, live, or work, they will be surrounded by students and academics whose first language isn’t English.  The ability to comprehend these different speakers makes you a proficient user of a language.  So, try to use Scottish, Chinese, Northern English, Mexican, or an Alabaman accent of English.

Try not to use too many idiomatic expressions or slang at first with CEFR A1-2; wait until they are at least a B2 level.

Try to create a classroom environment conducive to speaking. Start with pairs and small groups; make it non-confrontational, make it fun, make it active, and make it achievable.

Keep speaking tasks short and structured at first and when learners gain confidence. Use a variety of speaking tasks, interactional roleplay, presentations, and dramatic skits.

Create activities where students can, in a fun way, practice pronunciation; exaggerate pronunciation features, and use drama and music.

Try to include kinaesthetic elements into speaking and non-verbal aspects of communication such as hand gestures, arm gestures, body language, and facial gestures including eye movement.

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