Review ~ Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach

A teacher’s guide to informed planning of speaking lessons.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Stephen Case
Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach

Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach

All English teachers are happy and proud when they get their students really talking. Engaging the students with a loud and lively conversation, discussion or debate is the goal of many an English language lesson. It can often be the most interesting part of the lesson, and, most importantly, can be exactly what an ESL/EFL student wants from their lesson.

Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach acknowledges this, but says that simply getting students to talk is not enough. The first two parts of the book give an overview of what fluent speaking means for a language learner, and the discourse and structure of speaking. The next two parts then show how to turn academic ideas into a functional framework for speaking activities, courses and assessments.

Parts one and two are a nice overview of research into speaking. There is information on psycholinguistic models of speech production, in-depth synopsis on learner speaking strategies, and information on what knowledge is needed to be a competent speaker of English. There are also detailed summaries of the features of pronunciation and intonation. This is then followed up with what facts conversation-analysis and corpus linguistics can tell us about how competent, fluent speakers communicate.

These two chapters will serve for some as a good entry level introduction to and for others as a good review of the many facets of speech. These parts could be used by a school as part of a training program, or by individuals interested in introspective thinking about their own teaching methods. It is certainly a good reference for anyone interested in speech production.

Parts three and four detail a model of teaching speaking. It starts by showing how to implement a working framework for classroom speaking. Each section of the seven-part “speaking cycle” model that the book lays out is explained and justified. It goes through strategies for planning a lesson using this model. This then expands into how to plan an effective course while taking into account the constraints of the classroom/teaching environment and student needs.

The book puts a special emphasis in the last couple of chapters on raising meta-cognitive awareness and its role in assessment. This type of self-reflection is argued to be very important to continued learner progress and success. The book gives advice on how to support and encourage students to do this.

The large amount of attention and work that has gone into the development of this model of teaching speaking is clear. Any teacher wanting to become more secure in their opinions on teaching speaking will find this book covers all the background one needs to confidently plan lessons and courses. Though it may be hard for a teacher to use the full seven-part “speaking cycle” plan in every class, it is a useful model to keep in mind when planning any speaking lesson.

The book is also refreshingly non-dogmatic in its opinions. It certainly doesn’t profess to be the final word on how speaking should be taught. Rather it tries to make sense of the mass of conflicting information that overwhelms many teachers.

We all know that “just speaking” isn’t the best way for students to become fluent. Teaching Speaking: A Holistic Approach provides a well founded and flexible system that moves beyond just speaking and towards a unified idea of speech education that perhaps all educators can agree on.

Reviewed by Stephen Case for March 2013

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