Teaching Speaking

Speaking is the modality that many people think of first when they describe what it means to learn or know a language. The ability to speak — more specifically, to carry on a conversation — is often a primary goal for many language learners, and it is also the way they assess their own and others’ proficiency.

Speaking can also be the modality that language learners find the most intimidating. A speaker must find the right words, put them together in ways that are contextually relevant, grammatically correct, and culturally appropriate, and pronounce them intelligibly, all in real time as a conversation is going on.

To become able to speak with confidence and fluency — to develop some degree of communicative competence in speaking — language learners need supported practice in which to try out their speaking skills and develop confidence in their ability to transfer them from the classroom to real-life situations.



When developing activities, lessons or tasks around speaking, teachers should also be aware of the 3 areas of knowledge that speaking encompasses. Each area should receive attention, though not necessarily all at once. It is advisable to inform the students of these areas, so they are aware of the purpose of the activities.

  • Mechanics: This area involves the different pieces that make up speaking including pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar and word order.
  • Functions: This area describes the uses of speaking whether for transaction or interaction, and when precise understanding is or is not required.
  • Social/Cultural rules and norms: This area involves the more subtle cultural value inherent in the language’s culture, such as turn taking, social norms, roles of participants, etiquette and social register etc.

Section Contents



Material for this section was drawn from “Spoken Language: What I Is and How to Teach It” by Grace S. Burkart in Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, Ed.; Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998).