Inaccurate jabberers

Published on 30th September, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

A typical problem is how to get learners to talk in English, often because they are so accuracy-oriented. However, in my present teaching context in the UK, I have the opposite problem: learners are often fluent but highly inaccurate. They have the confidence and know-how to communicate their message effectively, appearing unaware or at least unperturbed by their inaccuracies. Such learners abound in today’s world.

I consider this only to be a problem for intermediate and above learners. Such students often speak so fast, so assuredly and communicatively, that it is difficult to interrupt and upgrade their language ‘live’, and thus the moment passes.

The following strategies might help.

• Focus students overtly on their language. I like to incorporate mini presentations into a course, where students talk for 4–6 minutes on a self-selected topic. This allows you to hear extended, uninterrupted speech. I give written feedback on Things I liked and Things to work on, as well as an Overall comment.

• Give students lots of mini-opportunities to rework their language. For example, when such a student gives an answer in class, I sometimes say: Well done. That’s a good answer. Now tell me again and try to say it in accurate English! Do this with sensitivity and a smile!

• Allocate ‘accuracy slots’ in your lesson where you want students to give accurate English. Tell them overtly what your demands are and why. You could provide rehearsal time before a task, to give them the mental space to focus on accuracy later.

• Repeat tasks, encouraging students to focus on accuracy in the second version. For example, if students do a roleplay, they then repeat it with different partners, perhaps to the class.

• Get students to write down what was said, eg a roleplay. This guarantees an angle on accuracy which might ultimately have benefits for their speaking too.