ESL: Speaking

From the ESL Student Handbook, by Young Min, PhD

You will quickly find that an oral presentation is an important part of coursework in most of your classes. In some cultures, students are not encouraged to speak up and ask their instructor questions; students are supposed to digest the delivered information from their instructor and to demonstrate their mastery of the material only through formal written tests. You will find that the classroom culture in the US can be quite different from that of your home country. You are constantly encouraged to share your opinions with other students and your instructor. Thus, it is crucial that you improve your speaking abilities in English. There are several resources and strategies you can use to improve your oral communication skills.

Literacy Groups

One of the most effective ways to improve your speaking abilities in English is to utilize your literacy group members—the students you meet in your reading group, writing group, and conversation group. The group members can be a great audience for you to practice articulating your thoughts into spoken English (e.g. summarizing the key ideas of the article you have just read). You can also ask for help to better understand certain concepts you are struggling with or simply check pronunciations of certain words. It is also a great idea that you and your group members take turns rehearsing upcoming class presentations.

Listening to a variety of accented Englishes (really, it’s World Englishes) will greatly improve your listening skills. Remember that your group members can be a very important part of your enculturation process in the US.  So, try to engage in social and academic activities with them as opportunities arise. This will be helpful not only to expand your knowledge of the English language but also to enhance your awareness of the culture of the US and the US university life as well.

Writing to Speak & Speaking to Write

You may have already found that when you write down the key ideas of your presentation, you feel more confident (at least less nervous) about your presentation. This is the key idea of “writing to speak.” You will also learn that the very process of incorporating comments from various people (such as your instructor, classmates, your literacy group members, Writing and Communication Center peer tutors, librarians, etc) about your presentation will help you clarify your thoughts and articulate your argument. This process will eventually help you become a better writer (this is the key idea of “speaking to write”). Therefore, you should approach your speaking assignment as an interrelated task to your writing assignment. Again, the idea of “writing to speak” is deeply interconnected with the idea of “speaking to write.”

Speech Genres & Key Points to Remember

Here are more practical strategies you can use when you prepare for your presentations. First of all, spend a few minutes thinking about how many genres of oral communication with which you are already familiar. As much as there are various genres in written communication, there are also various genres in oral communication, such as seminars, class presentations, group discussions, conference presentations, colloquiums, workshops, job talks, role plays, interviews, etc. The key considerations of written communication—your awareness of audience, purpose, topic, genre, and style—also apply to oral communication. When you begin to prepare for your class presentations, ask the following questions:

Audience: How much knowledge does my audience have about my topic? What do I know about my audience?

Purpose:  What is the purpose of my presentation? What is the main message that I want to deliver to the audience?

Topic: How much do I know about the topic? Where can I find more information about the topic?

Style: What style (or format) am I going to use for my presentation (e.g. PowerPoint, Poster, Performance)? 

Writing and Communication Center

The Writing and Communication Center can also be a very useful resource to improve your oral communication skills not only for your class presentations but also for your job interviews, workshops, conference presentations, etc.  Mini-workshops to improve your English pronunciation as well as presentations skills may be offered in the future, so please visit this website for additional information. 

Other Resources

When it comes to improving your oral presentation skills, remember that “practice makes perfect.” The more you practice, the more confident and fluent you will become as a speaker and presenter. In addition to the resources and strategies listed above, you should also utilize various toastmaster clubs that are available in your community.

Created by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

For More Information on this Handbook

 Contact Young Min, PhD
 Lecturer, Education Program