How to Teach Speaking

Title: How to Teach Speaking
Author: Scott Thornbury
Publisher: Pearson Longman
Reviewed by: Christian Jones
Review date: October 2007
Summary: An extremely valuable guide to both the nature of spoken language and possible ways to focus on speaking in the classroom.

How to Teach SpeakingFor many EFL learners, their main desire is to speak English. How then do we set about helping them with this goal? This useful guide skilfully contributes to this process by giving numerous practical ideas about how to teach speaking, ideas which are always clearly grounded in theory.

Chapters one to three lay the groundwork for the rest of the book by describing the nature of speech and speaking in an L2. Thornbury begins by describing what speakers do as they speak, before moving on to what they know and finally to a description of what speaking in an L2 entails. This includes a comparison between spoken and written grammar, a description of the pragmatic knowledge speakers make use of and the kinds of vocabulary L2 speakers need to employ. The analysis here is clear and accessible without being simplistic and may be of particular use to pre-service teachers, though it would work equally as a refresher for more experienced teachers. It is certainly something I wish had been available at the time of my initial teacher training course.

In chapter three Thornbury describes lesson frameworks based on behaviourist, cognitivist and sociocultural views of language learning. From this basis he establishes a framework that contains elements within each view: learning begins with some form of awareness of a new language feature, this awareness is then appropriated or integrated into a learner’s current interlangauge until it is finally ready for autonomous use. Each chapter that follows includes a rationale for each type of learning and practical ideas to implement awareness raising, appropriation and autonomy when teaching speaking.

Many of the ideas for appropriation and autonomy, such as mingles, drills and discussion tasks will be familiar to many practising teachers but will serve as a useful collection of ideas for newer teachers. However, of particular use here are the ideas for awareness raising in chapter four. Intuition might suggest that teaching speaking should involve a large focus on production but there is often great value in raising learners’ awareness about spoken language.Thornbury provides numerous suggestions for helping students to notice features of speech such as clear procedure for using listening texts to raise awareness. Thornbury suggests that teachers start from comprehension of texts before focusing on a feature of speech such as underlining lexical chunks. Like many of the ideas this procedure is simple, easy to follow, but crucially may not be intuitive for teachers, especially at the pre-service level.

Overall then, this is a very useful book, which it is hard to find fault with. The only quibbles would be the slight prevalence of activities aimed at sentence (rather then discourse) level and the limited amount of suggested follow – up reading. But these really are only quibbles – this is a valuable book and one to recommend for any teacher, particularly those just starting out in ELT.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesChristian Jones is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Central Lancashire, UK. He has previously been a teacher and teacher trainer in Japan and Thailand.