Tips For Teaching Public Speaking to EFL Students
Martin Luther King - One of The Greatest Orators of Modern Time
EFL Students Giving Speeches
Within a month I had to select one of my fifth-grade EFL students to write and give a two to three-minute speech at our school's morning assembly. My student and I were free to select the topic of your choice for a speech which would be presented in front of close to 3,000 students in grades one through twelve. Needless to say, this is a daunting task for most EFL learners who are shy and challenged in writing and speaking. It is, however, an activity which many of the best students can successfully accomplish with the coaching of a skilled EFL teacher. This article first looks at the traditional way many EFL instructors prepare students for speeches. Then, after examining some of the greatest orators of modern history, it suggests some tips for improving the speeches of young EFL learners.
Traditional Ways of Teaching Public Speaking
Every Wednesday morning a representative of a different grade presented a 2-3 minute speech at our school's morning assembly. Since I had been at the school, almost all of the teachers prepared speeches for students. After practicing reading the speeches in front of their instructors, the students would read their speeches at the assembly. When delivering the speeches, it was obvious that most students didn't know what they are talking about, because there were numerous mistakes in pronunciation, intonation, stress, and chunking of words correctly together. Many of the speeches were almost unintelligible to me because the students either spoke too fast or they didn't talk loud enough. Because the speeches were not written by the students, they could not identify with the message in their discourse and successfully convey it to listeners.
On formal occasions such as the celebration of school and national holidays and visits of VIPs, the best students are chosen to deliver speeches. All of these speeches are written by teachers and memorized by the speech givers. Students have forgotten their lines a few times and been unable to compensate for holes in their speeches due to unfamiliarity with the subject matter. Another problem is that there is really no emotion conveyed in the speech since students are merely reciting lines in a robot-like fashion.
Tips For Teaching Public Speaking to EFL Students
I think it would be wise to study the techniques of recent great orators in the world to give us an idea of what goes into delivering a successful speech. The purpose of a speech is to communicate a message to an audience. In recent history, the evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy and the notorious Adolf Hitler were some of the best orators in the world. All of these individuals were great speakers because they believed in what they were saying. They also completely understood the needs of their listeners. Because they were passionate about their subject matter and completely in tune with their followers, these outstanding speakers were able to connect with their audience and get across their messages. This was done by the tone of voice, gestures, forcible speaking, and pauses, just to mention a few main techniques.
From these great orators, I think we can learn the following tips which EFL students can apply in giving good speeches:
1. Know Your Subject Matter
It is possible to give a good speech written by others if you are completely knowledgeable about the topic of discussion. Many Presidents have delivered outstanding speeches prepared by ghostwriters. The problem arises when you know nothing or next to nothing about a topic of a speech written by someone else. This often happens when teachers write speeches for students on Western holidays and customs which are many times foreign to EFL learners not in Western countries.
One way to overcome this problem is for students to write their own speeches under the guidance of an instructor. By doing this, students can choose a topic of their own interest which means something to them. Furthermore, they can express ideas in their own words which are more understanding to their peers than what a teacher thinks they should be saying. When teachers edit students' speeches, they should not be too concerned about the production of a professional product. Obvious grammatical errors should be corrected; however, the meaning and tone of students' speeches must not be revised.
2. Understand Your Audience
Teachers must stress to speech givers that they must know the interests and needs of their audience. When a fifth grader is giving a speech, he or she should be aware that his or her audience will consist of students in grades 1-12. Therefore, the student should prepare a speech on a topic which will be interesting and entertaining for all listeners. As an example, all students like playing games. Hence, a good speech writer and presenter could choose a game which interests most students and shows them how to play it.
3. Connect With The Audience
Knowing what you are talking about and understanding the interests of your audience will greatly help the young speech giver get his or her point across. The first step in getting the meaning across is to be aware of the purpose of one's speech. If the purpose is to explain how to play a game, the speaker will use a lot of gestures and body actions. For informative speeches, the student speech giver will make sure that correct stress, volume, and rate of speech is used to get across ideas.
Great motivational speakers are able to get their meaning and point of view across to listeners using the following techniques:
a. Varying The Rate of Speech and Tone of Delivery
Most people will find a monotone speech at an unvarying rate of delivery very boring. You must vary your speed and tone of voice when getting your point across to emotionally connect with your audience.
b. Gestures and Body Language
In his speeches and contact with people, Former President Bill Clinton was able to connect with so many people through his eye contact. His facial expressions and especially his smile were also very infectious. Many speech givers can learn a lot from this.
Adolf Hitler made great use of pauses in his motivational speeches. Students should be taught this technique when they are trying to stimulate the interest of their listeners.
d. Speak Forcibly
One problem a lot of students have, especially girls, is speaking forcibly in a louder volume of voice. Many of my female students are shy and therefore tend to speak very softly. This never is to anyone's benefit when giving speeches.
4. Developing Self-Confidence in Public Speaking
Many students hesitate to volunteer to give a speech because they are afraid to stand in front of a large audience. This is understandable because most young people have never had this experience, and they are afraid they will make mistakes and be embarrassed. If a student knows his speech matter, audience, and techniques for getting a message across, chances are he or she will have some self-confidence. Nevertheless, many students are still not relaxed and get stage fright before speeches. One way to overcome this is by having the students take deep breaths before a speech and establishing eye contact with one person in the audience while delivering a speech.
5. Use 3x5 Inch Note Cards As Aids
Most students should not memorize a complete speech. They should also not completely read a speech. Rather, a student has a set of note cards to help him or her remember and follow in order the points to be made in the speech.
Preparing young EFL learners for giving speeches is a very challenging task. It can be an interesting and worthwhile activity, however, if teachers do the following: one, let students select their own speech topics and write their own speeches; and two, coach students on how to understand and connect with their audience to get their messages across.
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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn