Speaking English Naturally | UCT English Language Centre

One of the things that I notice, especially with lower level learners, is their failure to listen and respond naturally during conversations.

Speaking activities from course books will most probably come prepared with some appropriate follow up questions – but would this be considered as constructive or destructive? In most situations, students become fixated on completing the task at hand by rushing through the questions.

Student A: How was your weekend?
Student B: It was fine, I went to the cinema.
Student A: What did you do Sunday?

Basically, it tends to simulate an amateur tennis match without the overuse of grunting noises.
So how can we, as teachers, help our students to sound more natural? Let’s compare it with something a little bit more natural:

Student A: How was your weekend?
Student B: It was fun, I went to the cinema with my friends on Saturday.
Student A: Oh cool, what movie did you see?

Some ideas that work well are teaching students different ways of expressing themselves. The best examples are natural examples, so think about common phrases that you, as a natural speaker of English will use.
Secondly, students need to make themselves more interesting, so encourage students to add more information such as “with my friends on Saturday” (Who and When?)

Next, students need to be made aware of backchanneling. Backchanneling are those silly phrases that shows that we are listening to the speaker e.g. ‘Oh cool.’ 
A simple google search will give you an entire list of different phrases that can be taught.

Lastly, appropriateness of follow up questions. This is where students take charge of the conversation, but the teacher should monitor this during the speaking exercises. Different controlled practice exercises will make students more aware of their roles in the conversation.

If you are interested in improving your speaking, join our general English course which has an important ‘speaking’ and ‘conversation’ component incorporated into it.

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