One of the factors that indicate success in ESL classrooms is the proficiency of students in oral communication. Whether the ESL class is for basic, intermediate or advanced learners, the ability of students to articulate simple to complex ideas in English can be verified, assessed, and improved using various ESL techniques. Once students become comfortable using the basic approaches of communicating meaning in English, they can start participating in English conversations, whether through orchestrated scenarios or in real life encounters.
In any linguistic context, the process of conversation involves listening, the mental formulation of meaning and speaking. Each participant in a conversation has to perform all three tasks in order to remain an active and relevant player in the encounter. Because these tasks are by no means easy to perform for most non-native speakers, the experience of successfully participating in a complete session provides much pleasure, excitement and satisfaction among ESL/EFL students. Often, there is some sort of eureka moment when an idea expressed in English is correctly apprehended by the student and when a specific idea students are trying to convey in foreign language is articulated correctly and clearly understood by a native English speaker. Likewise, teachers of English as a second or foreign language whose students have developed conversational skills are adequately affirmed in terms of their profession as well as the learning strategies and techniques that they adopt.
Hindrances that prevent full involvement in conversations
Getting learners to develop conversational skills in English is riddled with challenges, however. The fact is, the various forms of oral discourses--light conversation, role-plays, debates, topic discussions and recitations--are seen with dread and apprehension by many students. This results to a considerable timidity or hesitation among students to proactively articulate their thoughts in English. A number of factors have been identified to cause or reinforce learners' reluctance to speak in English. These include--
Getting these common hindrances out of the way is the first major step a competent ESL/EFL educator should take. For learners to develop acceptable proficiencies in oral English communication, any roadblock that prevents an active, meaningful participation in oral discourses should be addressed. Here are some logical, common sense approaches in doing so:
Effective aids to English conversations
Speaking and listening exercises are still, by far, the most effective way of improving conversational skills. However, any hindrance that prevents learners from fully participating in these exercises should immediately be addressed by the ESL/EFL teacher as explained previously. Using conversation cue cards that are used in role playing sessions may also help learners become less apprehensive about participating.
Transitional exercises that teach learners on how to listen and speak about relevant everyday encounters should be an integral part of the course on conversational English. Talking about the weather, buying groceries, meeting a new acquaintance, a job interview and offering to rent an apartment are just some of the scenarios wherein potentially useful English conversation exercises may be initiated.
As these scenarios are familiar, students will more likely participate in communicating their thoughts. Once educators have familiarized and made learners comfortable with speaking and listening exercises, the class may proceed to more complex activities. These include formal debates on different relevant topics. When conducting debates, remember that it is more important for students to focus on how to articulate than to concentrate on how they really feel about a subject.
To help learners develop a neutral English accent, teachers should advise them to 1) observe and imitate the mouth movements of competent English speakers; 2) use the dictionary to learn correct pronunciations; 3) listen to audio books in English; 4) read English books or magazines aloud; and 5) record their English conversations and oral readings to identify common mistakes and have these rectified.
Finally, in addition to classroom activities, ESL/EFL teachers may encourage their students to visit online portals that offer live English conversations to second or foreign language learners. Most of these are paid services but other websites do offer free audio records of different situational dialogues. These audio records can be good practice aids to help students improve their English conversational skills.