One thing I’ve been contemplating recently is how to help students improve their spoken fluency and intelligibility. Many students in my classes learned English orally and have spoken it for many years. As we as teachers know, there are certain students who we struggle to understand. Although sometimes this is related to poor pronunciation, many times confusing sentence structures and frequent grammatical errors play a role in breaking down the line of communication.
Although helping students recognize and correct error patterns in their writing is arguably easier and certainly more straightforward a task, there are certainly things we can do to help students improve oral fluency. My colleagues and I discussed this topic at our last faculty meeting. The point was raised that correcting spoken language often feels more personal and is, therefore, a more difficult task to carry out. I certainly related to that point since I struggle with the question of when to correct students as they speak vs. letting them practice getting their ideas out without disrupting their train of thought.
The assignment linked in this post is one strategy to help students analyze their own language and start to recognize and correct patterns that make their spoken English difficult to understand. It’s an assignment that many of you have probably already used, but you may find this assignment handout useful for explaining it to students. The assignment asks students to record themselves telling a story and then transcribe it word for word, so they can analyze it. The assignment handout also includes a student example that students will work on in small groups to help scaffold what they will do with their own transcription.
Below are the basic directions taken from the assignment handout.
Purpose: The purpose of this assignment is to help you improve your spoken English by starting to notice your speech and error patterns, so you can work to catch mistakes while you speak.
Step 1: Pick one of the following topics to talk about.
Step 2: Open a voice recording app in your smartphone, or visit one of the following websites: https://www.speakpipe.com/voice-recorder or https://voicespice.com/.
Step 3: Record yourself for 1-2 minutes talking about the topic you chose in step 1. Relax and speak naturally as you would if you were telling a story to a friend.
Step 4: Listen to your recording and transcribe (copy word for word) it onto a piece of paper. Double space it, so there is room to write notes later. You will need to listen multiple times and pause it to make sure you accurately copy what you said. Don’t change anything. Copy down exactly how you spoke, including filler phrases such as hmmm, uh, um, etc.
Step 5: Read the transcription of what you wrote. Look for grammar and sentence structure mistakes and write correction above. You will turn this into your teacher.
Step 6: Once you receive feedback from your teacher about the common error patterns in your spoken English, rewrite the transcription to remove the errors. Then, practice telling the story again while trying to catch and fix mistakes while speaking.
Extension Ideas for This Assignment:
Semester-Long Routine: Instead of doing this just one time in your class, make it a semester-long routine that students complete every few weeks. This will give students a chance to monitor their progress and continue to focus on their oral fluency. As error patterns arise, they can work to improve them and then check to see if their efforts are paying off.
How intelligible am I? For me, being the one to flat out tell someone I can’t understand them when they speak is hard. Sometimes even when we do let students know, they don’t necessarily believe us. Using the peer perspective in these instances can be useful. If 20 people are telling you that you need to focus some effort to improve your spoken ability, you may have to do something about it.
(Option 1: Less work for you)
- Ask students to transcribe their spoken English on an anonymous paper without their name. Use their student ID number to help get the paper back to its author.
- Collect the papers in class, and mix them up. Then tape them around the room.
- Next to each transcription, tape a group scoring rubric like this one >>CLICK HERE<<
- Ask students to walk around and read each transcription out loud and score them according to the rubric by adding a tally mark on the rubric for each category. (Before this activity, I would do a practice with the class using the rubric to score a student example. You could use the one on the back of the assignment handout above).
- After the activity, collect the transcriptions and attached the scored rubric to each one. Give these back to each student and ask them to take it home and look it over. Ask them to come up with an action plan if they scored low on parts of the rubric.
(Option 1: More work for you)
- If you have the time, instead of having students read the transcripts, you could read and record each transcript yourself and have the students listen to the recordings and then score according to a similar rubric. You could post the recordings to your LMS or use one of the many websites that let you post sound files. The reason for you creating the recording would be to make it more anonymous and to also eliminate any pronunciation barriers, so students could simply focus on the content of the speech.